“When Can You Appeal A Family Law Decision?”

So you had a family law contested hearing or trial…and you lost on an issue that is very important to you. What next? Can you appeal the decision?

An appeal must be based on one of two grounds: either the judge applied the wrong law or misapplied the correct law, or the judge exceeded his or her discretion to a degree that it is considered an abuse of discretion.

A mistake of law is pretty simple in theory, although complicated in practice: the judge either misunderstood the law or didn’t apply the correct law, leading to a wrong decision. This requires a showing that the wrong law was used, and that it materially impacted the decision. These tend to come up more in financial issues, date of separation issues, and jurisdictional issues like change of venue motions.

These issues often hinge on evidentiary issues as well—where the judge improperly allows or excludes certain crucial evidence, although this is also often based on the discretion of the judge to allow or exclude evidence based on the type of evidence submitted and the judge’s discretion under the evidence code.

Abuse of discretion is different. In family law cases, judges have wide discretion to set things like visitation schedules and make custody determinations, as well as allowing or disallowing credits, and determining incomes for support purposes. Generally, the judge has the discretion to hear the evidence, decide which evidence is the most credible, and make a ruling based on that evidence. This means that the vast majority of decisions that are based on the best interests of the child, or on deciding which party is being the most truthful, are not appealable. The appeals court will not second-guess the trial judge, who actually heard the evidence and determined the credibility of the witnesses in person. However, there are times where the judge has simply ignored too much evidence and has exceeded their discretion. It is somewhat rare for an appeals court panel to decide that this has happened, but it does happen where vital pieces of evidence are simply ignored and a decision is made that does not make sense in light of all the evidence. There are also times where the court may feel the judge abused his or her discretion by excluding or admitting certain items of evidence.

There are two things to keep in mind when considering an appeal.

First, you need to make sure there is/was a clear record of the proceedings. This means that if you’re about to do a trial that you think you might need to appeal afterwards, you need to make sure you have a court reporter present and make sure all of your evidence is moved into evidence. A good family law attorney will do those things for you.

Second, you need to be aware that most appeals take a long period of time. One to two years is not uncommon at all, and most situations do not qualify for expedited procedures, such as via a Writ instead of an appeal.

For all the above-listed reasons, I strongly recommend that you consult with an attorney who specializes in appeals IMMEDIATELY after you receive an adverse decision. There are timelines that are strictly applied to appeals, and if you wait too long, your appeal will not be considered. An appeals attorney can tell you your deadline for filing the appeal.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.

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