Few people come out of a divorce trial happy with all the terms ordered by the court. An unhappy spouse's first instinct is often to appeal the ruling.
Appeals are complicated, costly undertakings, and success isn't guaranteed.
New York attorney and DivorceForce contributor, Daniel E. Clement, indicates that, overall, appeals in matrimonial matters result in a reversal or modification of the original order only about 25 percent of the time.
Basis of Spousal Support Orders
Although it may not seem like it to ex spouses who pay alimony or spousal support, courts will not order support in amounts that could leave the payer penniless.
A primary consideration in awarding alimony in most states involves one spouse's ability to pay versus the other's need for financial assistance. Other factors include—but are not limited to—the couple's standard of living and the duration of the marriage.
An appeal must prove that the initial judge's estimation of one of these critical factors was wrong.
Appealing a Spousal Support Order
An appeal isn't an opportunity to have your case heard all over again based on the same evidence you or your attorney presented the first time. An appeal merely presents evidence to a panel of appellate judges that the trial court made a mistake.
The first judge either didn't understand the law, or he made some sort of procedural error. He might have considered evidence that should not have been admissible, or perhaps he refused to hear evidence that should have been taken into consideration. The appellate judges will decide if the trial court judge committed a legal error when he ordered spousal support in your case.
You have a very limited time to notify the court that you want to appeal. Typically, you have less than a month, and often as little as seven days to file an appeal.
Even if your appeal is successful, the appellate court won't order you to pay a lower or adjusted amount of alimony. Instead, it sends your case back to the trial court, either to the same judge or to a new one, so the matter can be decided all over again; this time, correctly based on the law. The entire process can take up to two years.
If all this sounds daunting, consider speaking with a local attorney about modifying your spousal support order instead. This may be an option if your circumstances—or those of your ex—have changed after your divorce. Maybe you lost your job through no fault of your own. Maybe your ex is now cohabiting with her paramour, so she has the assistance of his income and no longer needs your financial support. These types of occurrences can result in a modification or sometimes even the termination of a previous alimony order.
You might also consider filing a motion for reconsideration, rather than filing a full-blown appeal. This type of motion asks the initial judge to review what you perceive to be an error in his ruling. Like an appeal, you usually have a very limited period of time in which to file this motion, however.