Timeframe And Deadlines In Divorce Appeals: What You Need To Know

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Timeframe And Deadlines In Divorce Appeals: What You Need To Know

Ultimately, the goal of a divorce is to dissolve a marriage so that each party can walk away on fair terms and start their own life again. Generally speaking, once a judge signs off on a divorce decree it becomes an order of the court and then the disunion of two people has been settled a marriage over. However, when either of the parties to a divorce has reason to believe that the judge’s decision has been made in error and has resulted in unreasonable terms,, they may wish to pursue a divorce appeal.  Either side in a divorce may decide to appeal the court’s decision. If you believe there is something amiss or incorrect with your divorce decree, then you may be wondering whether a divorce appeal may be the right approach for your situation. Due to the complexity that can come with divorce appeals, it can be helpful to consult with an experienced attorney. The Arizona divorce attorneys at Sullivan Law Office can be reached at (480) 719-2558. You are welcome to call and schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss your situation.

Rate of Divorce in Arizona

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the divorce rate in Arizona was 2.7 per 1,000 total population residing in the state as of 2021. This puts Arizona’s divorce rate on a par with the national average at the time of the survey. In Arizona as elsewhere, divorce happens for many reasons: infidelity, people growing apart, abuse, money issues, communication problems, and more. How couples approach their divorce can make a significant difference in its impact on their lives. If you have questions about divorce in Arizona, you are welcome to reach out and connect with an attorney at Sullivan Law Office.

What Is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree marks the formal and legal ending of a marriage. The decree is the final order signed by the judge in an Arizona “dissolution of marriage” proceeding. As the name suggests, this legal framework allows for a marriage to be “dissolved,” returning each of the former spouses to their single status. A typical Arizona divorce decree will, in addition to formally dissolving the marriage, also specify terms for the distribution of marital property and establish each partner’s obligations toward, and rights regarding, any children the couple had together. When a divorce does not go to court and two spouses are able to settle their differences on their own, then a settlement agreement documents these arrangements and the couple present their settlement to the judge for incorporation into their final divorce decree.

Depending on the circumstances of each spouse and their marriage, a divorce decree can touch on many important topics including:

  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Debt allocation
  • Property division
  • Tax implications
  • Maintenance
  • Division of financial accounts

Can a Divorce Be Appealed?

An Arizona divorce decree can be appealed, but the process is not easy. Divorce appeals are often very difficult for the petitioner to win. This is why having an attorney knowledgeable about the appeals process is advantageous.

The party who wants to change the order (appellant) will file a brief with the Court of Appeals. When reviewing the case, the Court of Appeals generally defers to the finder of fact (usually the assigned family court judge), absent an “abuse of discretion.”

Simply because the road to a successful appeal can be rocky and difficult does not mean that in certain circumstances, an appeal is not warranted and appropriate. A divorce decree in which the judgment was reached through error and caused substantial harm to either of the parties could be eligible for remedy upon appeal. In many of these cases the appeals court will address only the portion of the decree that is identified as both founded in judicial error and unduly burdening one of the former spouses.

Length of Time for An Appeal

When a divorce appeal is filed, be prepared that a quick resolution is unlikely. A lot depends on the court where the appeal is filed and the procedures of the court along with what type of backlog is present. From the start of the process to its finish, it could take a year or more for a final ruling to come about.

Stages of Divorce Appeal

Divorce appeals require several steps. Understanding what these steps are, and how they further the overall process, can help spouses approaching divorce appeals to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for the potential challenges that may arise in navigating the legal framework required to pursue their case.

Determine What Should Be Appealed

Whenever possible, petitioners for a divorce appeal should be prepared to identify limited elements of the original decree they wish to appeal. In other words, in most cases it is preferable not to argue that the entire decree is irremediably flawed, and instead to focus on specific elements of the judge’s decision that show error, and prepare to explain to the appeals court how those errors have led certain terms in the decree to be unfair or unreasonable. 

Former spouses will need to understand that a divorce appeal is not a time to relitigate with new evidence; an appeal is not another divorce trial. Rather, it is a way for an appeals court to take another look at the evidence that was presented in the original trial, and evaluate the decision the lower court reached in light of that evidence. Where legal errors are deemed to have been made, or if it is believed that the trial court abused its discretion, then the appeals court may reverse or remand the original decision.

File a Notice of Appeal

Once a former spouse has clearly identified the elements of the decree they wish to appeal, and determined the legal grounds for appealing those elements, they will need to start the appeal process by filing a notice of appeal. There is only a limited time to file an appeal, so preparing the necessary paperwork in a timely manner is essential to success. According to Rule 9(a) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure when a final order is entered, one has only 30 days to file their appeal.

Service of Process for Appeal

Copies of the appeal must be served to an ex-spouse, and also distributed to the ex-spouse’s legal counsel, if they are working with an attorney. Service of process protocols must be followed precisely, so it is important to become familiar with the Arizona requirements.

Prepare a Record of Appeal

Putting together the record of appeal means requesting the official transcript of the original trial and  assembling all of the original divorce case documents. Only evidence that was used in the original trial can be used in the appeal.

Create the Appellate Brief

The appellate brief details the specific arguments with supporting information for the appeal. Appellate briefs can be highly complicated and complex, and as a result the preparation of the brief can be a time-intensive step. After the brief has been submitted, the court may set a date for oral arguments.

Oral Arguments

Both parties in a divorce appeal will typically have the chance to present their case with oral arguments. There is a set time to make one’s case. Each side’s argument will be evaluated by the judge.

Court Decision

The appeals court may take a few months to issue a ruling in the case. The appellate court may affirm (uphold) the lower court’s decision, modify the original decree, or remand the divorce to the trial court, typically with instructions to consider specific points that were not adequately addressed in the original decision. 

Speak With an Arizona Divorce Attorney Today

Divorce appeals can take time and effort and be frustratingly complex. However, sometimes they are necessary to ensure the final outcome is fair and proper for all parties involved. If you need help with a divorce or if you would like to learn more about appealing your divorce decree, consider calling Sullivan Law Office at (480) 719-2558 to schedule a consultation to discuss the details of your specific situation.