In a divorce, the final part of the process is the divorce settlement or decree. The decree addresses issues such as alimony, child support, and division of assets. The court’s mission is to follow the law and be as fair as possible to both parties. But of course, judges are human. They can make mistakes. They might even intentionally act unfairly. The good news is, if you are unhappy with your divorce decree, there is something you can do about it. The bad news is, it is not easy to do. So today’s blog answers the complicated question, “Can you appeal a divorce decree in Texas?”
What Is In A Divorce Decree?
The decree, or settlement, is based upon each case. Thus, each decree is likely to be a little different. Regardless, the purpose of the decree is to summarize the responsibilities and rights of each spouse. Issues the decree will cover include:
- How assets and debts will be divided
- Alimony (known in Texas as “spousal support”
- Child custody and visitation rights
- Child support payments
- Date that the divorce is finalized
Courts also call the decree a final order or final judgment. The key thing to know is that your divorce is not final until the court has issued the decree. Until you have the document in hand, you should consider yourself still married. Read our recent blog on contempt of court consequences.
The county where the divorce occurred will keep a record of the decree on file. Depending on how you handled the divorce, you should receive a copy from your family law attorney or the court.
Who Can Appeal the Divorce Decree?
If you wish to appeal a divorce decree in Texas, it means you want to change or correct some aspect of the judge’s decision. In fact, both parties can file a separate appeal at the same time. The appeal will be handled by a different court, known as an appellate court.
What Are Valid Grounds for Appealing a Divorce Decree?
The main reason to appeal a divorce decree in Texas is because you think the court made a mistake. While this may seem obvious, it actually can be very complicated.
To have the right to appeal the decree, you must be able to prove that the court made a significant error in applying the law to your case or acted unreasonably.
For example, suppose you do not like the court’s decision about alimony. You cannot appeal the decision just because you think your payments are too high. However, you might be able to file an appeal if you can show that the judge used the wrong process to calculate your income and payments.
Or perhaps you lost custody of the kids because the court heard testimony from your ex’s friends that you are a “bad” parent. You could not file an appeal because you think your e’s friends are not honest. You also cannot ask your friends to come speak on your behalf.
However, you might be able to file an appeal if you can show that the court refused to allow you to present witnesses who could testify on your behalf, and this dramatically impacted the court’s child custody ruling.
You Must Appeal the Court Proceedings, Not the Outcome
In short, you cannot file an appeal just to challenge the facts of the case, or because you think the judge’s decision was “not fair.” You also cannot file an appeal just to introduce new evidence. Instead, the appeal usually must focus on the proceedings of the case.
Be aware that even then, you may face long odds. Judges have a lot of authority in how to handle a case. Appellate courts often are reluctant to overturn those decisions. This is especially true if you and your spouse both agreed to the initial settlement.
In addition, Texas has strict rules about how to file an appeal. If you fail to follow those procedures properly, you may lose your right to appeal. The complexity and difficulty of the case are good reasons why you should consult an experienced divorce attorney like the ones at Maynard Law Firm, PLLC.
Exceptions to the Guidelines About Appealing a Divorce Decree in Texas
Generally, your appeal must focus on the legal errors made by the court. However, there are some exceptions. You can also appeal the settlement if specific, new evidence has come to light since the court decision.
For example, suppose you found out that your ex-spouse had significant assets that he or she had hidden from the court. Or perhaps you learned later on that your ex secretly had a second family. Read our recent blog on avoiding paying child support.
The judge may determine that your ex has committed fraud. This dramatically alters the facts of the case. The court then may allow you to file an appeal to the original decree.
If You Intend to Appeal Your Divorce Decree, Pay Attention to Deadlines
If you wish to appeal the court’s final judgment, you must properly file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the divorce being finalized. If you miss the deadline or do not file the documents properly, you will probably lose your chance to file the appeal.
The process begins when the notice of appeal is submitted. After that, your attorney will submit a document called an appellate brief. This document will provide the legal reasons for the appeal and any supporting documents. As we mentioned, you generally cannot use the appeal to introduce new evidence.
Other ways to appeal a Divorce Decree
Occasionally, the judge will allow the attorneys to make oral arguments. In most cases, the court relies on the documents submitted.
You can challenge a divorce decree in various ways. The appeal is the most common process. However, it also can be time-consuming and costly.
A second option is a motion for rehearing. You must file this motion quickly. Usually, it is filed immediately after the judgment has been issued. But as mentioned, generally speaking, you cannot introduce new evidence.
A third option is a motion for relief from judgment. The court rarely grants this motion except in extreme circumstances. For example, the court may grant this motion if the judges find that your ex committed fraud during the divorce process.
Can I Modify a Court Order in Texas?
Sometimes, you may not even need to appeal the case. Instead, you can simply file a petition to modify a court order.
For example, suppose your ex gets remarried. The new spouse is very wealthy and is able to provide for many of the needs of your children. In this case, you may petition the court to lower your payments to your ex and even to your children. An attorney can advise you on the best course of action. Read our recent blog on modifying court orders in Texas.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Appeal a Divorce Decree?
As you have probably figured out by now, the appeal process can be complicated. It also can be slow: Depending upon your situation, the case can take as long as two years. So you probably are not surprised to know that an appeal case also can be very expensive.
And on top of all that, you know now that the chances of winning the appeal usually are low. However, if you are successful, the appellate court will send your case back to the original trial court, where it will either be modified or retried.
If you do decide to take this course of action, we strongly recommend you hire an experienced family law attorney. He or she can guide you through the process and provide valuable insight. If you’re going to take on this fight, you’ll want to do everything you can to win it.
Experienced Attorneys Who Can Help You With Your Divorce
The Maynard Law Firm, PLLC, never stops working for you. Our skilled attorneys will assist you throughout Tarrant County and beyond.
Whether you need a divorce, help with a custody case, or want to appeal a divorce decree, we will fight to make sure that you receive the best possible representation. For experienced, compassionate legal representation, contact us today at 817-335-9600.