At this point, if either party is dissatisfied with the outcome, they may choose to pursue an appeal. This is not a process you should engage in haphazardly or without the assistance of experienced counsel. At Karp & Iancu, S.C., our Menomonee Falls Appeals Attorneys can guide you through the process of challenging your divorce judgment before the appellate courts. We can explain your options and advise you on the best course of action if you feel that the trial court made the wrong decision or reached that decision in the wrong way.
How Does the Appeals Process Work in a Wisconsin Divorce Case?
There is often a great deal of misunderstanding as to how appeals work. Wisconsin’s court system is basically divided into three tiers. At the bottom tier are the Circuit Courts, which conduct trials. This is where your divorce case will be heard and tried by a judge. If you disagree with the judge’s decision, your next step would be to file an appeal, which takes you to the next tier of the judicial system, the Court of Appeals.
Typically, you can only appeal a final judgment or final order. In some cases it is possible to appeal a non-final order–i.e., an order issued while your divorce case is still pending in the Circuit Court–but you will first need to seek permission from the Court of Appeals. It is also important to note that you generally cannot appeal the terms of a settlement that was later incorporated into a final divorce judgment.
An appeal itself is heard by a three-judge panel randomly assigned by the Court of Appeals. This panel is neither a trial court nor a jury. In other words, the appeals panel is not there to retry your case simply because you were unhappy with the trial judge’s decision. Rather, the role of the Court of Appeals is to review the trial court record to see if the trial court made any legal errors or other mistakes that resulted in an incorrect outcome.
Unlike a trial, you will not be asked to testify in-person at the Court of Appeals. Indeed, most appeals are decided solely on the basis of written arguments called briefs that are filed by each side. In some cases, the Court of Appeals may ask the attorneys for each party to present brief oral arguments before the appeals panel. This is usually an opportunity for the judges to ask questions about the case and each side’s briefs. Again, it is not a forum to rehear the case itself.
Some time after receiving the briefs, and hearing oral arguments when called for, the appeals panel will issue a written decision on the appeal. There are a few possible outcomes for an appeal:
- The appeals panel agrees with you that the trial court made a mistake and you are entitled to relief, such as a new trial.
- The appeals panel finds the trial judge committed no reversible error and affirms the lower court’s decision.
- The appeals panel may dismiss your appeal without ruling on its merits. This may occur if you fail to follow certain procedural rules.
If you lose your appeal, it is possible to seek further review of your divorce case from the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. But unlike the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court is not required to hear your case. You actually need to file a Petition for Review, which basically asks the Supreme Court for permission to appeal beyond the Court of Appeals. Most of the time, the Supreme Court will deny a Petition for Review.
The Supreme Court only tends to accept cases where there is a split between the lower courts as to how to apply the law, or if an appeal raises a particularly important policy question. So even though your divorce obviously matters a great deal to you, if it does not meet either of these thresholds, your case will likely end at the Court of Appeals.