What to Do When A Court Mistake Happens
Like the rest of us, Judges and court staff are human, which means they are not perfect, and from time to time, the court makes a mistake. The court mistake could be harmless, like mistyping a name, or harmful, like miscalculating an amount for child support.
Fortunately, the Family Court rules anticipate this problem and outline a procedure for correcting clerical errors or mistakes made by the Court.
Specifically, Rule 85(A) of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure provide:
Clerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of the record and errors therein arising from oversight or omission may be corrected by the court at any time of its own initiative or on motion of any party and after such notice, if any, as the court orders. During pendency of an appeal, such mistakes may be so corrected before the appeal is docketed in the appellate court, and thereafter while the appeal is pending may be so corrected with leave of the appellate court.
From the language of the Rule, we know that it only applies to errors arising from oversight and/or omission, what I refer to as “honest” mistakes. There are other rules that apply when you think the Court abused its discretion or did not properly apply the law and evidence.
Court Makes A Mistake: Clerical or Something Else?
If you are looking to challenge a ruling on one of those basis, where clearly the court made a mistake, you should consult a family law attorney immediately, as there are important deadlines related to those claims. Clerical mistakes, on the other hand, can be corrected at any time.
To demonstrate how this rule works in practice, consider the following three scenarios:
Scenario 1: Husband is a salaried employee who earns $50,000 per year. He is a salaried employee that does not earn bonuses, commissions, or receive expense reimbursements. The Child Support Order comes back hundreds of dollars higher than either Husband or Wife asked for. Upon further investigation, it appears the Court added an extra zero to his income ($500,000) when completing the Child Support Worksheet.
Scenario 2: Mother and Father reached a full agreement on parenting time. Among other things, they have agreed that Mother will have the children on Thanksgiving every even years and Father will have the children on odd years. The Court approves and adopts the agreement, but the final Order has the children with Mother for Thanksgiving in odd years, not even years.
Scenario 3: Husband is self-employed and his tax return shows income of $50,000 per year. However, his bank and accounting records show that he brought in $600,000 with only $100,000 in expenses. The Child Support Order comes back hundreds of dollars higher than Husband asked for. Upon further investigation, it appears the Court ran his income at $500,000 instead of $50,000 when completing the Child Support Worksheet.
Scenario 1 clearly involves a clerical error because no evidence was presented to suggest that he earns $500,000/year.
Scenario 2 also clearly involves a clerical error because the Court adopted the agreement and no discussion regarding the holiday schedule was held during the hearing.
Scenario 3, although seemingly similar to scenario one, likely does not involve a clerical error because evidence was presented at trial indicating that Husband earns $500,000/years. While Husband presented his own evidence indicating a much smaller number, the Court is within its discretion to find Husband’s tax returns less credible than his bank and accounting records.
If you believe a clerical error has occurred in your case, you should consult an attorney immediately to have it corrected. Also, you may consider reaching out to the other party to see if he or she is willing to stipulate to the mistakes correction.