Can You Appeal a Divorce Judgment and Decree?

On April 24, 2023

If you want to appeal a divorce in Colorado, there are a lot of factors to consider, starting with what an appeals court will and will not review.

Taking Things To The Next Level After a Disappointing Outcome

If you are wondering whether you can appeal a divorce judgment and decree, the answer is simple: yes, you can (if you do so on time). But whether you should appeal a divorce judgment is a much more complicated question.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your divorce – whether regarding child custody and support, alimony, property division, or other issues – the best way to find out whether an appeal is advisable and worth your time, effort, and money is to consult with your divorce lawyer.

As a preliminary matter, however, you must understand just what an appeal of a divorce judgment is – and what it isn’t.

An Appeal of a Divorce Judgment Is Not a “Do-Over”

When considering if you should appeal a divorce decree, the first thing to know is that an appeal is not a “do-over” or a second bite at the apple for the appealing party. How and why appellate judges make decisions – and the issues that they can make decisions about – are significantly different from what happens at the family court level.

The most significant distinction between a divorce trial and a divorce appeal is that the former involves questions of fact and law, while the latter only involves questions of law. Here’s what that means.

In an El Paso County divorce trial, like in any other civil or criminal trial, each party presents arguments, testimony, and evidence to support their positions and counter the other party’s claims. Before and during the trial, the judge will make rulings on various issues and ultimately make final decisions that become part of the final divorce decree. When the judge does so, they consider both the relevant law and the evidence presented at trial. This includes evaluating the strength of that evidence, the credibility of witnesses, and making other determinations about factual issues. Whether ruling on a specific evidentiary or procedural issue or about big-picture matters such as child custody and parental responsibilities, the trial judge’s job is to apply the law to the facts and make decisions in accordance with Colorado law.

That is not what happens in an appellate court.

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Appeals Involve Only Questions of Law

When determining if you should appeal a divorce judgment, consider that Colorado appellate courts will only review a trial judge’s decisions and rulings to determine whether the judge correctly applied and interpreted the correct rules, procedures, and laws when they made those decisions.

These are called “questions of law” and are the only issues an appellate court can and will consider. Appellate judges will only review the record on appeal, that is, transcripts of the proceedings, the evidence admitted at trial, and the trial judge’s statements and rulings.

Appellate courts will not consider new evidence, and no witnesses will testify. The appellate court will never see any evidence not in the official trial record. That is why having an experienced divorce attorney who understands how to “preserve the record” during the trial is so vital to the success of the appeal. Without that, the appellate court will have a complete picture of what transpired during the trial.

Instead of presenting evidence and witnesses, the lawyers for the parties present written and sometimes oral arguments about how they believe the trial judge got the law wrong or right and why that justifies reversing that judge’s decision.

A Colorado appellate court will only overrule a trial court’s rulings if the judge made a critical legal mistake, even if the appellate judges believe that the outcome in the family court should have been different. For that reason, you need more than not liking the outcome to appeal a divorce decree in Colorado.

How To Appeal a Divorce Judgment or Decree

Unless one or both parties file post-trial motions, the party who wants to appeal a divorce judgment or decree must file a Notice of Appeal within 49 days of the final order. Appeals of temporary orders (such as those involving temporary child support or allocation of parenting time) are called “interlocutory appeals” and involve different rules and standards.

Final Thoughts: Should You Appeal a Divorce Decree?

As you see, much is involved with the decision of whether or not to appeal a divorce judgment or decree. Not all disappointing or unfavorable outcomes can or should be taken to the next level; doing so is an important strategic and practical decision. You need an experienced Colorado Springs divorce attorney who will give you an honest answer about whether an appeal is an advisable course of action or whether alternatives are available.

Honesty, integrity, and compassion are the cornerstones of our family law practice at Perkins Law. If you are searching for a Colorado Springs divorce attorney with the experience and tenacity to protect what is nearest and dearest to you, contact us today to arrange your free initial consultation.

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