Can I Appeal My Divorce Settlement?

It’s common for decisions the court makes in a final divorce judgment to leave one or both parties unsatisfied. One spouse may have gotten an asset the other wanted or the judge may have ruled on a custody agreement you don’t believe is in your child’s best interest.

Whatever the case, either spouse can challenge a court’s decisions or change certain rights/obligations in a divorce judgment. Although it’s unusual for an appellate court to overturn a judge’s decision, it’s within each spouse’s right to try. You must initiate this process through the appellate division of a superior court in California.

Deadlines for Filing an Appeal

As is the case with most legal matters, there are significant deadlines involved when appealing a divorce settlement. Per the California Courts, you have either 30 days after the trial court clerk mails you a notice that your judgment is finalized or 90 days after the entry of the judgment for a limited civil case – whichever is the earliest. A limited civil case is one involving $25,000 or less. For an unlimited civil case, or one involving more than $25,000, you have 60 days after the mailed notice or 180 days after entry of judgment. Within these deadlines, you must service and file your notice of appeal.

A notice of appeal is the document you must file to the Superior Court in California where the judge decided your case. This document notifies the courts and the other side of your intent to appeal the court’s decision. Once you file a notice of appeal, you begin the appeals process. You can file this notice as soon as the Superior Court judge signs your order or judgment and the court clerk stamps it, “Filed.” If you miss your deadline to file, the courts will dismiss your appeal.

You cannot request more time for this process unless there are motions for a new trial, motions to cancel the judgment, motions for judgments notwithstanding the verdict, or motions to reconsider an order that’s appealable. The courts may also extend a deadline if some public entity was the defendant in your court case and this defendant requests the court take other actions. In these cases, the courts will extend the deadline to appeal until it decides on these other requests or motions. It’s wise not to delay filing your appeal, as in typical cases you cannot obtain a deadline extension.

How to Begin the Appeals Process

To appeal a final divorce settlement judgment, it’s advisable to hire an attorney. Appeals of this nature can be complex, and a lawyer will be able to ease the burden of litigation from your shoulders. You must first prepare your notice of appeal. You may find these documents on the California Courts website. Make at least two copies of your notice, and then serve your notice to the other side – either in person or via mail. Give the original notice, not a copy, to the court. You must also give the court a Proof of Service, or a document that states you delivered your notice of appeal to the other side.

During the appeals process, the appellate division will review your divorce trial and look for prejudicial errors (i.e. errors the judge made about the law or incorrect instructions given to the jury) and lack of substantial evidence. In most cases, the appellate division will only overturn a judgment or decision if the record shows that someone made one of these legal errors. While you do not have to have a lawyer for the appeals process, it’s wise to hire one to answer your questions and represent your best interests.