Family Law Appeals are used to challenge the outcome of your contested divorce or custody case.   Each appeal involves its own unique issues. 

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What Is an Appeal?

Texas has three levels of courts: the trial court, the court of appeals, and the Texas Supreme Court:

Following a contested divorce or child custody case, either party may “appeal” the trial court’s decision to a higher court called a “Court of Appeals.”  Texas has fourteen of these courts in different districts throughout the state.  For example, if your divorce occurred in Austin, you would appeal to the Third Court of Appeals.  If your divorce occurred in Dallas, you would appeal to the Fifth Court of Appeals.  If a party is dissatisfied with the court of appeals, there are also limited opportunities to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

A court of appeals has limited authority to undo or “reverse” the trial court.  The judge in the trial court has a lot of discretion to make decisions about property division, child support, visitation, conservatorship, and spousal support.  However, the trial court does not have unlimited discretion.  In some cases, an appeal to the court of appeals or the Texas Supreme Court may be appropriate.

What Happens During an Appeal?

A family law appeal is a very different from the proceedings in the trial court.  Generally, the court of appeals will only review the Clerks Record, the Reporter’s Record, and the Briefs of the parties to make its decision.  This means that the court of appeals will not hear witness testimony or conduct a new trial.  The Clerk’s Record generally contains the documents each party filed with the court and the order that is being appealed. The Reporter’s Record includes the testimony from the witnesses the trial court heard and the exhibits offered during trial.  Each party will generally submit a Brief to the court to explain why the trial court made an error or why the trial court did not make an error.

This procedure limits the role of the the court of appeals to deciding only if the trial court made an error worthy of reversal.  The court of appeals will not conduct a new trial.  Once the court of appeals makes a decision, it will issue a written opinion with the decision.  This is a public record and is available to all parties.  

The court of appeals has several options to dispose of a case.  If the court affirms the trial court, nothing changes in the court’s original order.  The court of appeals can also send the case back to the trial court for more proceedings if there was an significant error.  The court of appeal can also change the trial court’s order and finally dispose of the case.

How Long Will an Appeal Take?

This is a difficult question to answer.  After the trial court signs a final order, the steps to take an appeal begin immediately.  The Clerk’s Record and Reporter’s Record need to be prepared and transferred to the court of appeals.  From there, the party initiating the appeal has a minimum of 30 days to file his or her Brief.  The responding party has at least another 30 days to file a response, but it is not uncommon for briefing to take longer than two months.

One the parties submit all briefs, the court of appeals has discretion to make a decision according to its schedule.  It can take many months to get a decision, depending on the type of appeal.

What Else Does the Court of Appeals Do?

In Texas, a court of appeals hears other types of cases including mandamus proceedings, habeas corpus proceedings, and other types of proceedings.  The court of appeals can also issue emergency orders “staying” the trial court’s decision.