Your legal case won’t always end when a decree of divorce or final custody order is entered. Sometimes an appeal will occur by you or the opposing party following the final order of the court. The decision to appeal your case is one that will happen following consultation with your attorney and a review of the issues and record, but good family law attorneys will consider appellate issues from the outset of your case and prepare the case accordingly.
Appeals are never easy, and prevailing is less likely at each level of appeal, but preparation for the appeal within the litigation gives you a better chance at the higher court. Once it is determined that an appeal is to be filed, the process is very specific and must be followed for the case to be considered by the appellate court.
Here is a general outline of the appellate process in Oklahoma:
- File the Petition in Error: The process typically begins by filing a Petition in Error with the Oklahoma Supreme Court within a specified timeframe. This notice formally informs the court and the opposing parties of your intent to appeal the decision and begins the process. Most cases must be filed within 30 days of the final appealable order from the District Court so one should never delay if you are considering an appeal.
- Designate the Record: After filing the Petition in Error, you’ll also file a Designation of Record and work with the trial court, court clerk, and court reporters to finalize the record in the case with the appellate court. This includes preparing a transcript of the trial proceedings, including the court hearings, exhibits, and other relevant documents.
- File Appellate Briefs: You will need to file appellate briefs outlining the legal arguments and issues you are raising on appeal. The appellant (the party appealing the decision) will file an opening brief, or “Brief in Chief,” and the appellee (the opposing party) will file a responsive brief, often called an “Answer Brief.” The appellant will then have an opportunity to file a “Reply Brief.” These briefs present legal arguments and cite relevant statutes, case law, and other authorities to support the arguments. This is the substantive portion of most appellate cases.
- Oral Argument: Although rare, in some cases, the appellate court may schedule an oral argument. During the oral argument, both sides have the opportunity to present their case and respond to questions from the appellate judges. Oral arguments allow the judges to seek clarifications and gain a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. The vast majority of appellate cases do not include oral arguments and are decided on the appellate briefs.
- Appellate Decision: After reviewing the briefs and, if applicable, the oral argument, the appellate court will issue a written decision. This decision will affirm, reverse, or modify the lower court’s decision. It will outline the legal reasoning behind the judgment and provide guidance for the lower court and may order further action in the case.
- Potential Further Appeals: Depending on the outcome of the appeal, further appeals may be possible. Parties may request a rehearing or, in some cases, seek review by a higher court, such as the Oklahoma Supreme Court or federal courts if applicable. In Oklahoma, all appellate cases begin at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. From there, the Oklahoma Supreme Court may keep the case or assign it to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. If the case is decided by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, the parties can then petition the Oklahoma Supreme Court to hear that decision should they wish.
It’s important to adhere to strict deadlines and procedural requirements throughout the appellate process. Working with an experienced appellate attorney is highly recommended to ensure that you meet all the necessary requirements and present your case effectively.
The Smith Firm is an active appellate practice within Oklahoma with several published decisions resulting from the work of The Smith Firm attorneys. We are often referred appeals from litigation counsel and are happy to consult with litigation counsel early in the case regarding possible appellate matters which may arise.
If you have a family law issue or a question regarding appeals and our appellate practice, please contact us at (405) 843-1000 or schedule a consultation today.