The Process of Appealing Family Court Rulings in Florida
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
Why Family Law Appeals Are So Infrequent
A litigant's right to appeal a questionable trial court judgment is well-ingrained in Anglo-American jurisprudence. In fact, appellate opinions, (not family court rulings or even the statutes) constitute the bulk of family law. These opinions offer precise interpretations to vaguely-worded laws, and govern how family trial courts must rule. Yet, only a tiny percentage of all family law cases ever reach even the first level of appellate review. This is why:
For starters, many clients simply cannot afford the appellate process. More fundamentally, overturning an unfavorable final judgment requires many conditions to be “just right.” As a result, while the right to appeal is available to all litigants, most family law attorneys will only handle a small number of these cases during their careers, if any.
The Family Court Appeals Process
The Notice of Appeal
First, let us examine the basic procedure. A litigant has 30 days from the final judgment to file a notice of appeal. (A few non-final orders can also be appealed, but for the sake of brevity, we will only consider final judgments). For example, if you are not happy about how the trial judge ruled in your divorce trial, you must file the aforementioned notice no later than 30 days after the signed final judgment is issued. If you fail to timely file this notice, you waive the right to appeal forever.
Needless to say, a competent family law or divorce appeals attorney will advise his or her client of this deadline either right before or immediately after the trial. Furthermore, the appealing party must pay the initial filing fee along with the notice. The clerk of court will not accept this notice without an accompanying payment of this fee, which ranges between $250 and $300. Keep in mind that this notice merely announces to the court and to the opposing party and attorney that an appeal is being sought.
The Initial Brief
Within 70 days after filing the notice, the appellant must submit an initial brief. This brief is the “meat” of the appeal; and it contains all of the legal arguments for overturning the final judgment of the family court.
The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedures contains dozens of detailed format requirements that the brief must adhere to (e.g. length, font, and margins). In short, drafting the initial brief requires a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of work for the attorney. This is why the appellant is given 70 days to complete this brief.
Answer To The Initial Brief
Within 20 days of being served the initial brief, the the party seeking to uphold the final judgment: (1) must file the answer to the brief and (2) has the right to file a cross-appeal of the final judgment (which is rare).
Reply to the Answer to the Brief
Finally, the appellant may chose to file a reply brief within 20 days of receiving the answer brief. It responds to the arguments made in the answer brief. Thus, it is usually the shortest of the three. Overall, an appeal presents much expense and risk.
All The Appeals Process Is In Writing, Applies to a Specific Portion of the Court's Final Judgement and Can Be Done For Any Type of Family Law Case
Notice that the appeal process is done exclusively in writing in almost every case. Attorneys and clients rarely have to appear in person in court.
Also note that, usually, what is being appealed is only one particular portion of the final court judgement that the appealing lawyer considers to be an erroneous application of the law.
And appeals can be made for any specific part of the family court judgment and for any type of family law case, such as the terms of a divorce, post-judgment alimony, child custody or support disputes after a divorce, paternity judgments, prenuptial agreements, domestic violence or DCF (Department of Children and Families) child dependency cases.
Factual and Legal Requirements to Appeal
The five District Courts of Appeals in Florida hear almost all their cases from trial court judgments. The panel of judges in these courts will only overturn factual conclusions if the trial judge committed what is referred to as “an abuse of discretion.” Essentially, a trial judge's factual finding must be devoid of any supporting basis for it to be overturned. A close decision on the facts will be upheld, even if the appeals court would have reached a different conclusion.
On the other hand, when a trial court applies the wrong legal standard to a set of facts, the appellate court will almost certainly overturn that part of the decision. This distinction between factual and legal is often quite subtle, and is not always immediately apparent. However, when deciding whether to appeal, a family law appeals attorney should discuss with the client how many of the judge's errors were legal, as opposed to factual.
Experience Doing Appeals
I have been the appeals attorney for twelve divorce and other family law cases. If you are considering filing an appeal of your final judgment, please call me, Eduardo J. Mejias, of AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 before the 30-day deadline and schedule an initial consultation with me.
Due to the infrequency of appeals and the very different nature of its procedures, many family law attorneys prefer to not work on the very few appeals of their own cases. This is because it takes too much of their time to learn their process for an individual case. I handle both appeals of my own family court cases and those of cases from other family lawyers.
I chose to make a total commitment to Florida family law since 2011 (after practicing it part of the time since 2005) and do not take other types of cases. I have also learned from the experience of twelve family law appeals, which helped me become a better family court lawyer because appeals involves me more in legal research. And, of course, that legal research helps me make better decisions for my clients regarding whether appealing a case makes sense.
This is why I gladly take appeal cases that other lawyers, in different situations, prefer to avoid. Since these cases are handled almost always in writing, without attending court, I can handle them from clients with cases in any family court in the state of Florida.
If you are considering appealing a family law case, call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 and schedule an initial consultation on the phone or at our Altamonte Springs office, just north of Winter Park. At the consultation: (1) you will explain your situation involving your case, (2), I will explain what can be done under Florida law and outline a plan of legal action. Then I will quote you a fixed retainer fee (not an hourly rate whose total cost is unpredictable).
Our retainer fees for appeals of final orders in Florida range between $3,600 and $6,000 depending on their level of complexity. For non-final orders they are between $2,400 and $4,800. This does not include appellate court fees. See Our Retainer Fee Policies. for additional information on our fees and costs.
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AAA Family Law
283 Cranes Roost Blvd., Suite 111
Altamonte Springs, Florida 32701
AAA Family Law is located in Altamonte Springs and serves clients throughout the Orlando Metro Area including, but not limited to, the following cities and unincorporated areas, by county: Orange County: Apopka, Bay Lake, Maitland, Ocoee, Orlando, Union Park, Winter Garden, and Winter Park; Seminole County: Altamonte Springs, Casselberry, Lake Mary, Longwood, Oviedo, Sanford, and Winter Springs; Volusia County: Daytona Beach, DeBary, DeLand, Deltona, and Orange City; Lake County: Clermont, Leesburg, and Mount Dora; Osceola County: Buena Ventura Lakes, Celebration, and Kissimmee; Orange, Lake, Osceola, and Polk Counties: Four Corners; Orange and Seminole Counties: Goldenrod.