Appeal Rights in a Divorce Case

by Heather Frances J.D. Google
A judge's decisions can be reversed.

A judge's decisions can be reversed.

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When spouses do not reach agreement about the terms of their divorce, courts must decide issues for them, including child custody, alimony, child support and property division. Courts sometimes make mistakes, so spouses can appeal the court’s decisions by asking a higher court to reverse the trial court. However, state laws may limit a spouse’s right to appeal.

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Contested Divorce

Appeal rights typically do not exist in uncontested divorce cases since spouses agree on all the terms of the divorce. Spouses can appeal a judge’s decision in a contested divorce in which a trial is held and both sides have a chance to be heard. Typically, a spouse can appeal a judge’s ruling if it was incorrect about a matter of law, fact or procedure. For example, if a judge applied the wrong law to your case, a higher court will likely overturn the judge’s ruling. Similarly, a spouse could appeal rulings by a judge who refused to recognize a higher court’s previous decisions.

Partial Appeal

Spouses do not have to appeal an entire judgment. If a spouse agrees with parts of the judgment but disagrees with others, he can appeal only the parts with which he disagrees. For example, if the judge made a legal error by not including health insurance payments when applying the state’s child support guidelines, either parent could appeal the judgment to ask a higher court to recalculate child support.

Filing an Appeal

The exact procedures for filing an appeal vary by state, but many states limit the time you have to appeal, most ranging from 21 days in states like Michigan to 30 days in states like Georgia to 45 days in states like Colorado. Appeals are typically filed with the higher court with jurisdiction to hear appeals from the lower court that decided the divorce. States may require the appealing spouse to file a notice of appeal in the trial court to provide notice that he intends to file an appeal. An appeal may take several months, depending on the issues appealed and the workload of the appellate court.

Winning an Appeal

If a spouse wins an appeal, the higher court reverses the judgment of the trial court. Depending on the issue appealed, the reversal may resolve the issue or require the trial court to make another decision. For example, if the appellate court decides the trial court wrongly refused to award spousal support, it may send the case back to the trial court to make a spousal support award instead of making the award itself.