Appealing a Family Court Decision

No lawyer or litigant likes to lose in court. This is especially true in divorce cases where a “losing” party can have his or her financial interests and/or parental rights adversely impacted. When this happens, the “losing” party – the one whose interests were adversely affected by the trial court’s decision – may be left wondering how such a terrible (relatively speaking) decision can be undone. Most individuals have heard the term “appeal” and know that an “appeal” can reverse a decision entered by an Illinois trial court. Can you appeal a trial court’s decision in a divorce or child custody case? More importantly, should you appeal a decision?

Appeal Rights in Family Law Cases

When you appeal a decision in a family law case, you are requesting the Illinois Court of Appeals to review the conclusions and rulings made by the trial court. A civil litigant’s right to appeal in any type of case is granted by state law: in other words, if a state’s laws do not grant a civil litigant the right to appeal, then the litigant cannot file an appeal.

Litigants involved in a family law dispute are able to appeal “final decisions” entered by the trial court. The term “final orders” is important: in most cases, temporary orders and ex parte orders (those that you obtain without having a hearing at which the other party is present, such as orders of protection) are not able to be appealed.

“Final orders” include orders that are dispositive and are entered after the court has conducted a hearing at which both parties are present and have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony. Your Illinois family law attorney can help you determine if the order you are wanting to appeal is a “final order” or not.

How to Appeal Your Case

If you do choose to appeal a decision entered in your case, you must file a notice of appeal within the specified time: usually within 30 days of the entry of the order. The notice of appeal informs the appellate court and the other party that you intend to appeal an order entered by the trial court. Once this notice has been filed, you will be given a certain amount of time within which you must file the legal brief containing your arguments for the appellate court to consider. Missing deadlines on appeal can result in your appeal being dismissed and the trial court’s order being affirmed.

Should I Appeal Any Order in a Divorce or Child Support Case?

Just because you can appeal an order does not necessarily mean that you ought to appeal the order. Before asking your attorney to file an appeal, consider the following:

  • An appeal can take several months before it is resolved: in the interim, the case will (essentially) be put “on hold” until the appeal is resolved;
  • Appellate courts are not in the business of determining witness credibility. If the reason you are upset with the court’s decision is because the court believed your ex-spouse and/or his or her witnesses as opposed to you and yours, there is little an appellate court will be willing to do for you; and
  • “Winning” on appeal rarely involves the appellate court entering a different order. Instead, if the appellate court believes you are correct and the order was entered in error, it will vacate the erroneous order and send the case back to the trial court with instructions. The trial court will then follow the instructions and enter another order in line with the instructions – which can still be adverse to your position or interests.

Speak with a skilled DuPage County family law attorney about your right to appeal an order in entered in your divorce or child custody case. We will advise you of your rights and help you determine whether filing an appeal is beneficial to your position and goals. Contact one of our offices and make use of our knowledge and experience in handling Illinois family law issues for our clients.