• Michael Stanski

What you should know about Florida family law appeals

In Florida, and most states, an appeal gives a party an opportunity to review a trial judge’s decision or opinion. Appeals must be taken for some legal reason and are not just “another bite at the apple.” On appeal typically three judges will look at the legal issue with a majority vote of the three judges deciding the issue.

In Florida the first appeal is taken to an intermediate appellate court called a district court of appeal (DCA). If a party thinks a legal error persists then he/she can further appeal to the court of last resort called the Florida Supreme Court.

Family law appeals are rare. In all Florida DCAs family law appeals accounts for 5.59% of filings. In the 1st DCA (which is the appellate district where I mainly practice) family law appeals accounts for 3.9% of cases. By comparison at the trial level throughout Florida 37% of filings at the circuit court are family law cases and 44% in the 4th judicial circuit (trial courts were I mainly practice).

Why are family law appeals rare? It is unknown however looking at the numbers there is capacity for many more family law appeals. Often a party does not know he or she has the right to appeal a judge’s order or opinion which might account for the low number.

Family law trial judges are given a lot of discretion when deciding cases. As most appreciate laws dealing with families and children cannot be written to account for every family or situation. Despite judge’s discretion errors are made especially if a judge makes a conclusion not supported by evidence (or the evidence is not mentioned in the final order).

Prime areas for appellate challenge (this list is by no means exhaustive)

1. Electronic evidence introduction

2. Retirement benefits

3. Military service

4. Unique working hours of parents

5. Modifications to current child custody agreements/orders

6. Hidden assets

If an appeal is contemplated there are some deadlines you should know. The first is a 30 day deadline to file the notice of appeal. The notice of appeal starts the process and informs the trial court you want an appeal to be taken.

There is also a 15 day deadline for a motion for rehearing. This motion is often necessary to highlight the issue(s) (called preserving the issues) for the trial court. This process allows the trial court one more opportunity to look at the disputed issue(s) before the appellate court looks at it.

Errors occur at the trial court and to correct those error an appeal must be taken. Appeals are complex and should not be taken without help from an attorney.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Laws, regulations, and rules constantly change and information is valid for the date published only. No legal advice is given. No attorney client relationship has been formed by reading this entry. Each case is different and you should consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction before undergoing any legal proceeding.

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