How to Appeal a Divorce Judgment

It is rare for a person going through a divorce to feel that they won on all the issue, since issues in these cases almost universally require some amount of compromise, but that does not mean either party should come out of the case feeling the judge clearly favored one side or made decisions that appear arbitrary or in conflict with the law. When people file a petition in court, they typically believe they will get a fair and impartial judge that will decide the case based on what is just and legal. Normally, a party to a court case must accept the judge’s order, despite feelings of dissatisfaction, because there are no legal grounds to challenge it. Sometimes, though, divorce judgments can be appealed if a party can document how the judge came to an improper conclusion. It is, however, difficult to appeal a divorce decree because the appellate court starts from the premise that the lower court’s decision was correct. Thus, the entire burden to prove otherwise is on the party appealing. This does not mean anyone who truly believes a divorce order was decided improperly should automatically give up. Asking a divorce attorney about the likelihood of success on appeal is an important first step, but an overview of the circumstances that justify an appeal will follow below to help clarify how this process works.

How long you have to appeal depends on two factors – who decided the initial court case and how much time has passed since the court’s final order was issued.

General Magistrate – Notice of Exception

In an effort to cut down on time and money, many judges will refer divorce cases to general magistrates. General magistrates are attorneys appointed by the court to hear certain family law issues, but who do not have final decision power. General magistrates must submit their report and recommendations to a circuit court judge for approval, and if a party objects to the magistrate’s recommendations, he/she has 10 days from the time the magistrate issued a decision to file a “Notice of Exception to the Report and Recommendation of the General Magistrate.” At this point, a hearing will be scheduled to consider the case before a circuit court judge.

Motion for Rehearing

On the other hand, if your case proceeded in front of a judge, a party to a divorce that disagrees with the court’s decision can file a Motion for Rehearing. This must be filed immediately after the judge’s decision is issued, and it can be denied. Generally, you cannot present new evidence and are limited to presenting new arguments on evidence already considered, meaning these are rarely successful.

Appeal

The next step is to file a standard appeal with the District Court of Appeals, which must be done within 30 days of the lower court’s decision. Similar to a Motion for Rehearing, new evidence cannot be presented, and for the party appealing the court’s decision to be successful, he/she must show the court did not follow the applicable divorce law.

Motion for Relief from Judgment

Finally, if more than 30 days have passed since the court’s original decision, the only option left is to file a Motion for Relief from Judgment. If this motion is granted, it basically means those parts of the original court’s decision that were incorrect are rendered invalid, but it does not affect the enforceability of the rest of the order. A party has up to one year from the date of the original judgment to file this motion, except there is no time limit to contest fraud related to financial information in divorce cases. The grounds a party must show to win at this stage include: clerical error, mistake, newly discovered evidence, fraud, and excusable neglect.

Hire a Lawyer

Appealing a divorce decree is a complicated process that is best done by an experienced divorce attorney. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. understands the emotional investment a divorce case requires and will work to find the solution that is best for you and your family. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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