Divorces generally do not end with both sides smiling, and if your case makes it all the way to litigation, the chances are even worse. There is usually one side who feels the judge unfairly gave them the short end of the stick when it came down to setting out the stipulations of the final decree, and sometimes that is true.
If the judge made a critical error, or perhaps certain facts were not given enough weight, you may have good reason to seek a review of your case through a formal appeal of the judge’s decision. This isn’t an easy, quick or cheap process, so you don’t want to appeal simply because you didn’t like the decision — you had better have hard evidence to back up that a mistake was actually made.
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to appeal your case.
Filing an appeal usually has a strict time limit
You usually only have 30 days to file your appeal, though different jurisdictions may have different rules. This is hopefully long enough that you will have time to clear your head so you can make a rational decision whether an appeal right for you, as opposed to simply beginning the process because you were disappointed in the outcome.
Understand the costs
Appeals can get very pricy, very quickly — sometimes even more than the initial trial. Although you do not need to pay for the expert witnesses, business valuations, etc. that were likely necessary while litigating your divorce, you will instead need to pay filing fees, as well as for copies of all relevant transcripts, exhibits, motions, briefs or anything relevant to your case.
You may need a new attorney
The appeals process is a whole other ballpark than normal litigation, and you may need to hire an attorney who specializes in the intricacies of the appeals process. This will mean paying for them to become familiar with your case, as they will need to know the details inside and out to properly represent you.
Know what is applicable for appeal
Generally speaking, an appeals court will only overturn a judge’s decision if it can be proven that errors were made in the application of the law during the original trial, which resulted in a significantly unfair outcome. You will need to take time with your lawyer to pour over transcripts to find mistakes that create enough of a difference to warrant taking on the financial risk of losing the appeal.
The odds are against you
You will need to make a very compelling argument to win the case, as the appellate court comes into the process assuming the trial court was correct — it is you and your lawyer’s job to prove them otherwise. Even if the appeals court accepts some of your arguments, they may still rule with the original decision because the errors were either irrelevant or not major enough to significantly impact the outcome.
The appeals process can last a very long time
An appeal of a divorce can take more than a year to settle, so you will really want to weigh whether the point you are arguing is worth it. You will be paying your lawyer and filing fees that whole time, and if you end up losing, there is a good chance you will be required to pay for your ex’s attorney fees as well. Not to mention that circumstances are apt to change in that amount of time that could make fighting to overturn the decision pointless.
It is up to you whether it is worth the time, money and effort to appeal your case. In some situations, when a grievous error has been made, it can definitely be worth the hassle. If you are just looking to get a second chance at a slightly better settlement, however, it would be better to try and move on or consider other methods, such as a motion for modification.
Besides, even if you win your case, it is unlikely that you will be awarded a new order on the spot. Instead, the appellate court generally remands to the trial judge for a new hearing, and you will have to await a new decision from the judge you just appealed.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”