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Family Law Appeals

September 14, 2023 Post-Divorce

Family Law Appeals: When and How to Challenge a Court Decision

There are times when court decisions don’t align with your expectations or the applicable laws. When this happens, you may need to challenge the outcome through an appeal. An appeal is not a complete “do over” of your case but rather a review of the trial court’s proceedings for errors.

Understanding Appeals vs. De Novo Reviews

It’s crucial to differentiate between appeals and De Novo Reviews. Appeals focus on identifying errors in the trial court’s legal decisions, whereas De Novo Reviews are specific to orders made by Court Commissioners and involve a new hearing. Appeals are more formal and move the case to a higher court, typically an appellate district outside your county. Because it is a crucial step, it’s important to seek the advice of a Milwaukee divorce attorney for help.

Decisions Eligible for Appeal

You can appeal any “final order” that goes against your interests. A final order resolves all significant issues in your case and is intended to be the concluding document in your court proceedings. In family law, final orders can include Judgments of Divorce or Paternity and post-judgment modification orders.

On rare occasions, you may be able to appeal a non-final order if it could substantially affect the final outcome or unfairly prejudice one party. This is known as an “interlocutory appeal,” but it requires court approval, which is rarely granted.

Generally, you cannot appeal a judgment or order based on a stipulation or agreement you previously consented to. The Court of Appeals will not grant relief for decisions made due to personal regrets or “buyer’s remorse.”

The Appeals Process

The appeal process is primarily conducted through written submissions and does not involve testimony or courtroom appearances. Here are the key steps:

  • Initiating an Appeal: You must file an appeal within 90 days of the adverse final order or within 45 days if you receive a “Notice of Entry of Judgment” indicating an appealable final order. You must notify the opposing party and the judge of your intent to appeal.
  • Court Record Compilation: The judge’s clerk will assemble the court record, which includes all trial documents and hearing transcripts (which you may need to purchase).
  • Brief Preparation: Your appellate attorney will draft a written brief outlining the errors you believe the trial court made and why they should be reversed. The opposing party will respond with their own brief defending the trial court’s decision, and you will have an opportunity to submit a reply brief to reinforce your position.
  • Oral Argument (if necessary): In complex cases or when additional questions arise, the Court of Appeals may schedule an oral argument where attorneys present arguments and respond to questions from the appellate judges.
  • Court Decision: After six to nine months, the Court of Appeals will issue a written decision. They may affirm the trial court’s decision, reverse it, or remand the case back to the trial court with instructions for correction.

Seeking Further Review

If the Court of Appeals upholds an adverse decision or overturns a favorable outcome, you have the option to petition the Supreme Court for further review. However, the Supreme Court only accepts cases that meet specific criteria, such as significant questions of law or the need to develop legal policy.

To initiate this process, you must file a Petition for Review within 30 days of the adverse decision by the Court of Appeals. Keep in mind that only a small percentage of these petitions are granted.

A Petition for Review aims to convince the Supreme Court that your case falls within the narrow categories they consider for review. It’s important to understand that the Supreme Court primarily focuses on developing the law.

To explore the appellate process in greater detail and understand how it might apply to your situation, consult with an experienced family law appellate attorney. They can provide valuable guidance and help you navigate the complexities of the appeals process.