Written by attorney Howard M Lewis

Appealing your divorce decree

Ideally, both parties in a divorce are satisfied with the terms of their final divorce decree. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially in a contentious divorce. When one party believes that the judge's rulings were grossly unfair or fraudulent, that person can file an appeal.

Reasons for an appeal

State laws regarding appeals differ, but most allow appeals only where you can show misconduct or that the judge erred on a point of law. You cannot appeal an issue that was not raised in the original trial. An appeal can be lengthy and expensive, so you are much better off making sure you understand and agree with a divorce decree before you sign it. If you find errors, especially dollar amounts, or wording that could later be misinterpreted, insist that they be fixed before signing. If, however, you do decide to appeal, use a divorce lawyer rather than doing it yourself. The procedure is long and complicated, with many documents to file and multiple recipients receiving multiple copies. A divorce attorney familiar with appeals can make sure it’s done correctly.

Appeal process

Most states give you a limited time after your divorce decree is finalized to file a notice of appeal, generally about 30 to 45 days. The notice of appeal tells the court that you intend to appeal the ruling. It describes the issues you want to appeal and why you believe the original ruling was wrong. You will usually also have to file the trial transcripts from your original divorce proceedings, along with any evidence entered into that trial. You may not enter any new evidence and no new testimony is involved.

Once all documentation is in place, the appellate court, usually consisting of three judges, reviews it all. If the appellate court sides with you, it will order a reversal, which overturns the trial ruling. It will also usually issue a remand, ordering the trial court to revise the decree based on the appellate courts orders. There is no guarantee that the appellate court will find in your favor, and in fact, it is unlikely. If it does not, it will affirm the original divorce decree and you will then have to abide by it.

Your best chance at a satisfactory divorce decree is to make the most of your divorce trial. Make sure your attorney aggressively represents your best interests and presents all pertinent evidence. Remember, unless the judge in that trial makes a serious error in judgment or acts fraudulently, the appellate court will most likely deny your appeal.

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