If I Disagree with the Judge’s Decision in My Custody Case, Can I Appeal?
As long as a party meets basic criteria, such as having a final order and completing the appropriate paperwork within the proper timeframe (generally 30 days), the answer to “Can I appeal?” is generally “Yes.” However, whether or not you should appeal is a more difficult question.
Unless a judge makes a clear legal error, the standard of review for an appellate court for most issues that arise in custody cases is an “abuse of discretion.” Judges have a lot of latitude in custody cases, and two different judges might come to very different decisions in any given custody case. Judges are required to evaluate certain factors in custody cases, to follow the law, and to follow certain procedures, but how the judges apply the facts in a given case to the law can vary. An “abuse of discretion” occurs when a judge’s decision is clearly against reason and evidence presented at trial, biased, or otherwise manifestly unreasonable based on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Even if a party has reasonable, non-frivolous grounds to appeal a custody decision, it is also important to examine what the desired outcome of an appeal would be, and whether there are other routes to achieve that outcome. For example, even if a judge clearly misunderstands the parties’ work schedules and issues an order that tells them to exchange custody at an impossible time, it might make more sense for the parties and/or their attorneys to work together to agree on a new time, or to file a Motion for Reconsideration to ask the Court to reconsider its Order.
If a party does decide to appeal a custody decision, the appeal will be decided by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Typically, both parties (or their attorneys) will file briefs outlining their arguments, the law(s) involved, and the facts of the case with the Superior Court. Most cases are decided based on the briefs, although some parties (or their attorneys) may choose to request oral argument, which is a short “argument” in front of the Superior Court during which the parties or attorneys present a condensed version of their appeal case and the judges have the opportunity to ask them questions.
If a party is unhappy with the outcome of their case at the Superior Court level, it may be possible to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but unlike Superior Court appeals, Supreme Court appeals are not a right. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, like the Supreme Court of the United States, has to give a party permission to appeal their case. If the Supreme Court denies this permission (called “allocatur” in Pennsylvania and “certiorari” at the federal level), then the party does not have any further ability to appeal the decision.
If you have questions about appealing a custody decision, call Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.