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Appeals in Family Law

Here we cover the process of appealing a ruling in a family law case, as well as some of the issues that are unique to family law.

Discretion of the Judge or Magistrate Will Play a Large Role

As with every other area of law there are statutes that describe how a case should be determined. However, unlike many other areas of the law, these statutory guidelines are very subjective. The reasons for this are obvious—determining how to divide up two people’s lives or spend time with their children doesn’t lend itself to rigid rules—but it means that judges and magistrates need a wide range of discretion to determine what the proper outcome is. Another aspect that is somewhat unique to family law is that there are no juries, and therefore your case will be heard by a judge or magistrate if you go to a hearing. What this all means is that at a hearing the outcome will be determined by a judge or magistrate that has a wide range of options to choose from, a nearly infinite number of statutory factors to consider and give varying amount of weight to, and who brings with them their own unique perspective on family law.

Because the justice system can’t function without some sort of finality to judgments, the rules on appeal are that a court’s decision is reviewed only for an abuse of discretion, unless you are challenging that they misinterpreted the law or used an incorrect law. An abuse of discretion standard means that the court’s decision will not be overturned unless it is so contrary to the weight of the evidence that a no reasonable person could have ruled the same way. This is not an easy standard to meet, and it means that if you are going to challenge a ruling there need to be many favorable facts in your favor to have a serious chance at success. This is not to say that appeals in family law are not worthwhile, but rather that you need to have an attorney review your case carefully to determine your odds of success.

Judges Versus Magistrates, and How This Impacts Your Case

Judges and magistrates are two different court officials, and the process to appeal them are drastically different. Magistrates operate under the supervision of district court judges. There are limitations on what types of hearings they can preside over, as well as limitations on actions they can take, such as reviewing a previous order that has been made. When it comes to appeals, trying to overturn a magistrate’s decision requires quick action. Depending on whether you were present for the magistrate’s ruling or not you will have only 14–21 days to appeal their decision. On top of that, you must file your brief (the document that explains what you are appealing and why), along with your petition for review. The transcript of the proceeding is necessary in nearly every case, otherwise the district court judge who reviews the magistrate’s decision has to assume that the testimony and evidence taken at the hearing supported the magistrate’s decision. This is a lot to do in only two to three weeks, and oftentimes an extension of time is necessary to accomplish it. If you do not review the decision of the magistrate, you will never be able to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals. What this means is that if you were in front of a magistrate it is imperative that you seek legal counsel immediately if you even think you might want to appeal the decision.

Appeals from judge’s decisions present more forgiving timelines for appeals, but it still is important to reach out to an attorney immediately for the following reasons. First, you may only appeal an issue that was brought to the judge’s attention at the trial. Sometimes, judge’s make errors in their rulings that no one had an opportunity to challenge at the hearing. This means that if you want to bring this up on appeal you’ll need to file a post-trial motion to reconsider the ruling based on these new errors. You must file this motion within 14 days of the judge’s ruling, making it critical that you seek legal counsel immediately. Aside from the deadline for post-trial motions, appeals from a district court judge’s ruling must be brought within 49 days. Even better is that the party only needs to file their notice of appeal which lists the issues that the party plans to raise in their appellate brief. This increased time makes it easier for attorneys to gather information and evaluate a case to determine if an appeal is viable option. That being said, the sooner an attorney can review a case the better.

Navigating Through an Appeal

Whether you’re pursuing an appeal or defending one it is extremely difficult to handle one without the assistance of an attorney. Whether you’re challenging a magistrate’s or a judge’s decision there are various rules that must be followed or else you risk losing your appeal outright. In addition to the various rules that govern appeals there are multiple deadlines that occur throughout the process, and a need to understand the different standards of review depending on the type of errors you are claiming the court committed. While possible to do so, it is not advisable to proceed without the assistance of an attorney with experience handling appeals.

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Family Law Appeals

Our team of experienced family law attorneys in Denver can help you with almost any family law appeal. When facing the complex legal issues related to family law, you deserve the very best legal advice possible. You need the expertise of an expert Denver family law attorney who is not only highly experienced but who operates with a full team of specialized attorneys who have decades of combined legal experience and qualifications unmatched in the Denver area.

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Experience With Family Law Appeals

The attorneys at the law firm Divorce Matters® are accustomed to dealing with every legal issue involving families. These include divorce, child support, spousal support, parental rights, adoption, enforcement, modifications, and prenuptial agreements. We also handle mediation and common law issues, as well as the often complicated issues surrounding the division of assets. When assets have been hidden, for instance, it is critical that you have a highly experienced and diligent Denver family law attorney on your side to help you secure the assets to which you are legally entitled.

You can depend upon the integrity and experience of your Denver family law lawyer at Divorce Matters®. Don’t wait until the last minute to seek the best legal advice. Give us a call now and put our decades of experience to work for you. Call us at (720) 580-6745.


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