How to Appeal a Divorce Decree

Many assume that once your divorce has been finalized and your divorce decree has been filed that they have no recourse to change the terms of their divorce. A final decree, referred to as “Final Judgment and the Dissolution of Marriage” in California, is often the last word in regard to divorce. Yet, sometimes this is not the case. California law provides two pathways for you to appeal the final terms of your divorce. Below we cover the grounds for appeal appealing your divorce decree, the terms of your decree that are changeable, and an overview of the process so you know what to expect.

Grounds for an Appeal to a California Divorce Decree

Many times, after a divorce, one party thinks the court made a poor judgment or wrongly applied the law to their case. Those who want to appeal their divorce decree cannot do so to change the facts presented during their divorce proceedings. For example, if the final divorce papers show that a husband’s income is $75,000 per year, the wife can only contest this fact if she provides proof that shows otherwise. This is one of three main grounds for an appeal to a California divorce decree. Typically, you can appeal your divorce case if your ex-spouse:

  • Committed fraud
  • Hid high-value assets
  • Concealed facts that did not come to the surface during the initial divorce proceeding

Although the court views the above as legitimate grounds for an appeal because they consider these actions to be bad faith, they might not grant one. Instead, an Orange County court is more likely to grant an appeal if the superior court judge made an error in the application of the law.

Types of Appeals for California Divorce Decrees

California law has two main types of appeals: direct appeals and appeals by writ for extraordinary relief. Below we provide a broad overview of each type.

Direct Appeals

A direct appeal is the most common type of appeal for a divorce decree and divorce lawyer’s go-to course of action when a client wants to appeal. Direct appeals are typically the remedy for an appeal in non-emergency situations. It’s not uncommon for the appeals process to take months, sometimes years. Yet, if you have grounds for an appeal, an appellate court must hear your case at some point. Examples of the terms of your divorce decree that you can typically appeal directly include:

  • Temporary orders related to financial matters such as temporary spousal support or temporary child support
  • Final judgments about the division of property, spousal support, and attorney fees
  • Judgments in some bifurcated divorce proceedings, like marital status termination
  • Procedural orders such as motions to stay or dismiss a particular action
  • Orders granting a new divorce trial
  • Orders for sanctions against non-parties, such as your attorney

Writ for Extraordinary Relief

In extreme emergency situations, when divorcees have no other way to pursue relief after a final divorce agreement, they can request a writ for ordinary relief. Courts do not favor writs and typically prefer that appellants take the least extraordinary route to appeal. Even if you file a motion for a writ, the appellate court might not hear your case. They can deny your request for multiple reasons including that they simply are not interested in your case. In California, three different types of writs exist:

  • Writs of Prohibition. The appellate court orders the lower trial court to discontinue their interest in a case because it is not in their jurisdiction.
  • Writs of Mandate. The appellate court issues an order to force a trial court to take specific action regarding a case.
  • Writes of Certiorari. The appellate court reviews an action or decision by the lower court.

Although courts do not favor writs, some situations warrant this approach to an appeal. They include:

  • Temporary custody orders
  • An appeal for contempt of court
  • Issues about jurisdiction
  • An appeal when a court refuses to disqualify itself
  • Right to discovery was denied during initial divorce proceedings
  • Discovery sanction orders

If you feel your divorce decree was unfair or the Orange County judge made an error, Pedrick Law Group, APC can evaluate your case, determine the likelihood of an appellate court hearing your case, and help you decide which type of appeal is best for your situation.

Process of Filing an Appeal for Your Divorce Decree

The first step of the appeals process is to file the “Notice of Appeal.” A Notice of Appeal is the official document you file with the court that held your initial court proceedings. In your case, this will likely be Orange County Superior Court. Your notice lets the court and your ex know you’re appealing your divorce case and begins the entire appeals process. It is in your best interest to have your divorce attorney handle the necessary appeals documents, so you do not miss any deadlines. Some exceptions exist, but in most cases, if you do not file a Notice of Appeal within the allotted time limit, the court will not hear your case.

Those who want to appeal their divorce decree can file a motion as soon as the superior court judge has signed the order and the court clerk has filed completed the entry of judgment. In California, you must file an appeal for your divorce decree on or before the earliest of:

  • 60 days after your ex or the court serves you a notice of judgment that has been stamped “Filed” or
  • 180 days after the court clerk enters the judgment

Get the Legal Help You Need to Appeal Your Divorce Decree

Divorce proceedings get complicated and messy, sometimes leading to undesired, or maybe even unfair outcomes. Other times, courts apply the law incorrectly or didn’t have all the facts. Depending on your circumstances, you have the right the appeal your case to a higher court. The skilled legal team at Pedrick Law has more than 50 years of combined experience with all types of family law cases, including divorce appeals. Contact our Orange County office today online or at 949-388-8682 for a free case evaluation to determine the best course of action for your appeal.

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