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Appeals in Connecticut Family Law Cases

September 15, 2017

Every Connecticut litigant has the right to appeal a final judgment entered by a trial court.  In divorce cases, these appeals often arise after the trial court enters financial orders, but, on occasion, there may be sufficient cause to appeal a trial court’s orders concerning the custody of and/or visitation with minor children.  In Connecticut, an appeal must be filed no later than twenty days after the court issues notice of its decision.  It is important that if you receive a decision from the trial court with which you disagree or that you do not understand, you seek out the advice of seasoned appellate counsel immediately.  If your former spouse is filing an appeal, you should speak with an appellate lawyer to make sure that your position is adequately defended on appeal and to ensure that your rights are protected during the pendency of the appeal.  The attorneys at Broder and Orland LLC have experience representing individuals in Connecticut’s Appellate Courts and can help answer your questions.

In Connecticut, most appeals from a trial court’s final judgment are heard and decided by the Connecticut Appellate Court.  After the Appellate Court has rendered a decision, a party can ask the Connecticut Supreme Court to review the decision of the Appellate Court.   On rare occasions, an appeal of a trial court’s final judgment can be heard directly by the Supreme Court without the need to seek review first with the Appellate Court.  This can occur when: (1) the appeal concerns an issue that has never been ruled upon by the Appellate Court or the Supreme Court in Connecticut; (2) the appeal raises an issue where the Appellate Court has issued disparate opinions in the past that are in need of being harmonized; or (3) when the Supreme Court determines that the issue at hand is a matter of utmost public importance.

Once an appeal is filed, the order(s) associated with the final judgment may be automatically stayed.  This means that until the appeal is finally concluded, the trial court cannot enforce the order(s) that are the subject of the appeal.  A common example of the automatic stay in practice in family cases occurs where the trial court orders that the marital home be sold.  Pursuant to the automatic stay rule, that order would not be enforced during the pendency of the appeal without the trial court terminating the stay of execution of that order.  The trial court can terminate the automatic stay of its orders on its own volition or after a motion is filed by either party.  In such a situation, the trial court is not the final arbiter of determining whether there should or should not be a stay of execution of its order.  A party aggrieved by orders regarding the termination of a stay can seek review of those orders by the Appellate Court.

There are certain exceptions to the automatic stay rule that are permitted by the Practice Book in family cases.  For example, final orders concerning periodic alimony, child support, custody, and visitation are not automatically stayed pending an appeal.  If you are unhappy with the court’s alimony orders, those orders will go into effect during the pendency of your appeal unless you ask the court to impose a stay where there is not one automatically imposed by the court rules.  The Appellate Court has the same power to review the issuance of a stay as it does the termination of one.

The likelihood of success on appeal is largely determined by the level of scrutiny applied by the Appellate Court.  The Appellate Court has broad authority to overturn a trial court’s decision when the decision rests upon a question of law which would include a constitutional claim, interpretation of prior precedents, and statutory interpretation.  This is referred to as plenary review; the Appellate Court decides the issue anew.  Issues concerning factual findings by the trial court or any other decision where the court has the discretion to enter an order as it sees fit is governed by the abuse of discretion standard of review.  Unlike plenary review, the Appellate Court will defer or give the benefit of the doubt to the considerations and determinations made by the trial court.  Mixed issues of law and fact invoke the plenary review standard.  The attorneys at Broder and Orland LLC can review your case to tell you which standard of review would apply to your case.

Unlike the trial court, the Appellate Court does not seek or require the submission of new evidence or new testimony.  The cases at this level are resolved after each party submits well-researched briefs and argues his or her position before the Appellate Court.  In addition to reviewing the trial court’s decision, preparation of an appellate brief requires review of the transcripts from the trial court proceedings at issue and review of the exhibits submitted to the trial court judge.   The party who filed the appeal files the first brief and the other party files a brief in response to the appealing party’s brief.  The appealing party gets the final word and files a reply brief to the responsive brief.  After all of the briefs are filed, the Appellate Court will schedule a date for oral argument before a panel of Appellate judges.  At the Appellate Court, the panel typically consists of three judges.  At the Supreme Court, the panel consists of seven justices.   A party may attend oral argument, but is not required to do so.

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC is a full-service family law firm that can provide you with seasoned, practical and vigorous representation in all aspects of family law appellate litigation in Connecticut.

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