A party in a family law case – be it a child custody case, child support case, alimony case, or equitable distribution case – who believes the trial judge’s decision was mistaken or unsupported by law, may appeal that decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In North Carolina, trial judges are vested with wide discretion in making decisions in family law cases, including those that involve divorce, child custody, child support, post-separation support, alimony, attorney’s fees awards, and/or equitable distribution. This discretion entrusts judges to use their own judgment in considering the weight that is given to the evidence that is presented and to gauge the credibility of any witnesses. To prevail on an appeal, the party appealing the case must show that the trial judge abused his discretion. . An abuse of discretion can be established by presenting evidence to the appellate court to show that the trial judge failed to comply with the law, incorrectly applied or interpreted the law, or reached a decision in the case that was manifestly unsupported by competent evidence or was so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.
Each family law case is unique and has the potential to present novel legal issues or highlight an aspect of the law that needs to be amended, more narrowly defined or interpreted. Issues that may form the basis for an appeal generally need to be preserved at the trial level. For example, if a judge refuses to allow certain evidence to be introduced at trial, your attorney may make a formal objection for the record that preserves your right to appeal on this basis. Being represented by a skilled and experienced family law attorney throughout the legal process can help to ensure that appealable matters are preserved for the record at the trial court level thus preserving your right to pursue an appeal.
Disagreeing with or disliking a judge’s decision does not necessarily mean there is a solid legal basis for an appeal. Moreover, an appeal can be expensive and time-consuming and delay resolution of your legal matters. It may take a year or longer for the Court of Appeals to render a decision in your case and one of the possibilities is that the Court of Appeals could require the trial court to conduct a new trial. The decision to appeal a trial judge’s decision is one that should be given careful consideration.
Daphne Edwards, of the prestigious Raleigh law firm of Cheshire, Parker, Schneider & Bryan, has extensive experience in family law and appellate matters. Ms. Edwards represents clients in appeals arising from matters she has litigated in the trial court, as well as matters tried by other attorneys or law firms. If you are considering appealing a trial judge’s decision, Ms. Edwards can provide you with a realistic assessment of the merits of your case.