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Legal Strategies For A Successful Divorce Appeal

Uncontested divorces are settled out of court, with the spouses agreeing on the terms for distribution of marital assets, parenting time and child support obligations if they have children together, and so on. When the parties can come to an agreement on every issue, uncontested divorce presents an attractive option because this procedure is typically faster and less expensive than a divorce managed by the courts. Contested divorces are managed through the court system, although the number of issues on which the court will rule varies widely. Regardless of the number of questions to be settled, in a contested divorce the family law court judge will issue a divorce decree that addresses all major legal matters involved with the divorce. The judge’s decision in the case will be binding on both spouses, whether they agree with its terms or not. In limited circumstances, however, one of the parties involved in the divorce may have grounds to request a divorce appeal. The dedicated family law and divorce attorneys at Colorado Divorce Law Group assist clients in a variety of divorce matters, including appeals. If you have questions about filing a successful divorce appeal, you can learn more by contacting the firm at (720) 593-6442.


What Is a Divorce Decree?


In Colorado, a divorce decree is a legal document that finalizes the dissolution of a marriage. The decree outlines and solidifies the terms and conditions imposed by the divorce settlement. Common examples of questions frequently addressed in divorce settlements include important determinations related to child custody, child support, alimony or spousal support, and division of assets. Additionally, the divorce decree may also include details regarding the restoration of either spouse’s pre-marriage surname, if requested during the divorce proceedings.


The divorce decree issued by the court is binding for both parties, establishing the rights and responsibilities of each spouse following divorce. The document serves as a crucial reference for enforcing each spouse’s obligations under the divorce settlement.


When Can You Appeal a Divorce Decree?


Certain conditions must be met to appeal a divorce decree. Simply being unsatisfied with the terms of the divorce decree is not sufficient to file an appeal. Generally speaking, the most common grounds for appeal in a divorce case is a legal error made by the judge, although errors of fact are also sometimes cited. If one party thinks that the judge made an error in their application of the law (often due to faulty interpretation), and that this affected the terms of the decree, they may have grounds to file an appeal.


Some common examples of grounds to file a divorce appeal include:


  • Certain facts were misrepresented by the other party in the divorce
  • The court did not understand the full scope of the case
  • The judge or court made errors that affected their decision
  • The law was incorrectly applied
  • The judge abused their discretion


How Does a Divorce Appeal Work?


When someone files an appeal, they ask for the divorce court’s decision to be reviewed by a higher court. In Colorado, divorce cases that were originally decided in a magistrate court are typically appealed in district court. If the divorce decree was issued by a judge, it will usually be appealed in the Colorado Court of Appeals. Divorce decrees issued by magistrates must be appealed within 14 days, while those issued by judges must be appealed within 49 days of the issuance of the divorce decree.


Time Constraints on Colorado Divorce Appeals


Due to these relatively short time limits, individuals and their divorce attorneys typically must prepare everything needed for the appeal within a few weeks. This includes reviewing the case, constructing an argument for the appeal, and drafting an appellate brief. The appellate brief uses state laws and case law to analyze the divorce decree, and may also include supporting documents, including the trial transcript, and evidence that the court made an error.


Appearing Before an Appellate Judge in a Divorce Case


The appellate brief and all supporting documents are filed with the higher court, and the Colorado Court of Appeals may then schedule an oral argument in which both sides will have the chance to argue their case and answer questions from the appellate judge. If you believe that a Colorado divorce court made an error in your divorce decree, you can learn more about filing a divorce appeal by contacting the experienced Colorado family law attorneys at the Colorado Divorce Law Group.


How Do Appellate Courts Make Decisions?


Once an appeal has been filed, the higher court will review the lower court’s decision and determine if there is enough evidence to overturn the disputed parts of the divorce decree. They may not address the decree in its entirety. There are four different decisions that the court can make:


  • Reversal – The court determines that the divorce court made an error in their initial decision and vacates this original ruling.
  • Remand – The appellate court orders that the original family court must hear the case again.
  • Affirmation – The initial decision of the family court is upheld and the request for the appeal is rejected.
  • Modification – The appellate court decides to change part of the original divorce decree.


What Is the Difference Between a Divorce Modification and Appeal?


Dissatisfaction with the terms of a divorce decree, on the part of one or both former spouses, is an extremely common scenario, but appealing the judge’s decision is not a path to legal remedy in most cases. Appeals are typically only an option when the party wanting an appeal can show that the court has made an error. In some circumstances, however, the terms of a divorce decree can be changed via post-decree modifications, rather than through winning an appeal of the original decision. Post-decree modifications are most often issued in response to changing circumstances for one of the spouses, such as a substantial alteration in their income or significantly altered availability for parenting time, that make the provisions of the original decree inapplicable to the current situation.


According to Title 14 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, individuals who wish to modify their divorce decrees in Colorado must show a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances.” Those who wish to modify a decree must provide sufficient evidence for the court, and the presiding judge will review the facts of the case to determine whether to grant the requested modifications. Depending on the circumstances, modifications may be a better alternative to appeals, as they can take less time and are often less expensive.


Contact a Colorado Divorce Lawyer To Learn More


If you believe a family law court in Colorado made a mistake when determining the terms of your divorce decree, you may have grounds for an appeal. The dedicated family law attorneys with the Colorado Divorce Law Group are available to help you file an appeal and guide you through the entire process. An attorney may also be able to help you explore other ways to alter the terms of a divorce, such as post-decree modifications. Contact the Colorado Divorce Law Group today at (720) 593-6442 to learn more about filing a divorce appeal or other divorce matters in a free consultation.