How to Appeal a Family Court Decision in California

How to Appeal a Family Court Decision in California

Family court decisions can have a significant impact on the lives of individuals and their families. However, there are instances when a party may be dissatisfied with the outcome of their family court case. In such situations, it may be possible to file an appeal to have the decision reviewed by a higher court. This article will provide a comprehensive guide on how to appeal a family court decision in California.

Understanding the Appeals Process in California

Before delving into the process of appealing a family court decision, it is essential to understand the appeals process in California. In the state, family court decisions can be appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which is the intermediate appellate court. The decision of the Court of Appeal can then be further appealed to the California Supreme Court, which is the state’s highest court.

It is important to note that the appellate court’s role is not to re-try the case or reconsider the facts presented in the trial court. Instead, the appellate court reviews the record of the trial court to determine if there were any legal errors made during the trial that affected the outcome. The appellate court will not consider new evidence or hear witness testimony.

Grounds for Appeal

To successfully appeal a family court decision in California, there must be valid grounds for appeal. The most common grounds for appeal include:

1. Legal Error: This occurs when the lower court made a mistake in applying the law to the facts of the case.

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2. Abuse of Discretion: If the lower court’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, or clearly unreasonable, it may be considered an abuse of discretion.

3. Insufficient Evidence: If the lower court’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence, it may be grounds for appeal.

4. Procedural Error: An error in the procedural rules of the court, such as denying a party the right to present evidence or calling witnesses, may be a valid ground for appeal.

5. Constitutional Violations: If the lower court’s decision violated a party’s constitutional rights, such as due process or equal protection, it may be grounds for appeal.

Steps to Appeal a Family Court Decision

1. Consult an Attorney: It is highly recommended to consult with an experienced family law attorney who specializes in appeals. They will review your case and provide guidance on the likelihood of success on appeal.

2. File a Notice of Appeal: Within 60 days of the entry of the final judgment, the appealing party must file a Notice of Appeal with the appropriate appellate court. The Notice of Appeal must state the specific orders or judgments being appealed.

3. Prepare the Record: The appealing party must order and pay for a copy of the trial court record, which includes all relevant documents, transcripts, exhibits, and rulings. This record will be used by the appellate court to review the lower court’s decision.

4. File the Appellant’s Opening Brief: The appellant’s attorney will prepare and file the opening brief, which outlines the legal arguments and errors made by the trial court. The opposing party, known as the respondent, will then have an opportunity to file a response brief.

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5. Oral Arguments: After the briefs are filed, the appellate court may schedule oral arguments. During oral arguments, each party’s attorney will have an opportunity to present their case before a panel of appellate judges.

6. Decision: The appellate court will then issue a written decision, either affirming, reversing, or modifying the lower court’s decision. If dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, a party may seek review by the California Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court has discretion in deciding which cases to review.


Q: How long does the appeals process take?
A: The appeals process can vary in length, but typically takes between one to two years from the filing of the notice of appeal to the appellate court’s decision.

Q: Can new evidence be presented during the appeal?
A: No, the appellate court will only review the record of the trial court. It will not consider new evidence or hear witness testimony.

Q: Can I represent myself during the appeals process?
A: While it is possible to represent yourself, it is highly advisable to seek the assistance of an experienced appellate attorney due to the complex nature of the appeals process.

Q: Will the appellate court automatically reverse the lower court’s decision?
A: No, the appellate court will only reverse a decision if there is a valid legal error or abuse of discretion by the lower court.

Q: Can I appeal a family court decision if I have already settled the case?
A: Generally, once a case has been settled, it becomes final and binding. However, there may be certain circumstances where an appeal is still possible, such as if there was fraud or duress involved in reaching the settlement agreement.

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In conclusion, appealing a family court decision in California can be a complex and lengthy process. It is crucial to consult with an experienced family law attorney to assess the viability of an appeal and navigate the appeals process successfully.