The journey through the family courts is a long and arduous one which will almost always leave emotional and financial scars. If you are unable to settle your case, the journey ends with a Final Order or Judgment, which is rarely viewed with complete satisfaction by either party. For those that are truly dissatisfied with the trial court’s decision, the question becomes whether or not to appeal the trial court’s decision.
In the immediate afterglow of receiving an unfavorable final order or judgment, it is a natural reaction to want to sprint right to the Appellate Division to correct the perceived wrong. However, appeals, much like the underlying litigation in the trial courts, are marathons. The appeal process, like the trial court litigation, is long and costly. From the time an appeal is filed to the time an appellate decision is made can take up to one year. Moreover, because of the technicalities and careful legal and factual analysis involved, appeals are often just as expensive and time-consuming as the underlying litigation. Moreover, in many instances, a successful appeal results in going right back to the trial court for a new hearing. As such, signing up for that second marathon requires careful and deliberate consideration.
In deciding whether an appeal is right for you the first and most immediate consideration is timing. In New Jersey, appeals from final judgement or orders of trial courts must be taken within forty-five (45) days from the entry of the subject judgment order or judgement. The forty-five deadline is a real deadline. Failure to file within the Court mandated timeline can inhibit your ability to appeal at all.
Another major consideration in deciding to file an appeal is the likelihood of success. In navigating whether it is likely or even probable that you would be successful, it is essential that you understand the potential basis for filing the appeal. Dissatisfaction is not enough. Given the vast degree of discretion imbued in a family court judge coupled with the desirability of ensuring finality, appellate courts are slow to overturn a trial court’s decision absent a finding that a substantial legal mistake was made. Generally, appeals hinge on whether you are able to show that the trial court misapplied the law, abused its discretion, failed to consider credible evidence presented or failed to make sufficient findings of fact, or otherwise failed to resolve all disputes which were brought before the court.
The decision to file an appeal is not an easy one. Having a complete understanding as to the applicable law, including the standard of review to be applied to a particular issue, is critically important in making this evaluation. Understanding the procedural and technical nuances involved are equally important which is why you should consult with skilled and experienced counsel in deciding whether an appeal is right for you.