Once a trial is over and the court issues its decision, most people think that is the end of their case. In most instances, they would be correct. However, under the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, a party has a right to appeal any final judgment of the Circuit Court in civil cases. This means that once the Circuit Court has rendered a decision in a case, you can request the Appellate Court to reconsider the issue, provided you follow the appropriate procedures for filing an appeal.
Perhaps you just got your final judgment and realized there was an issue with the child support calculation. There may have been a deviation, or you think the judge incorrectly interpreted the law. You may be unsatisfied with the result and would like to know if you can appeal. The appeals process for divorce depends on three things:
- How long has it been since the decision was entered?
- Is this a final decision?
- Why are you requesting the appeal?
When considering filing an appeal, consider these three questions to see if appealing a court’s decision is right for you.
How Long Do I Have to File an Appeal in an Illinois Family Law Case?
Don’t wait too long after a judgment to appeal the court’s decision. Appeals must be filed within 30 days of final judgment. After thirty days, the decision is binding and can no longer be appealed.
After the 30-day period, the only issues that can be modified are child support, maintenance, and parental allocations. So, for example, if you became your child’s primary caregiver, were laid off from your job due to no fault of your own, or perhaps became ill and now can no longer earn what you had made before. You could request that the previous child support or maintenance awards be modified, as these awards are modifiable if there are substantial changes in circumstances.
Child support can also be reviewed every few years to make sure that the original decision still works for the situation regarding the family. If there was a small error in the original judgment, like a typo, it would be best to have it reviewed within 30 days; otherwise, it can be binding.
When Is a Court’s Decision a “Final Decision”?
Generally, appeals can be made when the court issues a final decision. A final decision is one where there appears to be finality in the decision. For example, in a divorce case, the final decision is the judgment for dissolution of marriage.
What if It Was Not a Final Decision?
Usually, temporary orders are not appealable since the order can be negated by future orders in the same case or by the final judgment. But, if the order is impactful, an interlocutory appeal can be granted to stay the impactful order.
What is an Interlocutory Appeal?
An interlocutory appeal is an appeal that is brought up on an order that is not final. The state of Illinois only allows interlocutory appeals in certain circumstances; for example, it can be available in the case of an injunction. The most common situation in family law cases where an interlocutory appeal applies is when parental rights are terminated. Still, each interlocutory appeal is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Why Are You Requesting an Appeal?
An appeal cannot be requested just because you do not like the judge’s decision. There has to be one of two things needed for an appeal to go forward if there is: (1) a mistake of fact and (2) a mistake of law. These issues must show in the court’s record, cannot be something you requested, and cannot be harmless.
You are granted the right to appeal to the appellate court as a matter of right, but you still must show some mistake by the trial court. You do not get to re-litigate your case before the appellate court; the reviewing court will only look to see if the trial court made an error.
What is a Mistake-in-Fact?
A Mistake-in-fact occurs if the fact pattern used by the judge was against the weight of evidence or if the facts were misapplied so that the conclusion reached does not follow.
When looking at this kind of appeal, the court will likely use “Abuse of Discretion” as the standard of review. This standard means that the court will review the transcripts, the motions, and the evidence given and use that to see if the conclusion follows the facts presented and not check all the facts themselves.
What is a Mistake-in-Law?
A mistake-in-law is almost always appealable. It occurs when there is a misapplication of the law given by the trial court. In this case, the appeal will result in a complete review of the case since the appeal will look at how the law was supposed to be applied and see if the trial court judge made a mistake.
In a case like this, the standard of review is “De Novo.” In a De Novo case, the appeals court will look at this case with a fresh set of eyes and see if the trial court correctly applied the law.
What is a Harmless Error?
Even if there was a situation where the facts or theory was incorrectly applied, if the case would have had the same conclusion, then it is likely that the appeal may not be granted. Errors are not reasons to appeal; the error would need to be necessary for the conclusion reached.
How Do You Show an Error Occurred?
The best way to show that an error occurred is to review the decisions granted by referring to the record taken by the court reporter.
Suppose a judge chooses to deviate from the Illinois guidelines based on the facts given, such as child support ordered is higher than required by law. In that case, they need to explain their reasoning in the transcript and order. It can be appealed if that reasoning is there, signed, and dated.
A court reporter also helps as it would show the exact words and facts offered to the judge to lead to the decision and preserve the record in case an appeal is needed.
Results of an Appeal
Appeals are not a get-out-of-jail-free card, and they do not always work. But if it is within the period and there is an error that really impacted the case in the record, then it can be pursued by either party.
That being said, the result of the appeal is that the judge may reverse the decision or remands the case back to the trial court, where it will be tried again.
Speak to a Chicago Family Law Attorney About an Appeal
Appeals can be time-consuming, costly endeavors, and most cases are not appealed for this reason. If you would like to appeal a family court decision, it is important to speak with a skilled Chicago family law attorney to discuss the likelihood of success on appeal and weigh all of your options. Schedule a consultation with our legal team today to discuss questions about appealing a court decision or any other divorce, child custody, or family law needs.