A litigated family law trial is not likely to result in a decision that satisfies all parties. When a party receives a less-than-favorable outcome and elects to challenge a court’s ruling, an appeal of the decision may be an option. Appeals to Indiana’s reviewing courts, the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court, offer a party an opportunity to have the trial court ruling evaluated for potential error.
It is a surprise to some that the purpose of an appeal is not to present new evidence or raise different arguments. The appeal is limited to the record from the underlying trial; in other words, the evidence presented and the preserved issues. The appellate court reviews the trial court record while applying the appropriate standard of review to the specific issue alleged.
The appellate attorney may not necessarily be the attorney at the trial court level. Sometimes having an attorney with more appellate experience or one who can add a fresh perspective is most beneficial in determining what issues to appeal. A timely notice must be filed to preserve the ability to appeal. Written briefs are prepared, identifying the issues, facts and applicable legal standards. The brief contains the argument as to the party’s position and the authority, such as statutes, rules or other case law to support that argument.
Even when one party is satisfied with an outcome, they may find themselves in a position where they need to defend the decision challenged by the other party. The responding party, or appellee, may file a brief to respond to the issues and arguments raised by the appellant. An appellant is then permitted to reply to the appellee’s brief. Once fully briefed, the reviewing court will issue a decision along with any necessary instruction to the trial court. The entire process is lengthy, and it will often be many weeks or months before the parties receive a decision.
Other post-judgment remedies may be available before appealing, such as moving the trial court to reconsider its own ruling or to correct its own error. In family law, some orders are modifiable later. It is important to review all options and filing requirements when determining what type of post-judgment action to take.
Published case law impacts the individual case before the appellate court as well as how other cases in Indiana may be adjudicated in the future. Whether to appeal an adverse judgment requires careful consideration of many factors, including potential outcomes, timing, what may happen while the appeal is underway and what costs – both time and money – will be incurred. An experienced appellate attorney can help assess whether an appeal is the appropriate next step.