By: John M. Schaffranek, Esq.
Family law matters (divorce and custody, in particular) are frequently full of high emotions. These emotions can become even further inflamed when the matter is presented to a court for a decision and a party is unhappy with the court's decision. Many times, the initial reaction to an unsatisfactory order is to want to appeal. For many reasons, an appeal might not be the best avenue to pursue.
A court addressing divorce and custody matters is considered a court of equity. That is, a court is empowered with wide authority to make decisions that it believes to be equitable or fair. In order to succeed on appeal, a party appealing would need to prove that the trial court abused its authority, which is a difficult standard to meet.
Further complicating matters, an appeal can only be taken of final orders. Many of the decisions made by a court during a divorce cannot be appealed until a divorce decree is entered, which can be long after the offending order was entered. The reason for this is that, until a divorce decree is entered, a court during a divorce can always revisit its prior orders and make adjustments as appropriate.
There are also many practical matters to consider prior to filing an appeal. There can be substantial attorneys' fees costs to prepare the necessary documents to be filed in even the simplest appeals. Additionally, the Superior Court can take many months to consider a custody appeal, and even longer to consider an appeal from a divorce matter. Filing an appeal, as a general rule, does not prevent the offending order from taking effect. By the time a decision from the Superior Court is rendered, the order appealed will likely have been in effect for some time. Undoing it might prove difficult.
In short, there are many factors to consider before appealing a decision in a family law matter. An appeal will be appropriate in some cases and inappropriate in others, for any number of reasons. Each case truly presents its own unique considerations. The period in which to file an appeal from a trial court in Pennsylvania is short: only thirty days from the date on which the order becomes appealable. Often, therefore, the decision to appeal must be made quickly.
If you need assistance with your potential family law appeal, please contact our office today for a consultation!