Appealing a Child Custody Ruling in Florida

A High-Profile Custody Ruling Raises Questions

In the wake of the recent news that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's custody battle has been settled, many people have been curious about what happens when a parent is unhappy or disagrees with a custody ruling. In the Jolie-Pitt case, Pitt was awarded joint custody of the minor children he shares with Jolie. Jolie, who was seeking sole custody, will be challenging the ruling.

Children Testifying in Custody Cases

Another issue that has come to light due to the high-profile couple's very public custody battle is that their minor children were not allowed to testify in the case, despite reports that they themselves and Jolie wanted them to. In most states (including Florida), before a child is allowed to testify, the judge in the case must determine that their testimony is both necessary and relevant. This is often left to the judge's discretion, and more often than not, children are not allowed to testify.

The Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure 12.407 states, "no minor child shall be deposed or brought to a deposition, brought to court to appear as a witness or to attend a hearing, or subpoenaed to appear at a hearing without prior order of the court based on good cause shown unless in an emergency situation."

So, what happens when one parent is unhappy with a custody ruling or when a parent believes that a mistake was made during the case? Below we look at the appeals process for custody cases and parents' options when they feel a custody ruling is unfair or incorrect.

What Happens When a Legal Mistake Is Made During a Custody Case?

Though the courts do their best to make custody rulings that are appropriate and legally sound, mistakes do happen. If a legal error or abuse of discretion occurred during your case, you do have the option to appeal the ruling in Florida's District Courts of Appeals. The goal of the appellate courts is to "correct harmful errors and ensure that decisions are consistent with our rights and liberties."

When a case is appealed, it will be brought before a panel of three appellate judges, who will then review the case. The appellate courts only review what happened during your original trial to determine whether a legal mistake was made or an abuse of discretion occurred on the judge's part. They will also look at whether that error negatively impacted the case's outcome. For example, was a law inaccurately interpreted or applied to your case, and did it have an impact on how your case was resolved?

Other grounds or an appeal include:

  • Fraud
  • Concealment
  • Newly discovered evidence that impacts the case

It is important to remember that an appeal is not a new trial, and you will not have the opportunity to present new evidence or testimony. The appeals process is not for those who are simply unhappy with their custody agreement.

How To File an Appeal

You file the Notice of Appeal with the lower court that issued the original judgment. You will then be required to file an initial brief that states your grounds and arguments for the appeal. The initial brief must be filed within 70 days of filing your Notice of Appeal. After that, the opposing counsel is allowed to prepare and serve you with an answer brief within 30 days. Once you have received the answer brief, you have 30 days to submit a reply brief. After this phase, your case may be set for oral arguments in your district's appellate court.

In Florida, you only have 30 days after your final judgment is issued to file a Notice of Appeal. After this period, the case is considered closed, and you will not be able to file an appeal.

To learn more about the appeals process, review our blog post here.

Why You Should Work with an Attorney During the Appeals Process

If you are considering appealing a custody ruling, it is very important that you consult with an experienced attorney right away. Not only will your lawyer help you determine if you have grounds for an appeal, but they can help you prepare and file all necessary documents and briefs. The appeals process is very complicated, and the filing rules must be strictly adhered to. Failure to do so can result in losing your right to an appeal.

Your attorney can also help you explore alternative options to an appeal, such as:

  • Filling a Motion for Rehearing
  • Mediation
  • Filing a petition for a custody modification

The appeals process is not for everyone, and there may be other solutions that are a better fit for your situation. Your attorney can help you determine the best course of action for you and your family.

To discuss your case with an experienced lawyer, contact our law firm today.

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