Not everyone is satisfied after a judge makes a ruling during a family law or divorce case. Often, parents and spouses wonder if they have the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to a higher court. While in some situations an appeal is warranted, it is usually difficult to overturn a ruling without solid evidence that the judge in the case made a mistake.
Appellate courts will usually only hear appeals that come from final orders. If the order is only temporary, then the appellate court must grant the person permission to bring the appeal to court.
This means that a judge’s decisions entered while a divorce or custody case is pending are usually not up for review, unless there is a serious error. For example, if a judge awarded temporary custody of a child a father who was abusing the child, the appellate court may grant the mother permission to appeal the order.
In most cases, however, the only appealable orders in a divorce case will come when the case is over. Typically, this means the final divorce decree.
Abuse of discretion
An appeal is not an opportunity to re-try the case and hope for a different outcome. Once an order is appealed, the appellate court will only have access to the evidence and testimony that was presented in the original case. Based on the record of the case, the appellate court will determine whether to alter the trial court’s decree.
The biggest obstacle is that family law is not like other areas of law—like criminal law—where there are clear laws the court must follow. Family law is almost entirely made up of laws that give trial courts “discretion” to make findings of fact and make “fair” decisions according to the opinion of the judge. This means that the appellate court will usually only overturn something like a divorce decree or a residential schedule if the judge’s decree is so outside of what is fair that it is an abuse of discretion.
If the judge’s ruling falls within a wide range of acceptable decisions, the appeal will fail and the court’s decision will stand.
Should You Appeal Your Case?
Judges are human and make mistakes. When a divorce decree or custody order is fundamentally unfair, parties to the case have a right to appeal. However, this right does not last for long. Most orders need to be appealed within 30 days of the date they were entered.
Pursuing an appeal is a lengthy and expensive process. In most cases, it is cheaper for both parties to work out any outstanding issues on their own or through mediation, rather than filing appeals. But, when an order is clearly wrong or harmful, it may be worth the extra effort to take the case to the appellate court.
The attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law help clients with all types of family law issues, including appeals. We also work to help former couples resolve their differences amicably, reducing the costs of needless court time and trials. Our lawyers have many techniques at their disposal to help divorcing couples solve their legal problems without litigation, including using mediation, collaboration, and other dispute resolution methods.
For help with your situation, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.