When it comes to resolving the myriad family law issues involved in a divorce – child custody and support, alimony, property division, and many more – couples have two fundamental choices. They can negotiate with each other (and their respective attorneys) and come to a court-approved agreement regarding some or all of these matters. Alternatively, a family court judge will make the decisions about their respective rights and obligations going forward. And, as is often the case, one spouse may not be happy with the judge’s ruling.
An Appeal Is Not a “Do-Over”
A spouse who is unhappy with a settlement may have regrets and second thoughts, but unless fraud or malfeasance were involved, they have to live with the terms of that settlement. But when a divorcing spouse is unhappy with the decisions and rulings a judge makes in their Michigan divorce case, they may appeal the decision in a Michigan appellate court.
Appealing a divorce ruling is no small undertaking, however, and should only be pursued in close consultation with a Michigan divorce lawyer. It is also important to understand what an appeal is – and what it is not.
Many people mistakenly believe that an appeal is essentially a second bite at the apple, a “do-over.” They may think that they’ll have the opportunity to reargue their case and present their evidence and testimony in front of judges whom they hope will make the “right” decision this time. Appeals don’t work that way.
Questions of Law Only
It is undoubtedly true that the appeal process provides a disgruntled spouse with a way to challenge certain aspects of the proceedings, rulings, and decisions in family court. However, an appellate court will only review a decision to determine whether the judge applied the correct rules, procedures, and law when they made their determinations.
These are “questions of law” and are the only issues an appellate court will consider. Appellate judges generally will not review the evidence and testimony in the family court in deciding an appeal. Instead, they will make their decisions based on legal arguments about how Michigan law should be interpreted and applied.
An appellate court would overrule a trial court’s decision only if the trial judge made an important legal error. Even if the appellate judges believe that the outcome in the family court should have been different, they will not overrule the lower court if no legal errors were made.
Deciding whether or not to appeal an adverse divorce ruling is a strategic and practical decision. Not every setback or disappointing decision in a divorce case can or should be taken to the next level. An experienced Michigan divorce attorney will understand whether appealing a decision made by the trial judge makes sense and serves their client’s best interests.