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Specialty tag(s): Appealing a Divorce Decree or Judgment, Divorce

How to Appeal a Divorce Case: A Guide to Seeking a Better Judgment

Chris Nickelson | February 8, 2024

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Divorce is a complicated process, and people do not always get the outcome they deserve. However, that does not mean you are stuck with a judgment that you believe to be unfair. You can appeal a divorce judgment if you believe an aspect of the court’s decision is wrong.

What Aspects of a Divorce Decree Can You Appeal?

You can appeal any aspect of the divorce decree, including:

  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • Alimony
  • Property division
  • Debt distribution

However, winning an appeal of a final judgment is difficult. The process is very technical and involves complicated issues of law and procedure. A lawyer who’s well-versed in how to appeal a divorce decree successfully can help you navigate the complex process and come to a more just resolution in which all parties’ needs are met.

How to Appeal a Divorce Judgment, Step by Step

Understanding how to appeal a divorce case starts with understanding what an appeal is not:

  • Divorce appeals are not a redo of the trial.
  • Divorce appeals are typically not to overturn an entire divorce decree.
  • You cannot submit any new evidence for the appeal, such as new witnesses or documents.

The court of appeals will instead review the evidence presented in the original trial and the arguments you and your appeals lawyer put forth.

The general steps for how to appeal a divorce ruling are:

1. Choose What to Appeal

Appeals are mainly used to address specific aspects of the divorce, like child custody, or property division, that you believe may have been ruled on incorrectly.

However, it is not enough to claim that you believe the ruling was unfair. When appealing, it needs to be demonstrated that the ruling was not only wrong but it probably caused the wrong judgment to be entered in your case. You and your lawyer can do this by:

  • Pointing out a legal mistake, like the misinterpretation of a law or premarital agreement, the misapplication of the law to the facts, or doing something prohibited by law such as granting summary judgment when a trial should have occurred to resolve a critical factual dispute
  • Showing that the trial court’s rulings are not supported by sufficient evidence
  • Showing that the trial court’s rulings ignored evidence that it could not ignore under the law
  • Showing that the trial court abused its discretion, such as by improperly granting or denying motions, improperly admitting or excluding evidence, improperly conducting the case or trial, or by ruling without having sufficient evidence or reason to justify its ruling
  • Proving that the reason for the appeal would have changed the outcome of the divorce proceeding

It’s important to consult with a lawyer before pursuing a divorce appeal to ensure that you have the necessary legal grounds.

2. File the Notice of Appeal

The Notice of Appeal informs your ex-spouse, the courts, and the lawyers involved that you intend to appeal. The deadline to file a Notice of Appeal is firm and often short. In many states, Texas included, you must file a notice of appeal with the appropriate court within 30 days of the judge signing the divorce decree. You must also serve your ex-spouse copies of the notice after filing.

3. Prepare the Record on Appeal

The next step in the process requires you and your lawyer to request the preparation of the Record needed to support an Appeal. This record commonly includes:

  • A reporter’s record, which is a word-for-word transcript of what was said during critical hearings or the trial, including any documents admitted or excluded by the trial court  
  • A clerk’s record, which includes all documents on file with the trial court clerk that are needed to successfully prosecute the appeal, including critical pleadings, motions, orders, and the judgment

4. Create and File the Appellate Brief

Next, you and your ex-spouse are both required to draft and file appellate briefs. The Appellate Brief is a document that details your legal arguments and the support for those claims. You and your lawyer will need to check with the court regarding how to format the brief, as each court of appeals has different requirements. After you and your spouse have submitted the appellate briefs, the court will inform you of either a date for oral arguments or their decision.

5. Present the Oral Arguments

If you’re given a court date, both parties will appear to present their legal arguments before a panel of judges. Many courts include oral arguments as part of all appeals, but other courts only do so when the panel of judges feel that it is necessary or a party requests it.

Each party’s oral argument is usually only allowed to be 20 minutes or less. However, some courts will allow you to reserve some of your time if you want to comment on the other party’s argument. The entire oral argument process generally takes less than an hour, after which the judges will end the hearing and take the case under advisement.

6. Await the Decision

Appellate court decisions can take anywhere from 90 to 180 days to be issued after the closing of the oral arguments. The court can make one of four different decisions. They may:

  • Affirm the original trial court’s judgment, meaning the appeal was unsuccessful
  • Modify the trial court’s judgment and affirm as modified, meaning the appeal was successful
  • Reverse the trial court’s judgment in whole or in part and render the judgment that the trial court should have rendered, meaning the appeal was successful
  • Reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings, meaning the appeal was successful and the trial court will have to redo certain parts of the case as directed by the appellate court

Get Help With Your Appeal

If you are searching for an experienced and trustworthy attorney in Texas who knows how to prosecute or defend an appeal of a divorce decree, schedule a consultation with Goranson Bain Ausley today. Our appellate lawyers have extensive experience both prosecuting and defending divorce appeals and will work hard to ensure that you receive a fair and just outcome.

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With an appellate background, Chris Nickelson specializes in managing cases involving large estates, high conflict, and individuals with personality disorders such as narcissism. Chris strives to help clients understand the law and what the courts can and cannot do for them, ensuring an expedient resolution to their cases. In addition to serving clients directly, Chris is frequently sought after by other family lawyers to assist in handling complex cases. This includes analyzing and briefing thorny legal issues, presenting creative arguments and solutions, preparing cases for trial, and managing appellate matters.

Chris holds the distinction of being Dual Board Certified in Family Law and Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

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At Goranson Bain Ausley, we strive to deliver clarity about what comes next and confidence that you and your family’s future are more secure. Contact our team and discover how we can help you.

“My ultimate goal is to help clients understand what is possible in their case and develop a plan to achieve their goals and attain lasting peace.”

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