Your divorce judgment, the one signed by the judge in your case, is what makes your divorce final. But in some cases, even that final judgment sometimes is not truly the last word in your divorce. You, or your ex-spouse, may decide to appeal your litigated divorce judgment if you believe that the judge made an error.
Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly: you should not file an appeal of your divorce judgment simply because you think the judge made a wrong or unfair decision in your divorce. There are rules that judges are required to follow during the course of a trial, but within those rules, judges have a great deal of discretion. It is only when you can argue that your judge abused that discretion, and/or made a significant legal error, that you can appeal an aspect of your divorce case.
When you appeal a divorce judgment, you are not undoing every aspect of the divorce, nor are you getting the opportunity for a “do-over” of your divorce trial. An appeal is an opportunity to correct specific issues that the judge at your trial may have decided incorrectly under your state’s divorce law.
You probably know many people who have gotten a divorce, but it’s likely that you don’t know any who have appealed their divorce. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, most divorces are not resolved by a trial; they are settled by agreement of the parties–often with their attorneys’ help. (Divorce settlements generally cannot be appealed.) Second, of the minority of divorce cases that do go to trial, very few will go on to be appealed.
That’s why it is important, if your divorce judgment must be appealed, to work with attorneys who have experience in the complex divorce appeals process. Working with an experienced attorney will maximize your chances of winning a divorce appeal.
The divorce appeal process exists to ensure that there is an avenue to correct significant legal errors occurring during trials. However, it is also important for parties to have certainty about the finality of their divorce case. Accordingly, there is only a limited time in which to file a divorce appeal as a matter of right: thirty days from the entry of the judgment of absolute divorce.
The party who is seeking an appeal (the appellant) in Maryland must e-file a Notice of Appeal with the Appellate Court of Maryland (or Supreme Court of Maryland in special circumstances). The appellant must then order a complete transcript of the trial from the trial court (Circuit Court) for the appellate court (and the other party) to review. Only testimony and evidence from the original trial can be considered on appeal. You should note that there are court costs associated with filing an appeal, including the cost of assembling the trial court record, sending copies to the appellate court and filing fee.
Moreover, the Appellate Court of Maryland may order the appellant and the other party (the appellee) to try to mediate the disputed issue before hearing the appeal. If there is no mediation order, or mediation fails to resolve the dispute, the parties proceed to the argument phase. The attorneys submit to the court written briefs containing legal authority for their clients’ respective positions and then the appellate court will schedule a date for the attorneys to present their oral arguments to a panel of judges. If the appellate judges agree after reviewing the briefs, and hearing oral arguments, that the trial court committed a significant error, or the judge abused his or her discretion, the issue will usually be sent back (remanded) to the trial court for reconsideration. But matters do not always end here.
What can you do if you believe that the ruling of the Appellate Court of Maryland was wrong? You can try to appeal the case once more, to the Supreme Court of Maryland. The Supreme Court of Maryland is the highest court in the state. However, unlike the Appellate Court of Maryland, the Supreme Court of Maryland does not have to hear all cases for which an appeal is timely requested. If your request for a further appeal is dismissed, you have 20 days from the order dismissing the appeal to file a motion for reconsideration of the dismissal. If the motion for reconsideration is denied, the ruling from the original appeal will stand.
The technical first step to filing an appeal of a divorce decree is to file the Notice of Appeal, as discussed above. However, as a practical matter, you should consult an experienced Maryland appellate attorney before doing so.
An attorney who is experienced in both divorce trial practice and appeals can help you to identify if you have a legitimate basis for an appeal. The appellate process is complex, with strict rules and time limits; the decision of which issues to focus upon requires strategic analysis. The experience of your attorney is directly related to your likelihood of success on appeal.
To learn more about how to appeal a divorce in Maryland, or to identify whether the judge in your case made an error in your case, contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation.