Sometimes, clients who are dissatisfied with the results of a family court hearing will want to appeal. Knowing what your options are in challenging rulings and their relative cost benefit analysis is important. A few key things that may surprise you about your options:
- A Motion for Reconsideration is possible, but has it’s risks. A motion for reconsideration can be filed 20 days after a ruling, but in almost every case (unless the judge is unavailable) it will go back in front of the same judge that made the ruling. There are limits to what a court will consider as valid for reconsideration. It has to demonstrate clearly where the court has erred, and can’t just be presenting new facts that would have been available at the time of the initial hearing. This can sometimes be a useful tool, and we have been successful on some motions for reconsideration. But it is important to discuss with your attorney the relative costs and likelihood of success.
- Appeal. The New Jersey Appeals court is not an easy, fast or inexpensive process. They do not review the FACTUAL elements of the case, only if there has been an error of application of law. An appeal must be filed within 45 days of a final decision. Transcripts must be purchased to append to the appeal. Briefs are scheduled and procedure is VERY important in the appellate division, even down to the kind of font you can file a brief in. It is difficult, though not impossible to represent yourself in an appeal (unlike in the trial courts where you are advantaged generally by having an attorney, but self representation is common and judges often make allowances for non-lawyers). If you are successful in your appeal, which may take a year, it doesn’t mean you necessarily get the factual elements you disagree with resolved by the Appellate division. They will remand, or send it back to the original trial court to re-try with new guidance as to how to interpret the law in the case. Because of the time it takes to get through an appeal, you may, in some situations, be able to apply for interlocutory relief, or a temporary injunction against having to follow the original order.
- Sometimes It’s Just Not the Right Time. Sometimes, I advise clients particularly in custody related matters that there just wasn’t enough yet to make the changes they want. Your best option is to wait a year, build your case, and return. Custody in particular can be a process that takes multiple hearings and multiple events and changes to gradually move in the direction you want to go, because the law is loathe to make changes without a demonstration of significant changes in circumstances or a pattern of behavior that is worthy of the court’s review.
Your best bet for avoiding a ruling you don’t want is to make sure you put everything into your initial filing. This means (1) hiring an attorney for your initial case, because undoing what you did on your own might not be possible (2) giving your attorney ALL the data they need and request to make sure you’re putting your best case forward (3) not doing things that sabotage your case while it’s going on. Even in this event, sometimes the law is not on your side. We will always advise you if that is the case, but you may choose that it’s worth moving forward anyway or you have no choice because you are defending against someone else’s filing.
If you need a free consult to discuss your options, call 856-227-7888.