Which Florida Family Law Appeals Are Worthwhile?
By Florida Family Law Appeals Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2011
AAA Family Law Can Represent You In Appeals Anywhere In Florida
How to Decide If a Family Law Appeal is Worthwhile
With an appeal of a family court's decision family law appeals attorneys and their clients always face the question of whether it is worthwhile in terms of the time and money that they require.
It is tempting for attorneys to give an optimistic answer to this question in order to get the prospective client to contract them. But I have valued honesty over salesmanship in my law practice since I started in 1999. So if your come to me with an appeal case that is not likely to succeed, overly time-consuming, or too expensive, I will let you know.
Appeals require much more pre-evaluation than most trial court cases. This is because the appellate process is infused with a high level of deference to the family court’s findings, particularly its factual findings. This is part of the principle of res judicata, in Anglo-American jurisprudence, meaning that what has been decided is unlikely to be reconsidered. Many of my prospective clients struggle with this concept. However, after a brief explanation of the reasons why the law favors stability, they usually understand.
These are the three most important considerations when it comes to answering the question of whether or not an appeal of a family court's final judgment is worthwhile:
How Badly Did The Family Court Judge Err?
The severity and nature of the family court judge’s mistakes determines the odds of success in an appeal. Generally, procedural errors are easier to overturn because they usually impact a litigant’s due process rights. Instances when the judge applied the incorrect legal standard also will be viewed more harshly by the appellate court.
On the other hand, how a judge weighed the evidence receives much greater deference from the higher court. Appellate judges realize that the family court judge, not them, observed the demeanor of the parties and witnesses. This is why the Florida District Courts of Appeal only reverse factual determinations that constitute an “abuse of discretion”. In short, the more the appeal relies on legal errors instead of factual ones, the more likely it will lead to a reversal.
How Long Will The Appeal Take?
Appeals do not operate on a fixed schedule. The drafting and exchanging of the briefs takes 3 to 4 months. Once the appellate court has received all of the briefs, it will take however long it needs to issue an opinion. Based on my experience as a family law appeals attorney, that is usually 2 to 6 months. Therefore the complete appeals process can take between 5 and 10 months.
Furthermore, the appellate court may reverse the trial court but also remand (send back) the matter to the trial court for a reconsideration of one or more issues. While this is still good news, it will prolong the final resolution a few more months. Knowing this, family law clients must decide whether they can wait that long before getting any relief. Appeals require patience.
How Much Will The Appeal Cost?
AAA Family Law charges the following attorney retainer fees for appeals: (1) final orders, $3,600 to $6,000, (2) non-final orders, $2,400 to $4,800. The actual fee within these ranges depends on the complexity of your case. This is a relatively low figure compared to other law firms that can charge as much as $10,000 for these appeals. There is also a filing fee at the Florida District Court of Appeals of between $250 and $300. See Family Lawyer Retainer Fees for more information.
Still, for most Americans, even the AAA Family Law appellate retainer is a major expense. In a time-sharing child custody issue, cost is less of a factor because a parent’s relationship with a child cannot be quantified by a dollar amount.
However, if the trial judge established the wrong child support or alimony amount, or apportioned too much of the equitable distribution of property (net of debts) to the opposing party, the cost-benefit analysis becomes much clearer. In the latter scenario, to proceed with an appeal, its cost needs to be substantially lower than the potential financial gain one would realize with a reversal.
How to Get Help
If you are considering filing an appeal, I encourage you to call me, Eduardo J. Mejias, at AAA Family Law (407) 260-6001 and schedule an initial consultation on the phone or at our Altamonte Springs office. At the consultation I will: (1) ask you to explain your case and your reasons for considering it, (2) evaluate its likelihood to succeed, (3) give a recommendation on how to proceed and (4) quote you a fixed attorney retention fee, not an hourly rate whose total you cannot predict. In cases (2) and (3) it may require doing some legal research after the consultation before getting back to you.