Appeals in Family Law Matters

In North Carolina, family law cases, including child custody, child support, postseparation support, alimony, and the equitable distribution of marital and divisible property, are heard at the district court level by District Court Judges. North Carolina law sets forth factors that judges are required to consider when making decisions in these cases, but it is essentially up to the trial judge to rely on his or her own judgment in deciding how much weight should be given to the requisite factors, witness testimony, or other evidence.

To ensure that judges apply the law correctly and do not abuse their discretion, North Carolina, like other states, provides a process in which parties may appeal a judge’s decision. When an appeal is filed in a family law case, the matter goes for review before a higher court: the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals does not rehear the case. It considers the legal briefs filed by the parties’ respective appellate attorneys, as well as any oral arguments, and reviews the record of the trial and the evidence to determine whether the trial judge made a legal error. If the Court of Appeals finds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion or act improperly, then it will affirm, or uphold, the trial judge’s decision. When the Court of Appeals finds to the contrary, it may reverse the trial judge’s decision and direct the trial court to conduct a new hearing. The rehearing, however, may be limited to certain issues.

A party may appeal from an order or judgment determining a claim for absolute divorce, divorce from bed and board, child custody, child support, alimony, or equitable distribution if the order or judgment is a final order or judgment that resolves that particular claim, even if other matters in controversy in the case are still pending before the trial court. Orders that deal with temporary matters, such as temporary custody or postseparation support, generally are not immediately appealable. There is limited exception for appeal of temporary orders, such as if the order affects a substantial right or a child’s safety is at risk.

If you believe that the trial judge made a mistake or acted improperly in determining your family related matter, you have a very limited timeframe in which to file an appeal or attempt to have the matter corrected. In Family Court matters, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days from entry or receipt of the trial judge’s order.

The appeal process is very expensive and time-consuming. It may take as long as one year for the North Carolina Court of Appeals to review and issue a decision in a case. As such, the decision to appeal a trial judge’s decision in a family related matter is one that should be given careful consideration. The appellate attorneys at Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan can provide you with a candid assessment of the merits of your claim to help you determine whether you should move forward with an appeal.

The rules governing the appeal process are very complex and highly specialized. Appeals are best handled by attorneys who have specific experience in the appeals process. The appellate attorneys at Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan have handled hundreds of appeals and are knowledgeable in all aspects of appellate procedure. Our commitment to helping our clients achieve success through persuasive legal arguments and effective presentations has earned us an exceptional reputation as one of the area’s premier law firms. We handle appeals for clients whose cases originated in our firm, as well as clients referred by other attorneys. Our team of family law and appellate attorneys ensures that we are well-qualified to provide representation in all areas of appeals of family law related matters, including, but not limited to, child custody, child support, alimony, and division of marital property and debts.