Can You Appeal a Divorce Settlement? 12 Steps to Know
A signed and filed divorce settlement is considered legal, final, and enforceable. But issues like fraud or deception could make every agreement you made invalid. If that happens, you can appeal your divorce settlement in court.
The appeals process is long and complicated. You’ll need a lawyer’s help to complete each step. But if your final arrangements are truly unfair, an appeal can help you fight for your rights.
Read about the pros and cons of appealing a divorce settlement in our article, Appealing a Divorce Decree.
Understanding the 12 steps of a divorce settlement appeal
A divorce settlement appeal is a court case. Several steps are involved, and very few of them are skippable. Keep reading to find out how the process works and what you’ll need to do at each stage.
Step 1: Consult with a professional
More than 58,000 family law and divorce lawyers work within the United States. One of them must work with you on the divorce settlement appeals process.
Ask your friends and family members if they have a good lawyer to recommend. You can also use directories from the American Bar Association to find a qualified attorney in your state.
Ask each potential lawyer to meet with you in person. You’ll collaborate with this person for many months on your appeal, so you choose someone with whom you feel comfortable.
Step 2: Determine your eligibility
Many people are unhappy with the arrangements listed on their divorce settlement. But simple discomfort isn’t enough to force a successful appeal. Your lawyer must examine your case and make sure you have good chances of winning.
You can fight your marital settlement agreement if the process was rushed, fraudulent, or deceptive. You could also file an appeal if the agreement is substantially unfair to you.
Your lawyer will ask why you want to appeal and how you intend to prove your case. If you can’t provide any proof of fraud, duress, or other grounds for appeal, your case likely won’t move forward.
Step 3: File a notice to appeal
If your lawyer determines that you have a good case and plenty of proof, you’ll start the formal appeals process. A lot of paperwork is required.
Your lawyer will draft documents that notify the court of your intention to appeal. You won’t need to help with this step, as your lawyer should tackle the specifics for you. But you should review the documents to make sure your team presents your case accurately.
When you’ve approved the documents, your lawyer will take them to the appeals court to file them. Courts usually charge a filing fee at this stage.
Step 4: Request trial records
Many people settle divorce issues outside the courtroom. For example, about a third of family cases in Texas in 2021 were settled with an agreed judgment. Just 28% of these cases were completed with a bench trial.
If your case went to trial, your lawyer will request formal records. Transcripts of statements, copies of exhibits, and formal rulings can help your legal team understand what happened in the case. Those documents could help you build an effective appeal.
If you didn’t go to trial, give your lawyer copies of all of your divorce documents, including financial disclosures and filed divorce settlement forms. Double-check to make sure they have all the needed documentation.
Step 5: Prepare your appellate brief
An appellate brief contains your team’s appeal argument. Your lawyer outlines why the current settlement isn’t accurate, fair, or both. Your lawyer will cite other, similar cases to prove that your argument has merit and should prevail in court.
Plenty of rules surround appellate briefs. Courts typically require them to comply with a specific format, and they can’t be too long or too short. If your lawyer makes a mistake on these documents, your case could be over before it begins.
You may not understand everything inside the appellate brief. Legal language isn’t always easy to comprehend. But you should read the document before your lawyer files it.
Once you’ve read the document and agreed with the arguments your lawyer made, it’s time to file the brief. Your lawyer will go back to the appellate court and provide an official version of the document.
Step 6: Serve the appellate brief
In most states, courts provide stamped, signed versions of official documents to the filing party. It’s that side’s responsibility to tell the other party about the case and what’s happening. This process is called serving.
Your lawyer will bundle a stamped version of the brief into a package addressed to your partner. An impartial third party (typically a serving company or sheriff) will take the document to your ex and fill out paperwork proving that the delivery happened.
The server will take the signed proof of delivery back to the courts handling your appeal and file it. This step proves that you’ve notified your ex of the court case.
Step 7: Allow the other side to respond
Once you’ve filed a brief, your ex could take the same step. A respondent’s brief can’t introduce new arguments or arrangements. But your ex could provide a detailed explanation about why every element inside your brief is wrong.
Your partner’s lawyers will draft the response, following the same rules regarding format and length that your team did. Those lawyers will file the documents with the court and serve you with a copy.
In states like Ohio, respondents have only 10 days to file a response. But in others, they have more time. Your case is on hold until that time frame passes.
Step 8: Deliver oral arguments
Some cases are decided with briefs alone. Judges read both sets of documents and use them to rule on the case. But sometimes, both sides must come to the courtroom to make an oral argument.
Typical oral arguments are short. Each side has about 15 minutes to present their side of the case to the judge. Your lawyer may do all the talking for you, or you may be asked to provide a short statement about what happened.
Your lawyer should prepare you for this important conversation so you’re not intimidated or surprised.
Step 9: Wait for the appellate court decision
Courtrooms are busy, and wait times are common. In some states, like North Carolina, you could wait as long as a year for the court to rule.
If your case is complex with a lot of evidence and paperwork, your judge will need time to review everything and decide which side is right. And if your court has a backlog of cases, you’ll need to wait until it’s your turn for attention.
It’s hard to remain patient, especially when your divorce settlement seems very unfair. But do your best to stay calm and collected as your case makes its way through the courts. You can’t rush this process.
Step 10: Get a decision on your appeal
After your judge reviews your case, an official ruling will be made. You won’t have to go back to the courtroom to hear it, and you may not even talk to the judge again. Instead, your lawyers will hear about the case and tell you what happened.
Step 11: Finalize your appeal
At the end of your appeal process, the judge will complete the final paperwork and file it with the courts. Your lawyer should provide you with copies of those documents. Once those forms are signed, stamped, and filed with the courts, they become an official part of your divorce record and are legally binding.
Step 12: Enforce the decision
You and your ex are required to comply with the rules outlined in your appeal documents. If you lose your case, nothing changes. If you win, your spouse must alter arrangements accordingly.
If your ex won’t abide by the new rules, tell your lawyer. You may need to go back to court to enforce the new plans and make your ex follow the stipulations.
If you’d like to speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your case, consider scheduling a flat-fee meeting with one of our in-house attorneys. If you have questions about Hello Divorce and the services we offer, we invite you to schedule a free 15-minute informational phone call.
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Annual Statistical Report for the Texas Judiciary. (2021). Texas Judicial Branch.
Briefs on Appeal. Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth Appellate District.
Appeals. United States Courts.
How Long Does It Take for an Appeal to Be Decided by the Court? North Carolina Department of Justice.
Unhappy With the Terms of Your Divorce Decree? You Have Options. (November 2016). Ohio State Bar Association.
Dissolution of Marriage. Missouri Courts, Judicial Branch of Government.