Can You Appeal a Judge's Decision in Family Court?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Can You Appeal a Judge's Decision in Family Court?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

When you go to family court to resolve issues related to child support or alimony, the judge issues a final order, or decision, on those issues. If you disagree with the judge's decision, you may be able to appeal the final order to a higher court.


Understanding what can and can't be appealed can help you decide how to move on in your family court case. Since the laws differ state-to-state, be sure to check your local rules and statutes to see what your options are.

Gavel, pair of glasses, and book entitled "Family Court"

What's an Appeal?

An appeal occurs when one party to a case asks a higher court to review the decision on a lower court, such as family court. You can only review final orders, however. A final order is one where the judge reaches a final decision on a matter, such as visitation. Additionally, the order must be complete, meaning that no issues remain for the court's consideration. If you have a temporary order, meaning the questions aren't entirely resolved, then you need permission to appeal the case to another court.

If you disagree with this final and complete order, then you can ask another court to review the decision. When you appeal, the higher court reviews your entire case, meaning all of the documents and evidence presented to the family court. An appeal is not a re-do of your trial. You cannot introduce new evidence or testimony in the court's review. Instead, the higher court will review the case that was before the family court and determine if it will uphold or amend the final order.

What Can You Appeal?

When you appeal a court's decision, you'll need to assert what mistake you think the family court made. For example, if a family court judge rendered a decision that violated state law or based his or her decision on a mistaken fact, then you may appeal the decision.

For example, if the court granted visitation or custody to a parent who was unfit to take care of his or her children, based on evidence, then you could appeal that decision. However, if the judge's decision is reasonable and based on evidence, then that family court decision will stand, and your appeal will fail.

How Do You File an Appeal?

When you file an appeal, you should check with your local county court to see what documents or forms you must complete. Generally, before you file, you should first determine if you have an issue that's available for reconsideration. Further, you may have a certain number of days in which to file for your review. Make sure you know your deadline.

Then, you'll file the notice of the appeal with the proper court, while paying any required filing fee. Next, you'll notify your ex-spouse or the parent of your child of the reconsideration. Check with your local court to determine how to provide this notice. Finally, you'll need to draft a memorandum, or brief, outlining the reasons for the appeal. You'll file this brief with the court for its review.

After you complete all of the necessary steps to reconsider an issue, the higher court will notify you if they approve or deny your appeal. If they approve it, the higher court will review your case and determine if the family court's decision will be upheld or modified.

Understanding the appeals process can help you determine how to move forward if you think the family court judge made a mistake in your case. However, when you appeal an issue, you'll want to check your local and state rules to make sure you're following the proper protocol.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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