From custody arrangements to how marital assets are distributed, a fair and reasonable outcome for both parties is the goal of divorce.
Reading that sentence, you may have taken a second look, wondering why the words are italicized. Let’s clarify a little.
When we say “fair and reasonable,” that doesn’t mean everyone is completely happy with the outcome. “Fair and reasonable” means the judgment entered by the court was appropriate and non-discriminatory, taking all relevant factors and circumstances into account.
Finding out the outcome of your case can bring on a range of emotions, from relief to having closure to frustration and disappointment over certain aspects of the decisions by the court. It’s not wrong to have these feelings, but they don’t necessarily mean an unfair or incorrect judgment was made.
But what about the phrase “goal”?
The goal of the courts is to hand down judgments based on the law and the specific facts of your matter. However, sometimes cases may be decided in ways that don’t adhere to New Jersey law. In short, legal errors may have been made.
If so, you may be able to appeal your case to achieve a fair resolution for your divorce.
When can a divorce case decision be appealed?
The circumstances under which a divorce case decision can be appealed in New Jersey are limited. Grounds for appeal that may be accepted by an appellate court in NJ include if the trial court judge:
- Made an error of law by applying the wrong legal standard or failing to apply a relevant legal standard
- Made an error of facts in the course of determining the judgment. This can be difficult to establish as the court record must include the error AND the facts must lead to the flawed decision or outcome.
- Abused their discretion by handing down a final decision not supported by evidence. Appeals on these grounds can be challenging to achieve, as you must produce evidence that this occurred.
Note that appeals differ from modifications of a decision, which allows parties to modify their divorce judgment based on changes in circumstance following the divorce, e.g., a decrease in child support obligations following the loss of a job.
What issues can you appeal?
Almost any decision involved in your divorce judgment—including child custody, child support, spousal support, division of assets, attorneys’ fees, and more—can be appealed.
But with appeals, the chance of a favorable outcome doesn’t hinge on which aspect of your divorce you’re appealing. Instead, it depends on having solid grounds for appeals based on the facts of the original trial.
Do you need an attorney to submit a divorce judgment appeal?
A divorce attorney with extensive experience navigating divorce judgment appeals is a vital player in achieving the best outcome possible.
The appeal process is complicated, and the outcome relies heavily on strong legal arguments and attention to detail. The hard-and-fast deadlines, strict notification requirements, and important filings can be challenging for someone unfamiliar with appellate law and processes.
There are a lot of specific rules governing how appeals and motions are handled at the Appellate Division level, and many of these rules cross-reference each other. It can be a procedural labyrinth if not handled with care.
Besides dotting the legal Ts and crossing the appellate Is, an appeals attorney can provide valuable support and insight, work with you to manage your expectations, and help you avoid procedural pitfalls.
The process for appealing a divorce judgment in New Jersey
The process for appealing a divorce judgment is similar to the process for filing any claim in family court. Each step is crucial to the success of your case, so it’s essential to have a clear plan—along with clear expectations—laid out with your attorney.
Step 1: File a notice of appeal
If you decide to appeal any portion of your divorce decree, you must file a notice with the appellate division within 45 days of the date your final divorce decree is issued, along with a Civil Case Information Statement.
Step 2: Notify all relevant parties
Two parties must be notified after you file an appeal—the judge who presided over your divorce proceedings and your ex or their lawyer if they are represented.
When you send a copy of the appeal notice and any supporting documents to your original trial court, you must also serve your ex with the same paperwork. Your ex may choose to file a cross-appeal at this point.
Step 3: File the brief
Once all parties have been notified, you and your legal team will have a set amount of time (usually 45 days) to write and file a brief outlining your legal arguments; the Appellate Division issues briefing schedules directly.
Remember—your appeal won’t introduce new evidence. Keep the case focused on what you and your attorney have identified as the errors in the original trial.
Step 4: Get ready for a back-and-forth
Once your brief has been filed, it’s time for a legal tennis match. Your ex and their attorney will have 30 days to reply to the issues raised in your brief, after which you will have an additional 10 days to respond to the response (unless there’s a cross-appeal, in which case you’ll have 30 days).
Your ex will then have another 10-day window to respond to your response. This stage of the appeal process can take months.
The timeline in an appeal is full of hard deadlines that, if missed, can mean the appeal will be denied. There are also strict rules regarding the length of the responses and who needs to receive a copy of them, down to the font of the submission, the number of lines on a page, the way the brief is compiled, and so on.
Having a skilled appeals lawyer by your side is crucial during this stage of the process by ensuring that the nuanced, complex paperwork requirements are met. They can also help you cope with the hurry-up-and-wait nature of appeals by providing responsive communication, clear timelines, and insight into what’s happening during this time.
Step 5: Request a date for oral arguments (if desired)
An in-court appearance isn’t a guarantee during an appeal. If your lawyer feels oral arguments will benefit your case, you’ll have 14 days after the final response has been served to request a date.
Step 6: Wait for a decision
Most appellate decisions are issued within 30 to 90 days of the conclusion of oral arguments. There are several potential outcomes for a divorce appeal in New Jersey:
- Your appeal may result in a remand hearing on some or all of the issues raised in your appeal.
- Your appeal may be advanced to the NJ Supreme Court as part of a Petition for Certification.
- The Appellate Division may assert original jurisdiction over the case and issue a ruling themselves, although this outcome is rare.
- Your appeal may be denied.
What does filing an appeal mean for my original divorce judgment?
Any court order resulting from legal action can still be enforced—whether you’re appealing the order or not.
Even if you disagree with the order, you must comply with the original terms during the appeals process, and modifications are generally not allowable while an appeal is pending. You may be able to file for a stay during the appeals process, which can temporarily lift the court order.
These considerations should be part of your discussions with your divorce appeals attorney early in your strategic planning.
Legal support and strategy for divorce appeals in New Jersey
Appealing a divorce judgment in New Jersey can be a complex and challenging process. While almost any decision in the divorce judgment can be appealed, a favorable outcome depends on solid grounds for appeal based on the facts of the original trial.
It is crucial to have a skilled appeals lawyer to help you understand your options, set clear expectations, and create a strategy that’s tailored to your situation. If you need help appealing a judgment from your New Jersey divorce, contact us today to schedule your strategy session.