It is not unusual for clients to disagree with an initial court decision pertaining to family matters. Whether it involves division of property, alimony, child custody or child support, very often a judge’s ruling leaves someone unhappy.
So does that mean you can appeal a decision you don’t like? Family law attorneys who handle successful appeals know that you need specific legal grounds to get an appellate court to reverse a lower court’s decision. The key question is whether your case involves an error of law that could lead to a reversal on appeal.
Errors in Law vs. Errors in Fact
Initial family law cases in Virginia focus on facts. The judge will consider evidence on issues such as:
- Earning potential of the parties involved
- Value and type of marital property
- Ages and needs of children
- Length of a marriage
- Terms in a prenuptial agreement
- A parent’s ability to provide a stable home and care for a child
Some facts are usually clear, such as the length of time a couple has been married. Other facts may be open to interpretation. Two parents can present conflicting evidence regarding their suitability to provide a stable home, for instance. The judge will decide which evidence is more credible and make a ruling on those facts.
If the judge interprets the facts incorrectly, that is not usually something that can be challenged on appeal. An appellate court looks only at how the law is applied to the facts. If the lower court applied the law incorrectly, then that ruling might be reversed.
Types of Issues That Could Lead to a Successful Appeal in Virginia Family Law Cases
Initial decisions on family law issues in Virginia are usually made by either the circuit court or the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts (JDRDC). The procedures for filing an appeal differ depending on which court made the initial decision, but the grounds for an appeal are essentially the same. The person seeking a different outcome must show that the lower-level court abused its discretion or made an error applying the law.
For instance, if the judge ruled that Parent A should have sole physical custody of a child because that parent’s location allowed for less disruption in the child’s life and was therefore in the child’s best interest, a court would be unlikely to review that decision on appeal. However, if Parent A had a history of child abuse and the judge failed to consider that fact in reaching a decision as required underVa. Code §20-124.3, then Parent B could successfully argue on appeal that the judge incorrectly applied the statute when making the custody determination.
To determine whether you have grounds for a successful appeal, a family law attorney could review the initial ruling in detail to determine whether the judge considered all the factors required by law. Appeals of JDRDC decisions must generally be made within 10 days, so it is wise to consult a legal advisor soon after the initial ruling.
Work with a Knowledgeable Family Law Appeals Lawyer in Virginia
Appellate cases are handled very differently than initial fact-based court rulings. At DiPietro Law Group, PLLC, we understand how to present a solid case to appeal a ruling of the JDRDC or circuit court. Talk to us today for an evaluation of the possibilities in your case.