Dalton v. Dalton: On the Rules of Evidence in Divorce Proceedings

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Sep 06, 2014 | 0 Comments

Dalton v. Dalton, an appeal from the Supreme Court of Maine, involved a couple who were married in 2002 and divorced in 2013.  The couple had three children together at the time of this action, including a ten-year-old daughter and a set of twins who were seven years old.
Our Birmingham divorce attorneys understand that a dissolution of marriage where there parties have minor children can be a complicated and emotionally difficult process.


After a two-day hearing, the trial judge granted the couple a divorce based upon grounds of irreconcilable differences.  In the State of Alabama, a divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences is referred to as a “no-fault” divorce.

In Dalton, the trial court included in its order a finding that the mother had used a degree of unreasonable force that went beyond the bounds of the law when disciplining a child. The court also found that she used emotionally abusive methods to control her children, and that she did not control her behavior, nor did she seek appropriate mental health treatment.

Based upon this finding, the trial court ordered custody of the children to be granted to the father and cited that the mother was a safety concern.  The court further held that the mother did not understand the detrimental effects her behavior was having on the children.  The mother was limited to three supervised visits per week with her children and a daily phone call. The judge told her that if she received treatment for her issues and made sufficient progress, she would be granted more opportunities to see her children.

According to court records, the mother chose not to seek treatment and, instead, filed several post-judgment motions with the court to modify the visitation and custody award. During a hearing on these issues, during which there were many sustained objections from the father's child custody attorney, the judge denied all of her motions on grounds that she had not made sufficient progress with her mental health and parenting issues.

On appeal, the court addressed the issue of whether the judge properly ruled on the many objections levied at trial.  A main reason for many of the objections was for asking a leading question.  In a hearing or trial, a party calling a witness may only conduct a direct examination.  This involves asking non-leading questions that do not suggest the answer.  A typical non-leading questions would be “what, if anything, happened on the night of October 4th.”   This is different from cross-examination, in which the lawyer who did not call the witness will typically ask only leading questions that may being with “isn't it true that”  The appellate court affirmed the trial court's issue on this ruling.

The next type of objection that was often sustained involved the use of hearsay.  Hearsay is very complicated legal doctrine that takes most law students more than half a semester to understand.   The basic rule is that a party cannot introduce a statement that made out of court.  There are many complicated exceptions to the rule.  However, the state supreme court affirmed the trial court on this issue as well as all other issues raised in the appeal.
Contact Birmingham divorce and family law attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

Dalton v. Dalton, August 19, 2014, Supreme Court of Maine

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama


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