Can You Appeal a Family Court Decision?

What Are My Legal Options After an Unfavorable Decision?

While the family courts do their best to hand down fair and just orders, mistakes do happen. Receiving a judgment against you is frustrating and disappointing. It's even more difficult to deal with if you believe it resulted from a judge's error or other problem. You may be wondering if you have any legal recourse to correct it.

In some cases, you may be able to appeal a family court decision. However, the process is complicated, and there are important deadlines that cannot be missed. If you are considering appealing a family court ruling, you should consult with an attorney before proceeding. The courts are very strict regarding family court appeals, and you want to be sure that you have substantial grounds to file for an appeal. Failure to follow the correct procedures can result in losing your appeals case.

Family court matters that can be appealed include:

  • Divorce
  • Spousal support
  • Child custody
  • Child support

What Is an Appeal?

Many people mistakenly believe that an appeal is an opportunity for a new trial. This is not the case. When you appeal, you will not be returning to court to present your case to a new judge. You also won't have the chance to present new evidence or witnesses. The appellate courts review what happened during your trial and decide if a legal mistake was indeed made. For example, they may look to see if a judge misapplied a law.

When looking at an appeal, the courts are concerned with:

  • Legal mistakes
  • Whether those mistakes affected the final judgment in the case

It is also important to remember that the appellate courts are not concerned with whether they agree with the trial court's decision. Rather, they can only reverse a decision if they find that a mistake was made that affected the outcome.

What Happens with My Original Court Order During the Appeals Process?

Many people are under the misconception that their original court order is stayed or postponed when they file an appeal. This is not true. You must make a special request for an order to be stayed. Making this request is complicated, and you may still be required to comply with part of all of the original order. Therefore, if you are appealing a spousal support order, you must still abide by the original order unless the appellate courts tell you otherwise. If you are confused about how your appeals case affects your original orders, speak with your attorney right away. Do not ignore court orders, even if you think they are incorrect.

Where Are Family Court Appeals Heard in California?

California has six appellate courts that serve specific districts. Orange County family court appeals are heard in Division Three of the 4th District Court of Appeal. The 4th District serves a large geographic region, including San Diego, Riverside, Imperial, Inyo, and Orange Counties. Division Three is in Santa Ana. Eight justices serve Division Three.

To learn more about the 4th District Court of Appeal, review their website here.

Alternatives to Appealing Your Case

The appeals process is lengthy and expensive. Additionally, appeals cases are very challenging, and you are not guaranteed success just because you have filed for an appeal. Before going through this process, you should discuss your alternatives with an attorney. There may be other options for resolving your problem without involving the Court of Appeal.

Instead of appealing, you may be able to:

  • File a motion to set aside or vacate the judgment
  • File a motion for reconsideration of the order
  • File a motion for a new trial
  • Apply for a renewal

If your problem stems from new evidence, facts, circumstances, or law, these options may be better than filing an appeal. Remember, the appeals court is not concerned with new evidence or facts and will only look at the trial record for evidence of a legal mistake. Similarly, if you are concerned with jury misconduct, insufficient evidence, or an irregularity that you believe prevented the trial from being fair, filing a motion for a new trial may be more effective than filing an appeal.

These alternatives to an appeal can be just as complicated as the appeals process. Speak with your lawyer before pursuing them.

Always Work with an Attorney

While you do have the option to seek an appeal without legal representation, the courts advise against this. The appeals process is very difficult to navigate. There are many rules, procedures, and deadlines that must be adhered to exactly. If you are working without a lawyer's guidance, you may be more likely to make mistakes that negatively impact your case. You may even run the risk of having your case dismissed.

Not all family law attorneys handle appeals cases. This may mean that you will have to seek different legal representation than the lawyer who handled your original case. When selecting an attorney to represent you, make sure you find a lawyer experienced in appeals.