Can I Appeal My Divorce Judgment?
Going through the divorce process can be financially and emotionally overwhelming. Although many spouses are able to resolve their cases out of court and decide the outcome on their own, some divorces are litigated — and the issues are determined by a judge. Upon conclusion of the trial, the judge will issue a divorce decree. However, even when the trial is over, it doesn’t always mean the case will be. A spouse might seek post-judgment relief from the trial court, or seek to appeal the divorce judgment to a higher court.
What Issues Can You Appeal in a Divorce Judgment?
A spouse unhappy with the divorce judgment can argue that the trial court made legal errors that warrant reversal by the appeals court. Many issues litigated in a divorce and decided by the trial court can be appealed, including child support, custody and parenting time, alimony, property distribution, and attorney’s fees.
When Can You File an Appeal in a Divorce Case?
An appeal is not a second chance to relitigate your divorce case. It is a procedure used when a party believes an error or mistake was made by the judge in the lower court - an error significant enough to merit granting relief by the higher, appeals court.
In New Jersey, a divorce litigant may be entitled to appeal a divorce judgment if one or more of the following circumstances affected the outcome of the case:
- The judge failed to apply the law correctly
- The judge failed to make adequate findings
- The judge failed to resolve a significant dispute between the parties in the case
- The judge failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing required by governing law
- The judge reached a decision that constitutes an abuse of the judge’s discretion
If an appeal is based on abuse of discretion, it means that the judge reached a decision that was not adequately supported by the evidence or was contrary to governing law. For example, if there are conflicting facts in the case, it is up to the trial court to determine which facts are correct based on its evaluation of the evidence. If there is sufficient support for the trial court’s findings, an appellate court will likely not overturn the decision. If the court misinterpreted or misapplied the governing law, however, the appellate court likely will overturn the decision.
What is the Procedure for Appealing a Divorce Judgment?
As with any other appeal, there are specific procedures that must be followed to appeal a divorce judgment. First, you must identify the specific issues that should be appealed and file a Notice of Appeal with the Appellate Division. Following the filing of the Notice of Appeal, the appeal must be “perfected” and prepared for review by the appellate court.
Perfecting the appeal involves preparing the record or appendix and the legal brief - the written argument in support of your request for relief from the appellate court. Some cases also involve an oral argument before the appeal judges assigned to hear your appeal (which occurs after the legal briefs by the parties have been filed). This is not the same type of argument that was presented to the trial court. It is a focus on the legal errors the trial court made that have been raised for appellate relief.
The law establishes a specific time in which an appeal must be filed to overturn a divorce decree. In New Jersey, a party only has 45 days to file a notice of appeal - typically running from the time the divorce judgment was entered by the trial court. Failure to timely file an appeal typically results in losing the right to pursue the appeal.
Contact an Experienced Appellate Attorney
If you believe that the trial court made mistakes in your divorce case, consider filing an appeal. The appellate attorneys at Hegge & Confusione, LLC know how to skillfully prepare an appeal and present effective arguments before appellate judges, while navigating the complex procedures involved in the appeal process. Contact us today for an assessment of your case and learn how we can help you.