Appealing Family Law Decisions: What to Know

Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP

From divorce settlements to child custody arrangements, family law can govern some of the most sensitive aspects of our lives. But what happens when parties disagree with a court’s decision in these legal matters? The answer lies in the process of appealing family law decisions.

Understanding the Basics of Family Law Appeals

An appeal in the context of family law refers to the process by which a party seeks to challenge a decision made by the Court. This decision could pertain to various legal claims, including divorce settlements, child custody arrangements, child support orders, spousal support/maintenance awards, and property division.

When a party appeals, they are essentially asking a higher court to review the lower court’s decision for legal errors. It’s important to note that an appeal is not a retrial of the case. Instead, it focuses on whether the lower court made a mistake in applying the law or procedural rules.

When Is Appealing a Family Law Decision Necessary?

Not every unfavorable ruling warrants an appeal. Before deciding to pursue an appeal, it’s crucial to understand the grounds on which an appeal can be based. Generally, these grounds may include:

  • Legal Errors: This could involve misinterpretation or misapplication of the law by the lower court.
  • Procedural Errors: If the initial judge failed to follow proper procedures or violated the parties’ rights during the proceedings, it could provide grounds for appeal.
  • New Evidence: In some cases, newly discovered evidence that could not have been presented at the initial trial may warrant an appeal.
  • Abuse of Discretion: If the decision is deemed to be an abuse of its discretion, such as making a ruling that there is no reasonable basis upon which the court’s ruling could have been made given the facts in evidence. 
  • Fraud or Misconduct: If there is evidence of fraud or misconduct that significantly affected the outcome of the case, it may provide grounds for appeal.

It’s important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney with extensive experience in similar cases to determine whether your case meets any of these criteria for an appeal.

Can You Appeal a Divorce Ruling?

Divorce rulings are a commonly appealed type of family law decisions. However, not every aspect of a divorce judgment may be subject to review by higher courts. Typically, issues such as property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support are open to appeals if there are legal errors or other grounds for challenge.

What to Expect During the Appeals Process

Appealing a decision made in California family court can be a complex and time-consuming process. Here’s a general overview of what to expect, although an experienced appellate attorney can discuss further:

  • Filing the Notice of Appeal: The first step in initiating an appeal is filing a notice of appeal with the appropriate appellate court within the specified timeframe, which varies by jurisdiction.
  • Preparation of the Appellate Briefs: Both parties will have the opportunity to submit written arguments, known as appellate briefs, outlining their positions on the legal issues in question. These briefs present the parties’ legal arguments and cite relevant case law and statutes.
  • Oral Argument: In some cases, the appellate court may schedule oral arguments where attorneys for each party have the opportunity to present their case and answer questions from the judges.
  • Appellate Decision: After reviewing the written briefs, oral arguments (if any), and the record from the lower court, the appellate court will issue a decision either affirming, reversing, or remanding the lower court’s decision.

Once the appellate court issues its decision, the original court will typically implement the ruling. If the decision results in a change to the lower court’s order, the parties will need to comply with the new directives.

Experienced Legal Counsel for Family Law Appeals

The decision to appeal a family law ruling is not one to be taken lightly. It requires careful consideration of the legal grounds for appeal, as well as an understanding of the appellate process. While appealing a decision can be challenging, it provides parties with an opportunity to seek a fair resolution to their disputes. By consulting with experienced legal counsel, individuals can navigate this often-daunting terrain with confidence and clarity.

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