The legal system is not infallible, and courts sometimes make decisions that you feel are unjust. The good news is that there are safeguards in place to ensure that bad decisions can be reviewed and potentially reversed. This applies as much to family court decisions as to those of any other judicial entity. Family law appeals are lodged every day. If you are sure of yourself and your case, and you have the help of a lawyer with appellate experience, you can successfully appeal a decision you disagree with. Read on for an essential guide to family law appeals.
Before you attempt to appeal a family court decision, there are some basic facts you must bear in mind. First, before you turn to the appeals court, you must be able to demonstrate that you have exhausted every avenue available to you in the lower courts. Second, remember what the appeals court is for and how it functions: it will not retry your case. Rather, it will review the decision made by the lower court and the process it went through to reach it, in order to determine whether the verdict was reasonable in light of the evidence. You, as the appellant, must be able to prove that the decision was reached unreasonably or that the ruling does not reflect all of the available evidence. Third, appeals can be time-consuming and costly, so be sure that you have the patience and resources before deciding to pursue one. It is not uncommon for cases to settle during the appellate process.
That being said, let us take a closer look at some of the most common questions around family law appeals.
Appealing an alimony award
If you feel that the alimony awarded to your ex-spouse is unreasonable, it is possible to lodge an appeal provided you can prove that the decision has been reached unreasonably. That is the critical point: you can’t appeal simply because you don’t like the idea of having to pay the court-ordered amount. Appellate law is designed to ensure that people cannot appeal simply because they disagree with the court’s decision. You must have compelling evidence that the court-ordered outcome is incorrect. If you genuinely feel that you have a case, you should approach an appellate attorney who can advise as to whether you have a strong chance for a successful appeal. You can appeal within 60 days of receipt of your Notice of Entry from the court.
How do I file an appeal against a child support award?
Before you even think about filing an appeal against a child support award, it is important to understand how California courts determine these awards. All California courts must adhere to Family Code section 58 and Family C. 4050, among others as they deliberate over child support awards. These provide a statewide uniform child support guideline, which is designed to ensure that courts make their judgments fairly and equitably. The guidelines have been drawn up with children’s welfare as their first priority. They assert that the parents’ first responsibility is for the care of their minor children, that parents have an equal responsibility in caring for their children, but that each parent should contribute according to their abilities. Awards take into account the increased costs of supporting a child in two homes, as well as seeking to ensure that there is not an unreasonable disparity in the standard of living between the two households. As you can see, there is a lot that goes into the decision. Your appeal must prove without doubt that the child support awarded in your case does not adhere to these strict guidelines. Speak to your appellate lawyer, who will be able to tell you if you have a strong case for an appeal. If you do, the law office will assist you in filing the necessary paperwork and getting your day in court.
Under what circumstances can you appeal child support?
There are three basic conditions that must be met for a child maintenance appeal to be filed:
- There must be clear evidence that your or your children’s rights have been violated by the court’s original maintenance award.
- The ruling must be the final judgment in the case.
- The Notice of Appeal must be filed within 180 days of the ruling.
You must be able to prove that the judge misapplied the law in making the decision, and before you file an appeal, you should already have pursued other options, such as a motion for the family court judge to reconsider the decision. If it has been a long time since the decision was made – a few months to a year or more, for example – and there has been a change in your financial circumstances, then an appeal is neither possible nor appropriate. The best course of action, in that case, would be an application to modify the child support order.
Can spousal maintenance be appealed?
Spousal support decisions can be appealed, provided all the appellate guidelines are followed. Again, you cannot simply appeal because you disagree with the court’s decision. There must be clear evidence that the decision was reached through a misapplication of the law. You must also ensure that you are still within the appropriate window for appeals, i.e., 60 days after receipt of the Notice of Entry, or 180 days after the date of entry of the judgment.
Alternatives to appealing in court for child support
If you disagree with the child maintenance that has been awarded, you have a couple of options available to you which may be more appropriate and have more chance of success than an appeal. If the judgment has only just been handed down, and you believe you have strong evidence that it is not the correct decision, you can file a motion for the judge to reconsider the case. On the other hand, if a lot of time has passed and you initially accepted the award, but find yourself in changed financial circumstances and are unable to pay, then you will need to file an application to have the child support amount modified to suit your changed payment capacity.
Deadlines for appealing family court judgments
Your notice of appeal must be filed within the stipulated time frame, or it will simply be rejected. For a family law case, the deadlines are outlined as follows:
- 60 days after either the trial court clerk or the other side serves you with notice that judgment has been entered in your case or a copy of the judgment stamped “Filed,” or
- 180 days after the entry of the judgment
What is an appeal by writ in family law?
There are two kinds of appeals: direct appeals and appeals by writ. A direct appeal is the usual sort of appeal as described in the parameters above. It follows the mandated procedures and is not filed with any urgency. In contrast, an appeal by writ is one that requests that the case be reviewed at once, as long as certain conditions are met, and as long as you can prove to the appellate court that you have no other legal remedy at your disposal. Writs are an appeal for emergency relief and an expedited appeals process. They are granted at the discretion of the appellate court and can be rejected summarily if you do not have extremely compelling reasons for your application. There are three general types of writs:
- Writs of Prohibition, which stop the family court from exercising its perceived jurisdiction
- Writs of Mandate, which compel the court to exercise some specified duty
- Writs of Certiorari, which review a decision taken by the lower court
Why do you need a lawyer with appellate experience?
Working in the appeals courts requires a different type of experience and knowledge than that which lawyers need for family courts and other lower courts. In a family court or criminal court, for example, the emphasis is on convincing the court of the facts as you see them. Once judgment is passed and a case moves to an appellate court, the focus is on whether or not the law was applied correctly in reaching the original decision. An appellate court determines this by examining written records of the original court proceedings, the strength of one or two very carefully written briefs, and sometimes, a short oral argument. To navigate successfully through this process, an appellate lawyer needs excellent knowledge of the appellate process, exceptional powers of written argument, a fresh perspective on the case, and an approach to oral argument that is completely different to that which is used in a trial, being more focused on legal process than on the facts of the case.
Westover Law Group is a company of family law attorneys serving Southern California. Our appellate lawyers are capable of taking your appeal through the appellate system, provided you have a strong case. Contact us to see how we can help you with your family law appeals and related questions.