If you can't reach an agreement with your spouse as to how to end your marriage, you run the risk of having a judge decide things for you at trial. Your life – and all the things that matter most to you – end up in a judge's hands, subject to his discretion and decisions. He may or may not agree with your arguments, and he's only human. He can make mistakes. In the latter case, Arizona law gives you options for setting things right, but you won’t have much time to act.
If you believe an error occurred during your divorce trial, your course of action depends on what exactly went wrong. You can appeal the family court's decision to a higher authority – the Arizona Court of Appeals – or you can ask the family court for a new trial. The first option asks the higher court to review the initial judge's decisions. The second option asks the court to vacate or throw out your divorce judgment and schedule a new trial.
You can't file an appeal or ask for a new trial just because a judge doesn't rule in your favor or because you don't like his decision. You need grounds – specific, legally acceptable reasons for the court to act. Arizona recognizes more grounds for appeals than for motions for a new trial, but they're still limited. You must establish that the judge made a legal error, such as he considered evidence he shouldn't have or refused to hear testimony that might have affected his decision. You can't ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider the evidence you already presented at trial. An appeal is limited to deciding whether the judge abided by court rules.
Deadlines and Procedures
You have 30 days to appeal your divorce judgment in Arizona. The calendar begins running on the day the court files your judgment and it becomes a matter of record, not the day the judge signs it. A "Notice of Appeal" initiates the action, after which you or your attorney must file a "Record of Appeal" and an appellate brief, explaining how and why you think the judge erred. Typically, the appellate court will review your paperwork – and your spouse's paperwork as well, because she has a right to respond to your allegations – then issue a written decision. You generally won't have to appear in court to argue your case in person. If the Court of Appeals decides that the judge made a mistake, it will remand your case back to the family court judge so he can reconsider the decision he made in error. It won't reverse the trial court's decision; it basically just gives the judge a second chance.
Timing Your Response
You can't file an appeal and a motion for a new trial simultaneously. A motion for a new trial has the effect of keeping your divorce case active with the family court. By law, the Court of Appeals can only make decisions after the family court has officially closed your case. You have 15 days after your judgment is entered with the court to file a motion for a new trial, and if you do, this has the effect of postponing the appeal deadline. In this case, the 30 days begin running when the court decides your motion and the resulting order is filed with the court. If you're denied a new trial, you can then file an appeal.