Navigating the Appeals Process: A Step-By-Step Guide for Family Law
Even under the best circumstances, family law in Arizona is complicated. However, when it comes to making changes to already established divorce or custody rulings, the Arizona family court system can become even trickier to navigate. Unfortunately, many people are discouraged by this process, but the right attorney can ensure you and your family have the best chance at the changes you need to your family court ruling.
Arizona Family Law Appeals
It’s a commonly held belief that once the court reaches a ruling, the judgment is final. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. In fact, Arizona law makes it clear that you have the right to appeal any previous family court ruling. By submitting an appeal, you can request a higher court to reevaluate the case.
In essence, while your original family court case was a hearing designed to enable a judge to make an informed decision regarding your divorce, child custody, or some other family matter, an appeal can be thought of as a trial of the original judge. A higher court consisting of a three-judge appeals panel will assess your evidence and grounds for appeal to determine whether the decision made in your case was erroneous due to the misapplication of the law or a lack of supporting evidence. If the appeals panel determines that an erroneous decision was made, it can remand your case back to the lower court for a new hearing or reverse the decision.
Navigating Arizona’s family law court system is an extremely complex undertaking, but a lawyer who is well-versed in family law can help simplify the process. Our dedicated team at The Valley Law Group has created a step-by-step guide for how to navigate the appeals process. However, keep in mind that appealing a decision on your own is not only extremely challenging, but it can often be overwhelming. As a result, you may fail to include key details that could strengthen your appeal, or you may follow improper procedures, resulting in dismissal or denial. This guide, along with the advice of a skilled attorney, can streamline the process and improve your chances of successfully appealing a decision.
The Arizona Family Law Appeals Process
Once a judge reaches a decision in an Arizona family law case, you have the right to appeal it.
Decisions that may be appealed can include:
- Child Custody
- Child Support
- Property Division
- And more
If you are appealing a court decision, the court will acknowledge you as the “appellant,” whereas the opposing party will be considered the “appellee.” The appellant is responsible for providing clear grounds regarding why they are submitting an appeal. For instance, if the appellant believes there was an error in the original case’s evidence that led to a faulty ruling, the error can be grounds for appeal. As you might expect, mistakes and judgments are difficult to prove, which is why securing legal representation is strongly recommended.
What’s more, appellate courts tend to abide by the original ruling unless significant convincing evidence is presented. Consider, too, that the appellate court isn’t interested in how lower courts interpreted evidence presented in the original case but rather whether there were objective errors that influenced the final verdict. You will need to be prepared to provide evidence of these errors, something an experienced lawyer can assist you with. If you’re unable to convince the courts that something went wrong in the original case, the original ruling will be upheld.
Understanding the Appeals Process
Should you wish to request an appeal, there are several steps involved in the process, all of which must be taken seriously and performed accurately. Appealing family court orders can be a taxing process, and as with any legal dispute, each case is unique and may take some time to complete. Often, it can take months from when you first file an appeal to learn whether the decision has been reversed or upheld. Here are the general stages of the appeals process.
Before Filing the Appeal
Before you file your appeal, it is critical to begin gathering strong evidence and developing a compelling argument. It’s worth mentioning that family law court hearings typically aren’t transcribed, so it’s recommended to hire a transcriptionist during your trial if possible. Having this record of what occurred during the trial can be a crucial method of strengthening your case, as appellate courts require strong evidence of any potential errors. For that reason, when submitting paperwork to request an appeal, you’ll want to include a transcript if you have one.
Assessing Grounds for an Appeal
Navigating Arizona’s family law court system is a tall order, but the process becomes simpler if you can gather evidence to back up your claims. While no family law case is “typical,” there are some common grounds for appeal you can consider when appealing family court orders.
Errors of Law
If the court misinterpreted the law, reached a conclusion without appropriate evidence, or failed to give substantial reasons for why it ruled a certain way, you can use errors of law as grounds to appeal. However, the error must have made a significant difference to the outcome of the appeal. For example, if you attempt to claim the court made a mistake regarding a certain fact, the mistake must be relevant to the case and have influenced the final decision.
Abuse of Discretion
An abuse of discretion is defined as an error of judgment by a court in making an erroneous or unsubstantiated ruling. In other words, if there is clearly an error in the final ruling or if the ruling is not justified by the law, abuse of discretion may be enough grounds to file an appeal. This can potentially result in the overturning of the decision.
If the court failed to carry out its proceedings according to regulations, you can use this as grounds for your appeal. The court must navigate a strict set of regulations when addressing a family law case. If any regulations are neglected, this can influence the final decision, opening the door for an appeal.
Initiating the Appeal
After you’ve gathered the relevant evidence you need to create an appeal, you’ll need to acquire and fill out the required paperwork. Remember, you must file the required paperwork within 30 days of the date the final ruling was issued or within 25 days if you wish to file a Notice to Alter or Amend. If, for any reason, you’re unable to request an appeal in this time frame, your only option will be to request modifications to the initial decrees.
In order for the court to consider your case, you must submit the following documents:
- Notice of Appeals, filed in Arizona’s Superior Court, beginning the appeals process
- Transcript of the case
- Case Management Statement
- Appellate Brief, explaining your intent to appeal a prior decision
Once you’ve submitted these documents to the Superior Court, the court will assess the grounds for appeal and determine whether a hearing should be created.
Preparing the Appellate Brief
An appellate brief fully describes the appellant’s argument and why the Superior Court should review the lower court’s previous decision. The appellate brief can contain a wide range of information, all of which is intended to strengthen your case and provide as much transparency as possible.
Appellate briefs tend to be quite lengthy, some consisting of over 20,000 words. It’s important to realize that the goal isn’t to hold a second trial regarding the family law matter in question. Your goal in this brief should be to convince the court that the judge responsible for the relevant case made a mistake that requires the final ruling to be reconsidered.
The appellate brief starts with an opening brief, which is where you’ll make your opening statements and arguments as to why the Superior Court should adjust its ruling. Following this, the appellee will create an answering brief to respond to your arguments. They will try to convince the court that the original verdict is correct and should not be adjusted. The appellant can then file a reply brief after hearing the answering brief. The reply brief should only be limited to directly responding to arguments illustrated in the answering brief.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You Prepare for the Appeals Process
Creating an appellate brief – or any other component of an appeal – by yourself can not only be time-consuming and intimidating but risky as well. These documents are full of details and terminology unique to Arizona legal proceedings, and most people are not familiar with the requirements necessary to address each. Fortunately, you don’t have to create the appellate brief by yourself if you speak with a lawyer ahead of time.
A family lawyer not only works to advocate for your interests in court, but they can also help you understand and navigate all other aspects of the legal system. Having a qualified lawyer at your side can provide several benefits when creating an appellate brief. For instance, a legal professional knows exactly how to structure an argument that is both cohesive and persuasive. Not only will your lawyer present the facts in a clear manner, but they will also be sure to use the appropriate vocabulary and structure to make your arguments sound.
Lawyers also know how to cite legal authorities, which is a significant advantage in presenting factual arguments. For example, you may be looking to appeal a ruling regarding alimony. If your lawyer realizes that the court made a mistake in how it conducted the procedure, they can not only use the mistake as grounds for appeal but can prove it with accurate citations, as well. While some individuals dismiss the idea of hiring a lawyer due to financial concerns, the truth is that a lawyer’s experience and knowledge can benefit you throughout the preparation of your appeal.
Presenting Oral Arguments
While oral arguments aren’t always necessary, they shouldn’t be overlooked during the appeals process. Either party can request an oral argument in your family law case, and if this occurs, each party will be given 20 minutes to present their arguments to the court. During this time, the judge can interrupt and ask questions about your appeal.
If you must create an oral argument, your focus should be to further demonstrate the points you’ve made in your briefs. Speaking about your case orally provides unique advantages compared to writing the information in a brief. For example, it can be difficult for some people to be persuasive in writing but find it easier to speak passionately about why they deserve to have the case re-examined.
Of course, oral argument is an excellent opportunity to let legal professionals do what they do best – present arguments in court. A lawyer can speak without feeling intimidated and is as dedicated to your appeal as you are. They will be able to detail certain arguments much more in-depth than the brief might, and they can use their courtroom skills to persuade the judge.
If you’d like to request an oral argument, you must submit a request in writing within ten days after the reply brief is submitted. You may want to consider submitting this request alongside other paperwork to improve your chances of the court granting your request. The court will notify you and the opposing party of the oral argument 20 days before it occurs.
Reviewing the Process
If you live in Arizona and are unsure how to navigate the appeals process, this guide should provide some insight. We’d like to review the most important points of the process below.
Before filing an appeal request, you must demonstrate that you have enough evidence and the grounds to do so. Whether you believe the judge made an unfair ruling in the case due to a procedural error or there was faulty evidence, you must be able to prove you have sufficient grounds for an appeal.
Once you’ve established that you have a case, you must file the appeal within 30 days of the issuance of the ruling. If you miss this deadline, you won’t be able to file an appeal. If you wish to request an oral argument, it’s critical to make this request when you file the appeal. Speak with an experienced family lawyer who can assist you in your case.
You’ll need to create multiple briefs, including the appellate brief. This will fully outline your arguments and your attempt to persuade the Superior Court to reconsider the prior court’s ruling. Creating this brief requires patience and precision, which is why hiring a family lawyer is advised.
Finally, if you’ve requested an oral argument, an attorney can help you understand your situation, cite evidence and legal authorities, and create a compelling argument for the reversal of the original decision. Voicing your concerns with a knowledgeable family lawyer can improve your chances of a successful appeal.
Appealing Family Court Orders With The Valley Law Group
The Valley Law Group has worked diligently to represent hundreds of clients throughout Arizona as they appealed past court rulings. Whether there were inconsistencies in the process or inaccurate evidence, our knowledge of Arizona family law enables our attorneys to build a formidable appeals case to support our clients’ best interests in court. When you contact our team to request representation during the appeals process, we’ll evaluate your situation and work with you to create a strong case for your appeal.
To learn more about how The Valley Law Group can meet your needs regarding your appeal, contact us today to schedule a consultation.
- Arizona Judicial Branch. (2023). Pro per appeals guide updated. Retrieved November 16, 2023, from https://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/34/Guides/ProPerAppealsGuideupdated.pdf
Jonathan Roeder, Co-Founder of The Valley Law Group, is an Arizona native who has dedicated his life and career to the service of others. After graduating salutatorian of his high school class, Jonathan attended beautiful and prestigious Pepperdine University, where he majored in Political Science. During his tenure at Pepperdine University, his passion for helping others grew after securing a clinical position with a residential treatment center for juveniles with substance addictions. Post-graduation, Jonathan returned to Arizona and served as a residential manager for mentally and physically disabled homes.