Child custody cases are complicated. If the two parents involved cannot reach an agreement as to the child’s custody, parental visits, and other issues, these matters will be decided by the court. In many of these cases, the court’s decision will not be what one of the parents was hoping for.

Once the court has handed down a decision regarding child custody, there are a few processes by which one parent can attempt to have the court’s decision changed. Depending on the circumstances of the case, an appeal to a higher court may be an option.

However, the court will be looking for particular things from the parent making the appeal, and in many cases, the appeal will be denied. So, before you start considering an appeal of the court’s decision, you need to understand the appeal process as well as its chances of success.

This month, we will examine the reasons a parent may have to attempt to appeal a child custody decision and answer the question, “What are the chances of winning a child custody appeal?”

Grounds for Appealing a Child Custody Decision

Before we start talking about the chances of winning an appeal, we need to be very clear as to what circumstances warrant an appeal. In family law matters, an appeal cannot be filed just because one parent is displeased with the court’s decision.

Appeals are only an option if there is evidence that the initial decision was made in error. Specifically, a family law decision can only be appealed if there is evidence of one or more of the following:

  • There was a conflict of interest with the judge or one of the attorneys in your case, and this conflict was not addressed during the proceedings
  • Your attorney provided you with ineffective counsel (Note that this means that they did not explain the law correctly or withheld information that would have caused you to make different decisions. Losing a case or not liking the advice you were given is not evidence of ineffective counsel.)
  • Proper court processes or procedures were not followed
  • There was evidence that should have been considered but was not
  • There was evidence that should not have been considered but was
  • The judge made an error in interpreting and applying the law

If none of these things are true, or if you cannot produce any evidence that these things are true, you do not have grounds to appeal your child custody decision.

How a Child Custody Appeal Works

Most people envision an appeal as a repeat of the initial trial, just in a higher court. Nothing could be further from the truth. An appeal is a specific legal argument that’s written to provide evidence of a specific error in a particular case. The appeals court is not interested in re-assessing every single fact that was brought out in the initial case. An appeal does not involve hearing testimony or examining witnesses.

Instead, the appellate court’s job is to look at the specific errors that the appealing party brings up, determine whether or not those errors were enough to make the initial court’s decision questionable, and then choose to let the initial ruling stand or require a new trial. During an appeal, the court will look at briefs prepared by the appealing party’s attorneys, review court transcripts, and make their decision based on a few factors.

  • Was an error made?
  • Was the error raised in the trial but dismissed? New objections to witnesses, testimony, or procedure cannot be raised in an appeal, only those that were raised and dismissed.
  • Was the error harmful? A mistake that did not have any noticeable effect on the trial’s outcome is not grounds for an appeal.
  • Is evidence of the error preserved in the court’s records (transcripts, documents, etc.)?

Appealing a Child Custody Decision

If you have evidence that one of the above errors was made, you may be able to proceed with an appeal. You must, however, act quickly. Family court appeals in Georgia must be filed within 30 days of the conclusion of the initial trial.

You will need to meet with your family law attorney to discuss your options, determine whether or not to file an appeal, and decide on what grounds you will proceed.

Regardless of the grounds you proceed on, appealing a family law decision is a complicated, expensive process. In addition to the time your lawyer will need to prepare the appeal brief, which can run to long hours and high fees, you will also be responsible for securing court transcripts and legal researchers to help your attorney find legal bases for your arguments and other expenses.

Once the appeal is prepared, it will be submitted to the appellate court for review. The court will then schedule the necessary proceedings to allow the appeal to progress. The process can be lengthy, sometimes taking longer than the initial trial. At the end of the process, the court will tender its decision to uphold the lower court’s decision, require the court to take more action, or vacate the initial ruling and send the matter back for a new trial.

What Are the Chances of Winning a Child Custody Appeal?

Even if you have evidence of an error that led to a decision that wasn’t in your favor, the odds of having a family law decision overturned in a Georgia court are low. The family courts in the state generally do a good job preventing errors from occurring during initial trials, and the likelihood of a successful appeal is limited.

Your chances are improved if:

  • You hired a skilled family law attorney to handle your initial trial
  • Every courtroom proceeding was recorded by a certified court reporter
  • Your attorney followed all applicable court policies and procedures
  • Your attorney made appropriate objections and filed appropriate motions whenever questionable testimony or evidence was presented in the initial trial

While still an uphill battle, if all of the above are true and there is adequate evidence that the court’s decision was in error, it is possible to see a child custody ruling overturned in a Georgia appellate court.

Need to Appeal a Custody Decision? We Can Help: Call EMC Family Law Today!

If your child custody decision was based on flawed evidence, bad legal advice, or an erroneous application of the law, you should immediately contact a legal team that understands the appeals process. Give us a call and let us guide you through your next steps: 770-225-7000

Related Articles: