After a divorce becomes final, a spouse who is unhappy with the result may be able to challenge the outcome of the divorce proceedings by filing an appeal or requesting the court modify the terms of the divorce decree.
Which of these options may be best in your particular situation? The answer may depend not only on the details of your divorce and the specific issue you are unhappy with, but also may depend on the divorce laws in your state.
There are some general guidelines, however, for appealing or modifying a final divorce decree.
Filing an Appeal
If your divorce was decided by a judge, the judge's ruling can typically be appealed to a higher court. However, an appeal generally must involve an error of law in the judge's decision; issues of fact may not be arguable on appeal, and new evidence, such as witness testimony, is not ordinarily introduced. Rather, an appeal will look to the record of the first proceeding for any errors of law. If any are found, the court may order that the original court rehear the case.
Divorces involving settlement agreements between two spouses that have been approved by a judge and finalized generally cannot be appealed. However, the terms of a divorce agreement may, in some circumstances, be modified.
Motions to Modify the Divorce Judgment
The terms of a divorce may be modified by filing a motion with the same court where the divorce was filed and where the divorce judgment or decree was issued.
These modifications are often requested because of a change in circumstances, such as financial hardship of a spouse responsible for paying spousal support or criminal behavior by the parent granted primary physical custody.
Many family courts provide self-help resources for individuals involved in legal proceedings. However, appealing or modifying a divorce may be easier with the help of a divorce attorney. You can also learn more about divorce proceedings, property division, and support payments at FindLaw's section on Divorce.