Any party that is dissatisfied with the rulings of a family court in a child custody case has a window period to appeal to a higher court. This is where a party thinks there were legal errors that were made by the lower court that handled the case. While this sounds a good thing to do, it is a costly process and the court that handles the appeal will only examine the evidence that was used by the initial court.
Child custody decisions are hard to reverse. That means the chances of winning a child custody case are minimal. Therefore, if you are thinking of an appeal, you would rather opt for modifications rather than wanting to have the order reversed. That is not only costly but also time-consuming. It is also important to consult your attorney to help you avoid the costly way of doing things.
On how many times you can appeal, the law generally would require you to appeal once and that means, you can appeal as many times so long as there is still a higher court to appeal to than the one that handled the case.
The court judges always analyze the facts of the case from both parents, and evidence presented by the parties before making decisions. In some instances, especially in a hotly contested case, the judge may order for evaluations and investigations by experts such as Guardian Ad Litem or any specialist relevant to the issue being investigated.
Once all the reports have been finalized, evidence analyzed, and hearings concluded, the judge would then issue an order, whether interlocutory or final, based on what will best serve the best interests of the child. If the order is final and one party is not satisfied, there is a window period where the party can appeal to a higher court.
A higher court can be a supreme court or an appellate court. Therefore, the hierarchy of courts will allow one to appeal as many times so long as there is a higher court with more legal jurisdictions to handle the appeal.
In Maryland, a child custody appeal can be taken to the Court of Special Appeals from the Circuit Court, and if the party is not satisfied with the decisions, they have to seek permission to appeal further to the Court of Appeals and that is not normally granted. There are limited chances for an appeal to be granted beyond this point.
What Is an Appeal?
Appealing means you want to have your case tried afresh by a different court that is higher than the one that made the current decisions. Different state laws have different rules that guide an appeal but generally, any custody order is eligible for an appeal when that order is complete and final.
A final or complete order is the one that the court has concluded on it. This means that the parties have presented their evidence and have been heard by the court, and the final ruling has been made regarding the case. It may take months to years before a single case is determined or concluded by the court. This may depend on the nature of the case.
In hotly contested cases, the final orders may be issued after a long period of the contest between the parties. After the final orders have been issued, the party that is not satisfied with the rulings is eligible to appeal.
What Can’t Be Appealed?
You cannot appeal orders that are not final. In some instances, the court may issue interlocutory orders or non-final orders and these can’t be appealed. The party that feels dissatisfied must wait until the final order is made by the court.
Things to Consider Before Appealing a Child Custody Order
It is not the best practice to rush and think about appealing. Just because you are unhappy with the ruling doesn’t mean it wasn’t fair. You can imagine that if the ruling was in your favor, the other parent could be feeling the same. Instead, think about whether the ruling served the best interests of the child or not. If you think the court made legal errors that did not serve the best interests of the child, then you can think about the left options for you. Some of the things that you need to consider before appealing include:
Modifications vs Appeal
You may need to weigh the costs of modifications vs the costs of appeal. Of course, an appeal has got minimal chances and may not see the light of the day. Therefore, instead of pumping more resources in the case that is already determined, you may just have to wait for an appropriate time when you can seek modifications.
Modifications are better considered by the court when there is a significant change in circumstances. As time goes, your child also grows and the needs change. Their preferences also change and that may come to favor you if you were a bit patient.
If appealing is not the option, and of course, should be the last thing to do, unless you are prepared for it, then you should consider modifications. This may give you a fair share of time to spend with your child just as the other parent.
The Cost of Appealing
Of course, the cost of appealing can be high. You have to pay for the court fees and the attorney fees for the second time. Just like you did in the trial, it may cost you even more to appeal. Therefore, you need to weigh the available options and think of the costs before filing for an appeal.
Possibility of Winning
The chances or the probability of winning a child custody appeal is almost none. Discussions by the different lawyers would give you a hint on the possibility of winning. You will also understand that the custody decisions can be very difficult to reverse on appeal. Therefore, appealing a child custody decision is taking a more difficult step that may not yield the expected results.
The Weight of The Legal Errors that Were Made by The Trial Court
If the trial court failed in its jurisdictions to consider the factors that were in the best interests of the child, failed to allow certain evidence, or the other parent conducted himself or herself in a way that the court failed to address, misapplied the law, then you have grounds to seek for an appeal.
What to Do when You Are Not Satisfied with The Judge’s Decision?
It happens normally with any parent, especially where the parents are fit and able but the decisions rule otherwise or deny the parent a fair parenting time. If this happens to you, then you have options to just wait for a good time when you can seek modifications, have a good attorney to advise on the best way forward, or appeal if you think there are legal errors that were made by the court.
Appealing, however, should be your last resort and should be substantiated by facts and not emotions or unhappiness. If you are unhappy with the decision, that does not mean you should appeal. Instead, look at the facts of the case, and whether it is appropriate to appeal or to seek modifications.
How to Appeal a Court’s Final Decision on Child Custody?
There are steps involved when it comes to appealing a child custody decision. It is almost similar to starting your case afresh. The process may also differ from one court to the other or one state to the other. But generally, the steps to appeal involve the following steps:
- Filing the notice of an appeal and paying the filing fees.
- Serving the appeal notice to the other party through an appropriate means.
- File a brief of the legal errors that you think were made by the trial court and also serve it to the other parent as well as the appellate court.
How Long Do You Have to Appeal?
The time frame for appeal on child custody or generally family law cases is dependent on the state. generally, it is between 30 – 60 days or it may even go up to 90 days depending on the state. In California for instance, the law requires the party that is not satisfied with the rulings of the court to file their appeals within 60 days after they are served with the decisions of the court.
The laws regarding the time frame for appeals vary from one state to the other. However, the sooner you do it, the better since missing the deadline means you cannot appeal anymore even if you wish to. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with your state laws to understand the right time to make an appeal or rather work with a lawyer to help you on the same matters.
As we have seen, appealing for a child custody decision is a possibility and any parent who is dissatisfied with the outcome can make an appeal to the next level court and there are huge costs involved. Different states have different laws regarding how long to appeal, and what to appeal.
In summary, you can only appeal a final order and not an interlocutory order or a non-final order. You can do this within 30 – 60 days or even to 90 days depending on the appeal window given by different state laws.