A litigant’s right to appeal a questionable judgment is well-ingrained in Anglo-American jurisprudence. In fact, appellate opinions, (not trial court’s rulings or even the statutes) constitute the bulk of family law. These opinions offer precise interpretations vaguely-worded laws, and govern how trial courts must rule. Yet, only a tiny percentage of all family law cases ever reach even the first level of appellate review. Why is that? For starters, many family law clients simply can’t afford the appellate process. More fundamentally, overturning an unfavorable final judgment requires many conditions to be “just right.” As a result, while the right to appeal is available to all litigants, most family law attorneys will only handle a small number of appeals during their careers, if any.
First, let’s examine the basic procedure for an appeal. A family law litigant has 30 days from the final judgment to file a notice of appeal (A few non-final orders can also be appealed, but for the sake of brevity, we will only consider final judgments). For example, if you are not happy about how the trial judge ruled in your divorce trial, you must file the aforementioned notice no later than 30 days after the signed final judgment is issued. If you fail to timely file this notice, you waive the right to appeal forever. Needless to say, a competent family law lawyer will advise his/her client of this deadline either right before or immediately after the trial. Furthermore, the appealing party must pay the initial filing fee along with the notice of appeal. The clerk of court will not accept the notice of appeal without an accompanying payment of this fee, which ranges between $250 and $300. Continue Reading