Family Law Appeal Lawyer Serving Bergen County and Northern New Jersey
Litigation is adversarial by nature, and the outcome of a trial often leaves one party feeling like the victor and the other party feeling like he or she lost. The same is true in family law litigation, and even though judges, the parties and their attorneys may strive to resolve a divorce or child custody matter in a manner that best meets everyone’s needs, it is not uncommon for at least one party to think that the judge got it wrong. In those situations, an appeal may be the logical next step. However, appellate law is a specific area of the law which in many ways is worlds apart from trial law, and not every attorney is properly equipped to handle appeals. The attorneys at Herbert & Weiss are experienced in New Jersey family law trials and appeals and welcome the opportunity to pursue or defend your family law matter in the appellate courts of New Jersey.
How appeals are different
Contrary to popular belief, an appeal is not a new trial or a second chance to argue your case all over again. An appealing party thinks that some mistake or error was made in the trial which affected its outcome, and the appeal is limited to convincing the appellate judges that such an error occurred and that they should reverse the lower court’s decision or order a new trial to correct that mistake. Unlike a trial, which involves calling witnesses to testify and presenting evidence, an appeal focuses on preparing a well-researched, thorough and compelling legal brief that persuasively argues the legal points in your favor. Oral argument, where you have a chance to convince the judges of your position in person, is not ordered in every case. Some appeals are decided on the strength of the written briefs themselves. Excellent research ability, logical thinking and persuasive writing skills are key to handling successful appeals.
Appeals are limited to mistakes of fact or errors of law committed at trial. Only “reversible” errors should be appealed; in other words, mistakes that were serious enough to have impacted the course of the trial. Common appealable errors include:
- The judge made an incorrect ruling on a motion or objection
- Inadmissible evidence was allowed into court
- Witness testimony or other evidence was prejudicial to the other party
- The judge exhibited bias for one party or against another
- The judge’s decision went against the weight of the evidence
What can be appealed
In most cases, only final judgments are appealable. The judge makes many orders in a divorce regarding the division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony. Once the divorce is finalized by a judgment, these orders become final. If a mistake was made regarding these orders, an appeal would be proper at this time. If the order was correct when the judgment was entered, but circumstances later change to make the order inappropriate, it may be possible to go back to court and seek a modification of the judgment for custody, support or alimony.
Some orders may be appealed even before the divorce is finalized. For instance, when child custody is a genuine and substantial issue in a divorce, New Jersey rules require the judge to set a hearing on the custody issue within six months after the initial papers have been filed and responded to. The judge may therefore hold a separate custody hearing to decide child custody before the final hearing on the divorce is held to consider other matters, such as alimony or the division of property. New Jersey court rules allow the custody hearing decision to be appealed, even though there might not yet be a final judgment on the divorce.
There are other ways to appeal non-final, or interlocutory, orders of the court. At Herbert & Weiss, we understand when to file a notice of appeal of a final judgment or instead file a motion with the court for leave to appeal an order which is not yet final. Appellate practice is a complex area of law which should be handled by qualified, capable appellate lawyers.
Act Quickly to Retain Experienced Legal Assistance with Your New Jersey Family Law Appeal
If a final judgment has already been entered and you are considering an appeal, you must act quickly. In most cases, an appeal must be taken within 45 days from the date the judgment is filed. In some family law matters, the time for filing an appeal can be even shorter, such as 21 days in the case of a termination of parental rights. Whether you are considering an appeal or have been served notice of an appeal filed by the other party, you must act fast. Contact a family law appeal lawyer at Herbert & Weiss, LLP at our offices in Englewood for knowledgeable, experienced representation in New Jersey divorce, custody and other family law appeals.