Family Law Appeals

In Brief

An appeal in a family law action is intended to right a wrong, ameliorate a miscarriage of justice, and otherwise “fix” errors committed at the trial court level. For purposes of this post, we will not address Family Law Writs. Contact one of our attorneys today to discuss your options for appeal. Appeals are time sensitive matters and you are admonished to speak with a legal professional quickly to preserve your rights on appeal.

Who Can Appeal

An appeal can be filed by anyone who is an “aggrieved party.” See Code of Civil Procedure § 902. The “aggrieved party” requirement has been interpreted to mean someone who is joined to the action as a party. In almost all cases, this means one of the spouses/domestic partners.

Considerations in Appeal

It is important to speak with a competent and qualified family law attorney in order to discuss whether an appeal is a realistic and pragmatic solution to solve your family law judgment related issues. Some considerations our attorneys discuss with clients and prospective clients are

  • Was there an error committed at the trial court level?
  • Was the error committed of such a nature that a miscarriage of justice resulted?
  • Does the existing record provide adequate information and proof necessary to prove your case on appeal?
  • Did you waive your right to appeal already?
  • Has the time to appeal your judgment lapsed?
  • If you do appeal, what “standard of review” will the appellate court apply? What does this mean for your chances?
  • If you do file an appeal, is there a risk that it will be deemed “frivolous” by the court? What are the implications of filing a frivolous appeal?

Errors in the Trial Court: Error of Law vs. Error of Fact

Whether you (or your attorney) claim an error was committed at the trial court level, this will be presented as either an error of law or an error of fact. An error of law occurs when the facts of an issue are undisputed by the parties and the court failed to apply the proper legal standard, statutory authority, or case law to an uncontroverted issue. Conversely, an error of fact is reviewed by attacking the sufficiency of evidence to support a court’s determination based on presentation of evidence and the credibility of parties.

Was the Decision of the Trial Court an Abuse of Discretion?

The majority of all decisions made by a family court are reviewed on appeal under the “abuse of discretion” standard. This standard is extremely deferential to the trial court. In essence, the appellate court views the case from the lens that the trial court was in the best position to make a decision since the trial court had all the witness, pleadings, facts, and evidence before it. This makes family law appeals difficult to succeed on unless you can show the trial court abused its discretion by ruling in the way it chose to.

An abuse of discretion has been found to occur when statutory or case law prescribed standards and procedures for evaluating certain issues of discretion (i.e. failure to consider Family Code Section 4320 factors in awarding permanent spousal support).

More often, an abuse of discretion is premised on the notion that a judicial officer made a judgment call that the appellate court may deem “arbitrary, capricious, or patently absurd.” While sometimes family law litigant believe that a judicial officer made a decision that qualifies, you should speak with a family law attorney to determine whether objectively, your case is meritorious of appellate relief.

When Do I File My Appeal?

Unless you request and are granted an extension, the timeline to file a Notice of Appeal is governed by statute. See Generally California Rules of Court Rule 8.104, which provides in relevant part:

(1)  Unless a statute or rules 8.108, 8.702, or 8.712 provides otherwise, a notice of appeal must be filed on or before the earliest of:

(A)  60 days after the superior court clerk serves on the party filing the notice of appeal a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or a filed-endorsed copy of the judgment, showing the date either was served;

(B)  60 days after the party filing the notice of appeal serves or is served by a party with a document entitled “Notice of Entry” of judgment or a filed-endorsed copy of the judgment, accompanied by proof of service; or

(C)  180 days after entry of judgment.

It is important, if you are considering an appeal, talk with a family law attorney. To schedule an appointment with one of our family law attorneys, click here. Our attorneys at Harris Family Law Firm have handled appeals in Orange County and Riverside County of family law and dependency related matters.

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