In every divorce, the goal is to achieve a fair and reasonable outcome for both parties—but this isn’t always achieved in practice. If you believe your divorce judgment was decided in a way that doesn’t adhere to New Jersey law, you have the option to file a divorce appeal.
Divorce appeals are a complex and time-sensitive process and are only granted on the basis that the original judgment was not legally sound. If you’re concerned this may have occurred in your divorce judgment, your first step should be understanding what appeals are and how they’re granted.
What is a divorce appeal?
The goal of an appeal is to prove that a legal judgment was not legally sound and should be overturned.
It’s possible to seek an appeal of an entire judgment or of specific parts of it. For example, you could choose to appeal the alimony award or obligation imposed by the court or the distribution of property but leave child custody and child support arrangements intact.
An appeal must demonstrate that an error in legal proceedings occurred that impacted the original ruling.
- Failure to resolve all disputes in question
- Abuse of discretion
- Failure to make sufficient findings of fact
- Failure to apply the law correctly
Appeals are reviewed by the New Jersey appellate court, and decisions are based on the proceedings that took place in and evidence that was submitted to the original divorce court, rather than any new evidence, though in limited, nuanced circumstances, this may apply. Divorce appeals must be filed within 45 days of a final judgment or order.
Because of the quick timeline for filing an appeal and the detailed work involved, it’s crucial to bring your concerns to an attorney as quickly as possible.
Understanding the criteria for appealing a divorce: A closer look at the four key factors
Deciding to pursue a divorce appeal implies an investment of your time, money, and energy. And before you make that investment, it’s helpful to understand the criteria used to evaluate appeals. Consider the four grounds for appeal below, but as always, it’s vital to talk to an attorney to assess your specific situation.
1. Failure to resolve all disputes in question
One major reason why an appeal would be considered in New Jersey is if the family court judge failed to resolve all the disputes in question between you and your ex.
For instance, if the court failed to address a certain issue that were part of the parties’ applications, such as how contributions to a child’s college education were to be handled, this could constitute grounds for appeal. Remember that, during an appeal, you and your lawyer may not present new evidence except, as noted above, very limited circumstances, and then, only with permission of the appellate court.
Instead, you’ll have to use evidence from your original trial to demonstrate that the court didn’t resolve all disputes in your original divorce ruling.
2. Abuse of discretion
When you file an appeal based on abuse of discretion, you’re arguing that the judge handed down a final decision that wasn’t supported by the evidence or that during the process, the judge evidenced a form of bias or other inappropriate behavior.
Judges have a certain degree of discretion in the pursuit of a fair and reasonable divorce. Appeals based on an abuse of discretion argument require a strong legal strategy because you effectively have to argue—and prove—to the appellate court that the judge reached a decision that no reasonable person would have reached based on the facts presented in your divorce case.
3. Failure to make sufficient findings of fact
Another ground for a divorce appeal is “failure to make sufficient findings of fact.”
These grounds can apply in several different ways. Your appeal could be made on the basis that the court incorrectly understood one or more factual elements of your case and didn’t apply it properly to the law.
It could also mean that, in reviewing elements of a statute and analyzing the facts in your case, the court didn’t explain its review process or how it reached its conclusion.
An example of this is misinterpreting or misstating evidence or testimony presented; for instance, you submitted financial documents for your original divorce judgment, and the court ruled as to the division of assets but didn’t explain how they used the evidence to support the outcome.
To successfully pursue an appeal on this basis, though, you must provide that:
- The court made a clear error and failed to make sufficient findings of fact, AND
- This error in facts led to a flawed decision in your case.
It can be challenging to make this argument without a thorough review of the evidence in question. An experienced appeals attorney can closely assess trial transcripts.
Note that the Appellate Division rarely makes decisions about these issues. Typically, if they find there has been a failure to make sufficient finding of fact, they send the case back to the lower courts (also known as “remanding”). At this point, a new trial will begin.
4. Failure to apply the law correctly
Failure to apply the law correctly is one of the most common arguments in appellate cases. If a judge fails to apply the law correctly, it means they applied the wrong legal standard or failed to apply the correct legal standard for your case or that they analyzed the facts or evidence incorrectly within the bounds of the law.
In this type of appeal, you and your attorney must demonstrate an error in procedure or in the application of the law. When an appellate court reviews a case for errors of law, it conducts a de novo review, which means it looks at the issue as if it were the first court determining the issue.
If the appellate court finds that an error of law was made and that the error significantly influenced the outcome, it can either overturn the original decision, order a new trial, or ask the trial court to review certain pieces of its decision if the court found errors in some places, but not all, of the original ruling.
A New Jersey divorce appeal attorney can help
The appeals process is complicated, and the outcome relies heavily on strong legal arguments and meticulous attention to detail. There are quick turnaround times, strict deadlines, and requirements and filings that can be challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the New Jersey appellate process.
If you’re interested in pursuing a divorce judgment appeal, it’s crucial to have an experienced divorce attorney well-versed in appellate processes. They can help you determine the legal basis of your appeal, analyze your case, assess whether you have strong grounds for your appeal, and navigate the procedural labyrinth of appellate law.
At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys have decades of combined experience in appealing divorce rulings for clients. We believe all our clients deserve a fair and correctly applied ruling and supportive representation to help them achieve it.
If you’re considering appealing your divorce ruling, make an appointment to coordinate your strategy session with our team.