Appealing a Divorce Can Be Difficult

The law and the family court system in the United States favors the finality of decisions, but a party who disagrees with the court’s decision in a divorce action has the right to appeal the case.

That said, in divorce actions, appeals courts very seldom provide relief from the judgments of lower courts absent “exceptional and compelling circumstances.”

Some people misunderstand the function of an appeal. An appeal is not a “second try” when a party is unhappy with the way a judge handled the case the first time. An appeal requires grounds, which usually means that the “judge abused his/her discretion, or made a ruling that was purely erroneous as to a matter of law, fact, or procedure.”

Appellate law varies from state to state, but in most jurisdictions an appeal requires that a judge made an error in law or abused his or her discretion. The appeal cannot revolve around the credibility of a witness or factual determinations made by the court unless determination of  “plain error” is involved. “Harmless errors” are not grounds for reversing a court decision.

If the appellant wins, the court can either reverse the lower court’s ruling or it can remand the case back to the lower with instructions to retry the case. If the appellant loses, (as is most often the case) the appellant is out of options.

No one can file appeal pro se, and in fact, very often an appellant must retain an appeals lawyer who is not the lawyer who handled the trial case.

The mechanics of filing a divorce appeal are very complicated. Generally the appeal must be filed within 45 days of the original decision. The appellant must inform the spouse and the court reporter that the appeal is being filed. The appeal itself is called a “record below,” and includes a transcript of the lower court trial and pleadings and documents. The preparation of the appeal follows very strict formatting rules and multiple copies must be presented to all the parties of the case.

Needless to say, an appeal is a very expensive undertaking. Appealing a case may take a year or two, and there is no guarantee of the outcome. The process at best is slow and expensive.

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