If you have been adversely affected by a ruling in the Connecticut Superior Court regarding your divorce or child custody case, you may be able to appeal the ruling to a higher court. Before proceeding, however, it is important to carefully discuss the potential rewards versus the risks of mounting an appeal with an attorney who is experienced in divorce litigation and appeals in Connecticut.
What rulings can be appealed?
Several aspects of a divorce case, or child custody action, can potentially be appealed, including the court’s rulings on alimony, asset division, child support and child custody. However, it is important to know that Superior Court judges have been given wide discretion to make judgments with regard to family court matters, and appeals can potentially succeed only if one of three things have occurred:
- The judge improperly applied Connecticut law to the facts of the case.
- The judge improperly interpreted Connecticut law with regard to the issues of the case.
- The judge abused his or her discretion by making a ruling that is so unreasonable that the appellate court cannot let it stand.
What will the appellate court consider?
Appeals are particularly appropriate in cases involving the misapplication or misinterpretation of Connecticut law. If the appellate court finds there was such an error, and that the error adversely impacted the appealing party enough to affect the outcome of the trial, it will not uphold the trial judge’s ruling.
However, because trial court judges are given wide discretion to rule on family court matters, the third standard – showing that the judge abused his or her discretion – is very difficult to meet. For the court to arrive at such a finding, the abuse of discretion would have had to have been significant. An extreme example of this would be if the divorcing couple fought over the parenting plan and the judge upheld the wishes of one parent who demanded having the children 90 percent of the days without presenting any evidence as to why the other parent should have so little time with the children. Because of the challenges associated with winning an appeal due to an abuse of discretion, it is particularly important to carefully weigh the risks versus rewards when considering appeals of this nature.
The appeals process
Most appeals are heard by the Connecticut Court of Appeals. A very small number of cases bypass the Court of Appeals and are reviewed by the Connecticut Supreme Court. The appeal is not a new trial, and the appeals court does not consider new evidence. Rather, the court reviews the trial court record to determine if errors were made in applying or interpreting the law or if judiciary discretion was abused. Both parties submit legal briefs and give oral arguments, and the court enters a ruling. The parties and their attorneys must adhere to strict deadlines for submitting briefs and other documents.
Depending on the case, the Court of Appeals may uphold the trial court’s ruling, vacate the ruling and issue new orders, or send the case back to the trial court for a new hearing or trial. It is also possible for the parties to settle at any point before resolution.
If you lose your appeal, there is a very small chance that you would be able to appeal your case to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The state’s highest court is highly selective about the cases it hears, typically only taking on those that involve an issue of law that is unsettled in Connecticut.
Consider the risks versus rewards of pursuing an appeal
Appeals can be very costly, both with regard to attorney’s fees and the costs of ordering transcripts and filing briefs. The process can also take one to two years depending on the backlog of the appellate court, which can take its toll on the stress levels of all involved. Further, it’s possible the appellate court will send the case back to the Superior Court for a new trial, adding to the total time spent in limbo. When child custody orders are being appealed, one must consider that by the time the appeal gets heard, the children may be in a different phase of life.
Depending on the circumstances, however, the reward of having an improper ruling overturned may outweigh the costs and other risks. For instance, if you have lost the right to parental decision making due to the trial court’s ruling, an appeal may be appropriate due to the harsh ramifications of the order.
The potential rewards of appealing court orders on alimony or child support may outweigh the risks when you consider that getting the ruling overturned would set the standard for any future modifications of court orders on those matters going forward. Furthermore, if properly handled by your Connecticut family trial attorney, the overturned ruling in your favor might be retroactive to the date the alimony or child support motion was served by a marshal upon the non-moving party.
Choose a divorce attorney with appellate experience
If you are considering an appeal or need to defend against an appeal, it’s important to choose a Connecticut family law attorney with appellate experience. When assessing whether an appeal is recommended, your attorney must be mindful of the degree to which the proceedings in the trial court laid a sufficient foundation in the record for the appeal. The attorney who represents you at the original trial correctly must make all necessary attempts to enter into evidence the necessary legal arguments, facts and documents required to succeed on appeal if the trial judge rules against your position. This fact underscores the benefit of working with a good divorce attorney in the first place, who will sufficiently lay the groundwork in the original trial so that any mistakes by the judge can be fixed by the appellate court. A family law firm with both litigation and appellate experience will have the expertise to lay the correct foundation during a divorce trial and, if needed, due to mistakes made by the trial judge, be able to assert necessary arguments to have those rulings overturned on appeal.
The family law attorneys at Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt serve as trusted advisors and represent clients in divorce litigation and appeals in Connecticut. If you are considering a divorce or looking to appeal or defend an appeal of your divorce orders, contact our family law attorneys at 860-206-9096 or click here.