Appealing a Divorce Decree

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 Who May Appeal a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree refers to the court’s final ruling and judgment order. Depending on the state, a divorce decree may also be called a final order or a final judgment. This order is what makes the termination of a marriage official.

Each divorce decree will be different based on the needs of each divorcing couple, but the general purpose of the decree is to summarize the rights and duties of each party in connection with the divorce. The divorce decree contains specific conclusions for issues such as property distribution, child custody and support, and alimony payments.

Divorce decrees are important due to the fact that the divorce process is not complete until one is issued. As such, the party’s status as married or divorced will not be finalized until the divorce decree is completed and issued. Divorce proceedings that are not yet completed may have effects on different areas of life. Some examples of this may include:

  • Debt;
  • Property possession;
  • Taxes;
  • Employment benefits; and
  • Other legal rights.

The divorce decree also provides basic information, such as:

  • The names of the parties;
  • The case number;
  • The date that the divorce becomes effective; and
  • The terms that the parties may have agreed upon.

In some cases, a divorce decree will outline other provisions. Examples of such provisions may include the debts that the parties have incurred over the course of their marriage, as well as their financial responsibilities after the divorce. A record of the final decree of divorce is maintained in the vital records office of the courthouse in the county in which the divorce occurred. These may be obtained if an extra copy is needed.

Appealing a divorce judgment is an action in which one party, subject to a final divorce decree, seeks to change or correct that final judgment. Any party to the divorce may appeal the decree, so long as doing so is not prohibited by state statute. Depending on the state, both parties can file an appeal to the decree at the same time.

Because the appellate system provides much deference to the original judge. However, it is not impossible. If both spouses agree to the terms of the settlement, the final settlement cannot be overturned on appeal unless there were issues regarding how the agreement came about.

What Are Valid Grounds for Appealing a Divorce Decree?

There are many reasons to contest a divorce, although not all are legally valid. The most common claim for appealing a divorce decree is that the court made some sort of mistake regarding the law in the final judgment. The party filing the appeal must show that the judge made an error or mistake in applying or interpreting the law regarding the circumstances of the case.

Generally speaking, a party cannot simply challenge facts that were already established over the course of the original proceeding. If the facts have been established at the lower court, the appellate court will accept those as the facts of the case, unless something about those facts reflects the mistake that the court made when applying the law.

An example of this would be if the court concluded that one spouse’s income was $50,000 a year. This fact could not be contested on appeal, unless it can be proven that the court applied the wrong legal standard for calculating income. If the fact is the result of the wrong legal standard being applied, then this could be possibly challenged on appeal.

Other common grounds that could support an appeal of the divorce decree might include:

  • Instances of fraud committed by the opposing party in connection with the court proceedings;
  • Hidden assets or concealment of other important information by the other party; and
  • Discovery of new facts that could not otherwise be discovered during the original proceedings.

While these are all legitimate instances in which an appeal might stand, the appeal is most likely to be successful if it is based on an error in law committed by the court. It is important to note that there are numerous different circumstances in which one party may seek to modify a divorce decree.

For example, in the case of spousal support, when the party receiving spousal support gets remarried or gains employment, the party paying the support may seek to modify the spousal support order contained in the final decree.

Are There Different Kinds of Appeals for Divorce Decrees? How Long Does the Divorce Appeal Process Take?

There are different kinds of appeals for divorce decrees. Many of them are only granted according to the judge’s discretion. Some ways that you can challenge the decree include:

  • Appeal: This is the standard process for challenging a divorce decree, and is also one of the most time-consuming. Generally speaking, you have thirty days in which to file an appeal after the final judgment has been issued. The appeal must be based on the court’s mistake of law; in general, no new facts can be introduced on appeal. The appellate process maintains strict procedures and deadlines about filing the notice of appeal. Failure to follow your state and county procedures, or missing that deadline, may forfeit your right to appeal;
  • Motion for Rehearing: A motion for rehearing is a highly specific type of procedure that must be filed almost immediately after the judgment is issued. You do not have an absolute right to have the case reheard, as the request must be granted by the judge; and
  • Motion for Relief from Judgment: A motion for relief from judgment is only granted in limited circumstances. An example of such circumstances would be if the other party committed fraud or concealed assets. Generally speaking, this motion may be granted only in cases in which something serious has occurred that affects the fairness of the decree. The motion for relief from judgment generally has a longer deadline for filing than that of the motion for rehearing.

If you wish to appeal your divorce decree, it is imperative that you pay attention to the deadlines. All of these potential procedures have very strict deadlines. In some cases, this deadline is ten days or less after the final judgment is issued. Missing the deadline may mean that you miss your chance to appeal the decree.

Every case is different, of course; however, the appeal process is not generally a quick one. Sometimes the appeal can take as long as two years. This is especially true when the case is “remanded” to a lower court. What this means is that the case is sent back to the lower court to reconsider the issues.

The appeal process can also be expensive, and may not provide the results you are seeking. The chances of winning a divorce appeal are low. If you wish to appeal your divorce decree, you may want to take into consideration how the overall length of the process will affect other important life decisions.

To reiterate, appealing a divorce decree is often limited to errors based on the lower court’s legal ruling. Appeals must be specifically requested, as they are not automatically granted. Appeals are subject to very strict filing deadlines, and only issues of law can be appealed.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Appealing a Divorce Decree?

If you believe that the court made a mistake in your final divorce decree, you should discuss the matter with a local attorney. Appealing a divorce decree can be a long and complex process with many important details to consider.

Additionally, deadlines for filing particular paperwork can vary greatly from state to state. An experienced and local family law attorney will be best suited for the task of determining how your state’s laws will affect your course of action.

A skilled and experienced divorce lawyer or family lawyer can guide you through the process and ensure your appeal is based on solid grounds. An experienced attorney will also ensure that all paperwork is filed in a timely fashion, and can represent you in court, as needed.

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