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Appeals in Divorce and Family Cases

Whether or not to appeal is a common question on the minds of those unhappy with the outcome of any legal matter, including divorce and family cases. In divorce and family law litigation, there may be a sense of how the court will rule on the issues set forth in the temporary orders hearing and at a final trial. In other cases, the judgment may come as a surprise. When people are not satisfied with the outcome of their case, they may consult with an attorney about filing an appeal.

Appealing an unfavorable family court or child custody decision requires an in-depth command of family law, keen attention to detail, and a proactive approach. With over 100 years of combined experience in family law, Scroggins Law Group (SLG) can assist you in determining if you have a viable appellate case. Our appellate lawyers are eager to take swift action, ensure your rights to an appeal are preserved, and do what we can to get a ruling in your favor.

What is an appeal?

An appeal is the request for a higher court to review the decision of the lower court. Subject to strict procedural rules, it is possible for a family case to end up in the Supreme Court of Texas after an intermediary appeal to one of the fourteen Texas District Courts of Appeal. This can happen when there is an area of law that has not been addressed previously on appeal. More frequently, appeals to the Supreme Court of Texas seek to determine what the law of the state of Texas is when various District Courts of Appeal have reached different conclusions on the same issue. In such a case, the Texas Supreme Court may decide what and how a law should be applied throughout the state. Often, these decisions are very narrow in their application, leaving other areas of the law open to interpretation and ripe for subsequent appeals.

Appeals can be based on either law or fact, depending on the situations in your case. It is imperative to speak with an experienced family law appellate attorney to discuss your situation and determine if an appeal based on fact and/or law is applicable in your matter. While Texas has substantial case law in the area of family law, there may be some issues and decisions worthy of filing an appeal, even in well-settled aspects of family law.

You and your attorney must first weigh the risk factors against the likelihood of success before filing your appeal. It can be a difficult decision, and one that must be made and filed within a short time of the trial court’s entry of final judgment.

The most common grounds for appeal in Texas Family Court

While family law matters are not constantly appealed, it is a frequent subject matter of appeals in Texas. The most common reason to appeal a family court decision is based on a theory that the judge abused their discretion. In other words, the judge acted arbitrarily, unreasonably, or failed to follow procedural rules or substantive law in the matter being appealed. As a result, the judge made an unjust ruling against the appellant. An appeal may also be brought due to the failure of the opposing party to produce sufficient evidence to support the judge’s final decision.

An appellate court will rarely admit new testimony or new evidence in an appeal. Rather, the appeal is usually restricted to evidence that was entered or denied entry in the trial court. The appellate court will render its decision based on the evidence originally submitted or denied entry by the trial judge. Appellate briefs are submitted to the respective Court of Appeal that outline the legal arguments for the appeal. The appellate court may hear oral arguments in support of those briefs. In the end, the appellate court may uphold the ruling of the trial court, side with the Appellant and overturn the lower court’s ruling or remand the case back to the trial court with additional directives for the next steps to be taken by the trial court.

Alternative to Appeal is Later Modification

Certain decisions by the court can be reconsidered in the future. For example, a custody decision that might not match your expectations can be reviewed in the future when there is information to bring to the court’s attention supporting a petition to modify conservatorship or possession and access schedules. If things are not working as ordered, it may be appropriate to seek a modification. Note that this is not something to file one month after the divorce, and it must be based on something more than not liking the court’s decision. That said, your situation might not be as permanent as you think. You must be able to show a material and substantial change of circumstances of one of the parties or the children and that your suggested modification is in the best interest of the children.

Asking for a Family Judge to be Overruled is a Calculated Risk

Family courts are courts of continuing exclusive jurisdiction. That means, any modification that you file in the future will land in the same court in which the original suit took place. There are exceptions to this rule that will allow for a transfer of a case to another county within the state or out-of-state if the children have not resided in that same jurisdiction for a significant period of time. So, any appeal that is successful is going to most frequently land you in front of the same judge. Thus, an appeal should not be taken lightly.

The Risk of Filing an Appeal Without a Family Lawyer

Occasionally, people will try to file an appeal without the assistance of an attorney. Such an action is ill advised. While there certainly are do-it-yourself resources available to the public and for purchase, it is not advisable to appeal court decisions on your own. The problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Appellate matters and procedures are highly technical with rules to which you must strictly adhere. Missing deadline for any one of a number of parts of an appeal may result in failure on a technical basis rather than substantive. In short, if you think you have the basis for an appeal, you are much better off to hire skilled and experienced appellate counsel to assist you in the process

Family Court appeals require significant time and resources

The appellate process requires significant time and resources. The Notice of Appeal must be done within a specified period after the final order is entered. Then, the trial court record is prepared and the person bringing the appeal will be given a deadline by which to file their Appellant’s Brief. Briefs are technical documents of review that analyze the court’s applications of facts and law. The other party then has a certain amount of time to file their brief which may itself be replied to by the Appellant within another specified time.

The appellate courts may elect to schedule and hear oral arguments on the briefs, or they may decide the outcome based on the brief submissions alone. From start to finish, appellate litigants should be prepared for a significant time and resource commitment.

Discuss Your Case with Scroggins Law Group

Appeals in divorce and family law matters are not without significant challenges. At SLG, our attorneys have deftly handled numerous appeals in Dallas, Denton, and Collin County, providing trustworthy guidance to clients through every step of the process.

Both Mark L. Scroggins and John Withers Jr. are Board Certified in Texas Family Law. This high level of specialized knowledge and proficiency benefits those in need of skilled counsel when filing a divorce decree appeal, custody appeal, or appealing another family court decision.

Put our experience and dedication to work for you when navigating the appeals process. To learn more about divorce and family law appeals in Texas, contact Scroggins Law Group to review your case.

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