Learn How You Can Modify Aspects of Your Divorce with a Seattle Divorce Appeal Attorney

After a divorce hearing, it is rare that either side is entirely happy with the ruling. Divorces tend to have many different issues being decided, and typically each side wins some issues and loses on others (compared to what you were arguing for). Maybe you are happy with the result on the parenting plan, and think the child support numbers are pretty good, but feel that the property division is not fair.

Unfortunately, having a result feel unfair is not enough for an appeal. An appeal is not just a chance to have someone else look over the ruling and see if they agree with it or not. The Court of Appeals does not get to second guess the trial court (substitute its own judgement). Rather, the appellate court has to look at what the trial court did and see if the trial court made any legal errors that would change the result. If the case result is appealed and then overturned, usually the case will be sent back to the trial court to correct its ruling.

If you feel like the court may have made a mistake, discuss it with your trial attorney. Particularly when the issues have been complex or unusual, the attorney may feel that the judge committed some legal error in the ruling. At that point it would be a good idea to also start talking to a Seattle divorce appeal attorney.

Understanding the Basics of a Divorce Appeal in Washington

You and your attorney were not able to reach an agreed settlement with your spouse, so you proceeded on to trial. The court listened to testimony, looked at all the evidence that was submitted, and heard arguments from both sides. The court then issued a ruling that the attorneys incorporated into final written orders signed by the judge. After all that work, the judge did not rule how you or your attorney thought they should. You are frustrated and wondering if you can have a Seattle divorce appeal attorney file an appeal.

An appeal is a request for a reviewing court, generally the Court of Appeals, to review the trial court’s decision and either uphold or overturn it. Usually the only appeals heard by the State Supreme Court are when Court of Appeals decisions are appealed to it for further review.

Do You Have a Basis for an Appeal?

An appeal is not an opportunity to relitigate your divorce. Appeal courts are not authorized to substitute their judgment for the trial court when it comes to weighing the facts of your case. Instead, an appeal can be filed in limited circumstances.  Two of the most common reasons are

  1. The trial court misapplied or misinterpreted the law.
  2. The trial court misunderstood the facts, did not allow certain facts into evidence, or new facts came to light that should have been previously disclosed by the other party.

On appeal, you cannot introduce new facts or make new arguments. The appeal court will rely upon the transcripts of the trial and the documents and other materials that were submitted into evidence.

It can be difficult to determine whether you have an appealable issue in your case, especially when it comes to the issues involved in a divorce. This is why you should discuss your case with a Seattle divorce attorney who has successfully handled appeals.

Examples of Appealable Issues in Divorce Cases

Whether or not you can pursue an appeal is highly dependent on your specific case. To illustrate what type of issues may be appealed, here are some examples that you may find helpful:

  • The judge did not allow you to introduce evidence that would have supported your contention that your spouse should be allowed only supervised visitation.
  • You discovered that your former spouse has hidden assets that significantly affect their net worth.
  • The judge misapplied prior case law regarding the division of property as it pertains to the valuation of non-liquid assets.

When Can I File a Divorce Appeal in Washington?

There are time limits on when an appeal can be filed. In general, a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the final ruling by the trial court. Therefore if you think the court made a mistake, talk to your attorney as well as a Seattle divorce appeal attorney about it right away so that, if needed, the appeal can be filed within the 30 day window. It may be that your current attorney will be willing to get the appeal filed to meet the deadline, but will want a Seattle divorce appeal attorney to take over from there.

After filing a notice of appeal within the required time frame, you or your Seattle divorce appeal attorney will need to obtain a copy of the trial transcripts. You will need a reporter’s transcript, which is a written record of every word said in court when you were before the judge. You will also need the clerk’s papers, which is an official copy of each document that was filed and reviewed by the court. On appeal, the appellate court will generally not consider any evidence that was not presented at trial.

Understanding the Appeals Process for Family Law Matters

It may first be helpful to understand how the court system is structured in Washington State. Your trial was held in one of Washington’s trial courts referred to as “Superior Court.” Decisions from the Superior Court can be appealed to one of three Courts of Appeals. If you are unsatisfied with the result of your appeal, your case can then be appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court.

Generally speaking, you must file a notice of appeal in the trial court within 30 days of its decision. You must specify in your notice what issue or issues you want to be reviewed by the appellate court and must file the notice upon the other party. Once that is done and you have paid the necessary court fees, your case will eventually be transferred to the appellate court.

Once the case is taken by the Court of Appeals you will need to file pleadings that lay out the basis for your appeal and the other side will have an opportunity to file pleadings in response. The other side may also choose to appeal parts of the judge’s decision that they disagree with.  There may also be motions filed and heard on whatever issues may be before the court.

Like a trial, an appeal is a formal legal proceeding, but the process is very different. While your divorce case was heard by a single judge, your appeal will be heard by a panel of three judges. You and your attorney will provide the judges with all the documents considered by the trial judge and a record of everything said in hearings or your trial. The appellate judges will receive and review that evidence, but will generally not consider any new evidence or things that have happened after your trial.  Some cases will include oral arguments in front of the panel of judges, but not all cases.

This may sound straightforward, but the appeal process is complex and requires specific knowledge and experience. In addition, the process is labor-intensive and can therefore be expensive. To discuss whether you should appeal your case, talk to a Seattle divorce attorney who has experience with the appeal process.

Possible Outcomes of an Appeal

After your hearing, the judges will vote on how they will decide your case. The decision does not need to be unanimous, but it does need to be a majority. Once decided, the Court of Appeals will issue a written opinion explaining its decision. It may include one or more of the following:

  • The Court of Appeals may affirm the decision of the trial court and find there were no errors.
  • The Court of Appeals may modify the decision of the trial court.
  • The Court of Appeals may “remand” (send back) your case to the trial court to be retried on the issues you appealed.
  • The Court of Appeals may “reverse” (overrule) the trial court’s decision.

The outcome will depend on the issues involved in your appeal. For example, let’s say you appealed the trial court’s child support order when you discovered that your former spouse received a substantial raise. The Court of Appeals may remand the case to the trial court in order to reconsider the child support award in light of this new evidence. In some cases, the Court of Appeals may order you or the other party to pay the other party’s costs on appeal, and this is an issue you should discuss with your attorney.

Our Seattle Divorce Appeal Attorney Explains What the Court Will Consider

The Court of Appeals reviews the decisions of the trial court under several different standards.  Some decisions the trial court makes will only be reviewed by the  appellate court for abuse of discretion, and it can be difficult to get the appellate court to undo the trial court’s order. Abuse of discretion means that the court had discretion to pick a result within a range of possible results, but instead chose a result that was outside of that range. For instance, the Court of Appeals could find that there were good arguments for spousal support to be high or low, but that the trial court’s ruling of no support at all did not meet normal legal standards, i.e. was an abuse of discretion because it was outside the range of discretionary outcomes the court had to choose from.

Other decisions, such as interpretations of the meaning of a law, are reviewed de novo, or completely fresh. This means that the appellate court will reach its own determination on the meaning of an applied law. These are not matters of discretion, but more questions of being correct or not as to what the law says. Say the trial court ruled that a piece of evidence was not admissible because of how it was obtained, meaning the court could not consider it. If the Court of Appeals disagrees and finds that the evidence should have been admitted, then it may send the case back to the trial court to have it consider whether the additional evidence would change the original ruling. Maybe the additional evidence proved that there was a hidden bank account holding another $100,000 of community funds. Allowing that evidence in could have a big impact on the property division numbers.

A Seattle divorce appeal attorney can help you identify potential legal errors in your case and can explain how an appellate court will review the decision of the trial court in an appeal.

Can a Seattle Divorce Appeal Attorney Help Me Appeal a Divorce Settlement?

So you reached an agreed settlement and did not have to go to trial. However, afterwards you started to feel like the agreement was really not what you wanted and is not as fair as you would have liked. So you are wondering if you can go back to court to have it reviewed.

Because the final result was based on an agreement rather than a court’s ruling, there is no right to appeal an out of court settlement. While the court is bound by the law in making its rulings, agreements can be based on other considerations than just the law.

However, there may be other reasons for having a trial court look at the settlement where you were taken advantage of, such as having been forced to sign the agreement involuntarily, or if the other side misrepresented the facts. It is not often that the court will feel that misconduct rises to the point of justifying overturning an agreed settlement. But if you feel this may have been the case with your settlement, talk to an attorney as soon as possible about it, as there are often time limits on the ability to take the issue back to court.

Appeals Require the Help of a Seattle Divorce Appeal Attorney

Many trial attorneys do not do appeals themselves, but rather refer their clients out to attorneys who specifically do appellate work, a Seattle divorce appeal attorney. Appellate work is very different from trial work, and often is done by attorneys with significant experience pursuing appeals. If you are considering pursuing an appeal, talk to your trial attorney about their recommendations as to who should handle it.

At Seattle Divorce Services, Michelle Danley is the attorney who handles any appellate work. She has had significant experience with appellate work over the last decade and would be happy to talk to you or your current attorney about the possibility of appeal.

Give us a call at 206-784-3049 or make an appointment for an initial consultation through our contact form if you would like to schedule some time to talk with Ms. Danley about a potential appeal.