If you have to take a family court issue to trial, you hope the judge applies the law properly. But judges are only human. When a judge makes an erroneous ruling on a key point that materially impacts your case, you may need to seek review in a higher court. At Needle|Cuda in Westport, our attorneys are not just skilled litigators but also experienced Connecticut family law appellate attorneys.
If we are your trial counsel, we work to preserve your right to appeal adverse rulings, so that you have an opportunity to seek a remand or a retrial. Conversely, we may work to protect a judgment from missteps by the judicial authority if an appeal is anticipated by the other side. We also handle appeals for clients who were represented by other attorneys at the trial stage.
An appeal is a process to review a judge’s rulings for errors in interpreting or applying the law, or in finding the facts of the case. If during the course of a hearing or trial, the judge made an error of law or procedure, you have 20 days from the final judgment of the court to seek reconsideration of the ruling or file an appeal.
What constitutes a final judgment which can be appealed is sometimes itself a complex question. The appeal typically goes before a panel of judges in the Connecticut Appellate Court. Following that decision, a petition may be made to the Connecticut Supreme Court to hear the case, and that Court can choose whether or not to hear the case.
The Connecticut Supreme Court generally limits its review to cases of significant public importance. In rare instances, certain pressing cases may have such public importance that the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear them directly. Given the state-oriented nature of family cases, it is the rare matter indeed which can then be further appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Connecticut appeals process
An appeal is not a second trial. No new evidence is submitted. No one testifies. It is based on the record from what happened in the trial court below. Attorneys submit written briefs and argue before the panel of judges. The judges then decide whether to:
There may also be a mix of the above, where certain issues on appeal are affirmed and certain others are overturned.
It may be several months after the case is fully briefed before the appellate hearing, and then another few months before the Court issues its written decision. If state court appeals fail, a petitioner may petition the Supreme Court of the United States to take the case if there is a federal law or U.S. Constitutional issue at stake, although this is exceedingly rare in family cases.
Judges are bound to apply the law based on interpretations made in prior cases. Sometimes there are novel issues that require a judge to explore new legal territory, but in those cases it is all the more important that there be sufficient basis for the decision in the existing law. Judges are often called upon to interpret laws made by the legislature, but they must be careful not to exceed that authority to the point of usurping the legislature’s role.
In our family law practice, we have helped clients appeal rulings on a broad spectrum of family matters, including:
The fact that our family lawyers in Connecticut try cases and handle appeals gives our clients a strong advantage. As your trial counsel, we apply our experience in preserving issues for appeal and we are already knowledgeable about the case, thus saving you the time and expense of having to retain a new attorney for the appeal. Our trial experience also helps us identify trial errors for clients who were represented by other counsel at that stage.
Needle|Cuda in Fairfield County manages appeals to family court rulings throughout Connecticut. We provide highly responsive service and effective representation focused on positive results. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 203-557-9500 or contact our Westport office online.
An appeal must be filed within 20 days of the date of the court order, or, if a Motion to Reargue was filed, 20 days after reargument is adjudicated.
You cannot afford to wait, because if you do, your rights may expire and you may lose all opportunity to challenge the order. A family law appeal should be handled by counsel intimately familiar not just with family law, and not just with appeals, but with both. At Needle | Cuda we bring to bare our extensive experience at both the trial and appellate court levels in providing comprehensive, savvy guidance for our clients.
When working with a one-stop-shop (a firm capable of seamlessly servicing the case from trial through an appeal), you are protected if your case is eventually appealed or you choose to appeal it. Time and money will not be wasted getting up to speed on the trial work and court records. A one-stop-shop is also able of acting expeditiously on an appeal which can accelerate an inherently slow process. Tactically there are advantages too as Appellate implications are able to be actively considered and factored along the way in your trial litigation (example: a variety of post-judgment family-related motions that arise pending appeal, such as determining in the trial court whether certain orders are stayed on appeal.)
If employing separate appellate counsel case your case coordination can become both difficult and expensive. Dealing with two law firms often creates overlap and quickly becomes difficult and hard to pin down exactly who is covering what issue in your case. There can also be times when neither firm has a complete grasp on the big picture. Working with Needle | Cuda’s one-stop-shop eliminates all these potential pitfalls.
Whenever an order is entered by a family court in Connecticut, it should be carefully examined with the assistance of counsel, given the important ramifications even seemingly small details may have once they take on the force of an order of the court.
Immediately after an order is entered, there is a brief period of time available to determine what steps to take to in relation to that motion, whether by appeal or otherwise. If you have received an order and you have a concern about an error made by the judge who tried the case (the trial court), that the ruling is unfair or impossible to comply with, or for any reason are considering an appeal: consult with a family appellate attorney immediately. You cannot afford to wait, because if you do, your rights may expire and you may lose all opportunity to challenge the order.
If there are complex issues involved in your family case, it is wise to consult an appellate attorney before and/or during the trial or hearing process itself, to help ensure that issues are presented to the trial court not only in the most persuasive manner possible, but also to preserve those issues for appeal. If issues are not presented to the trial court in the right way, you likely will not get a chance to present them later on appeal.
The first step after an adverse ruling is to consider whether any post judgment motion should be filed with the trial court to try to get the judge to fix the problem right away. The most typical such motion is for reargument. Such a motion presents to the trial court that some issue of law or fact was overlooked, or misapplied, and the petitioning party seeks to have the court reconsider its ruling in light of that error and adjust the order accordingly. There are strategic reasons why sometimes that might be a necessary step on the way to an appeal, or why maybe such a motion should be studiously avoided in terms of appellate strategy. On other occasions, there may be a real chance to head off the need for an appeal entirely if the trial court can be addressed the issue on reargument before the appellate process starts.
For a problem in an order which is not fixed by a post judgment motion, then there must be careful consideration as to whether to appeal. If an appeal is not taken, you may have to live with that order for a very long time, or even forever. An appeal likely presents your only opportunity to challenge this order and the implications it is going to have on your life. An appeal gives you options. If you do not appeal, you may be out of options. In some instances, you may have an order, but it is not a “final” order in your case, and so you may not be able to appeal yet – but then will have to plan for the appropriate time to make that appeal.
While there is a lot of work which goes into the appellate process, it typically boils down to two main parts: briefs and oral argument. Appellate briefs are carefully crafted documents which must adhere to the strict and complex rules of appellate practice. There is a real art to this legal craftsmanship, and everything hangs in the balance on the skill of the appellate lawyer. If an issue is not presented on appeal in the right way, it will not even be considered. After briefing, the lawyers get to present the arguments about their briefs to a panel of judges. While part of that is a prepared argument by the lawyer, it almost always involves a significant question-and-answer session with the judges which can range to virtually any aspect of the case. The parties do not have to testify, and no further evidence gets presented. Absent very unusual circumstances, the appellate process plays out based on the record as it was already received in the trial court below.
There are two appellate courts in Connecticut: The Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. Most appeals go directly to the Appellate Court, which has to hear them. There is a further opportunity to appeal the Appellate Court’s decision to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court does not have to hear that appeal. Following an adverse ruling by the Appellate Court, the losing party gets to petition the Connecticut Supreme Court to hear the case. They are very selective about which appeals they accept. A select few cases of significant importance go straight to the Connecticut Supreme Court. As family cases involve issues of state law specific to Connecticut, it is exceedingly rare for a case to then be submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. On occasion that happens, though, for example when an issue under the U.S. Constitution is involved.
The initial papers for an appeal are electronically filed, but appellate briefs are subject to complex rules not only for electronic filing but submission of hard copies as well to the Appellate Clerk in Hartford.
There is a much smaller group of judges on the Connecticut Appellate and Supreme Courts (the courts that handle appeals) than in the broader Connecticut Superior Court (which handle trial court level activity). There are only nine judges who sit on the Appellate Court. Typically for an appeal, a panel of three of those judges will hear a case, although sometimes retired judges or judges from other State courts may also be assigned to sit on a panel. Sometimes one can also ask for the Appellate Court to hear a case “en banc”, which means that all nine of the judges will hear the case.
There are only seven justices who sit on the Supreme Court. When they hear a case, all seven of the justices hear it together, absent a potential disqualification/recusal.
An appeal is a formal challenge to a court order, presenting a claim of error by a lower court for review by a higher court. If and to what extent an order can or should be appealed is an important strategic conversation that should happen between a client and his/her lawyer.
An appeal from a decision by the Connecticut Superior Court goes to the Connecticut Appellate Court. The Appellate Court accepts all appeals properly brought to it, as compared to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which is more selective and will only take those appeals it chooses. In certain rare cases, a case may be deemed particularly important under Connecticut law so that it will go straight to the Supreme Court for the appeal and bypass the Appellate Court.
An appellate lawyer should be consulted as soon as possible after an adverse decision is received, or even when a positive result is achieved, if an appeal is anticipated by the other side. Ideally, an appellate lawyer should be involved during the underlying trial/hearing process in order to help set up issues for review, protect against an appeal, or otherwise take steps to help prepare the case in the event of an appeal.
The length of time for an appeal will vary widely. However, it is reasonable to expect an appeal to take over a year. If the case ultimately goes to the Connecticut Supreme Court, one could be looking at a three-year process. Once a case has been fully briefed and argued, there is no time limit for the Appellate Court or Supreme Court to render a decision. Given that there are almost always just state law issues involved in family law appeals, it is highly unusual for a case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While it may seem like a long time for an appeal to be decided, that may be the only way to ever challenge a court order; otherwise, the effects of that order may be long lasting or even permanent. Given these timeframes, though, it can make it extremely important to determine what happens during the pendency of an appeal. Some types of orders are automatically stayed (put on hold) until the appeal is decided, while others are not. Part of appellate strategy should include a consideration of these stay issues, how they will affect your case (and your life) during the pendency of the appeal, and whether to seek to enforce a stay or terminate a stay that may not be automatic pursuant to the usual rules.
Initially, there are preliminary documents to be filed and administrative issues to be addressed, such as ensuring that all transcripts have been ordered from the underlying proceeding and are available for review and use in the appeal. As the party bringing the appeal, it is important right from the outset (and even better, during the trial process) focus in on what the issues are going to be on the appeal. When defending the appeal, one should similarly carefully consider the issues from the outset; there may be an issue to be cross-appealed by the party defending the appeal, for example. The “meat and potatoes” of the appellate process are the briefs and oral argument. Each side has the opportunity to submit carefully researched briefs addressing the issues.
A decision by a three-judge panel of the Connecticut Appellate Court can be reviewed “en banc” by the entirety of the Appellate Court, or the matter can be submitted to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can consider this petition (and opposition to it) and decide whether it will consider the appeal further, or let the decision of the Appellate Court stand, in which case the appeal has reached its conclusion.
The ultimate ruling of the higher courts will then be implemented by the trial court. If the trial court is affirmed, its judgment stands and will be enforced. If the judgment is reversed, then the trial court will be required to carry out the higher court’s ruling. Sometimes a decision may be affirmed in part, and reversed in part, depending on the particular issues.
No two appeals are exactly the same: some are straightforward, while others are extraordinarily complex, and then everything in between. It is impossible to give a “one size fits all” analysis of cost for an appeal. You should consult with counsel as to what retainer is appropriate in your particular case.