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Your Judgment Arrived - and It is Not Good

Howard Iken
© Copyright 2013

You may have recently finished a divorce or custody case that seemed to take forever. You spent a ton of money funding your attorney, gave out checks like it was everyone's birthday in town, and shaved off several decades off your lifespan. During the last year you poured every dime and waking thought at your disposal into your case. You did that because the case involved something incredibly important to you or had severe consequences to your future. The trial finally happened, you did your best, your attorney did their best, and the final judgment appeared in your mailbox. You opened the judgment, read the contents, and realized the result was far worse than anything you imagined. Your stomach twists up into a ball as you read and reread your judgment. You thoughts immediately turn to wondering what can be done. The following is a quick list of everything you must consider:

  1. Whatever you do, time is not on your side. You must think quickly, get quick advice, and then move forward. Any time there is an order from a Court there are absolutely strict time limits on whatever options you have. Those time limits are hard-edged and non-flexible. Review your options, make a decision, and move forward right now.
  2. If you have an attorney, you need a follow-up meeting with your attorney. That meeting should be in the very short term. You should not wait more than one week to see your attorney. If your attorney is stone walling you, go see another attorney for a quick consult. If you go past time limits, it will not be an excuse that your attorney could not quickly see you. The responsibility is yours.
  3. Check your available financial resources. This is something to do on day one, not after you see your attorney. The reason is because the available options may be very expensive. You want to see if you can "beg, borrow, or steal" up to $10,000. Hopefully you don't steal - but you get the point.
  4. Here is the part you were waiting for: your available options. You can file a Motion for Rehearing. That must happen within 10 days of the order. Basically you or your attorney will be presenting information that suggests the judge overlooked an important factual or legal issue. If you can catch the interest of the judge, a rehearing will be set up to consider the points you have. But there are some inherent problems with this approach. The biggest problem is that your Motion for Rehearing goes back to the same exact judge that made the decision you did not like. There is a distinct likelihood the judge will be quite satisfied with the original decision making. If that is the case the judge will simply deny the Motion for Rehearing.
  5. You can file an Appeal. There is a 30 day (in Florida) time limit on appeals. This is absolute - no flexibility. Each state may be different. If you file your notice one day late you are completely out of luck. Most of the time the actual Notice is relatively short and easy for you or your attorney to send out. But depending on the type of case you may be required to quickly follow up with extensive preparation and work. So if you are going to file an appeal you must also immediately be prepared to fund a proper appellate case.
  6. Costs: Here is the part you will not like. But it is essential to think of it up front and determine the reality of your situation. An appeal can range between $5,000 and $50,000. The amount can be even more for extremely high-end cases. The actual appeal mostly consists of a 10 to 50 page Appellate Brief containing a lengthy compilation of legal research. It is costly and takes a lot of time to prepare. A Motion for Rehearing is much less costly and complex. But it is not as effective. An Appeal goes to a different judge or panel of judges. You normally cannot introduce new facts or evidence in an appeal. The whole point is to convince the Appellate Court that your trial judge made a mistake.
  7. Preparation: if you did not have a court reporter at your trial, an appeal will be much more difficult. So if you read this prior to your trial - make sure you have a court reporter.
  8. Chances of Success: this is the most important part of your decision. If you have the time, the resources and the willpower, you must know the chances of success to make this really big decision. In many states only 10% of appeals succeed. That means that 90% of appellate efforts end in failure. Motions for Rehearing have approximately the same success rate. It is a steep uphill battle to change the decision of a Trial Court.
If you have read through all of the issues and still believe you need to fight your final judgment, there is no reason to stop your efforts. Despite the low chances of success, final judgments are overturned just about every day. The fact is that trial judges do make mistakes or allow personal biases to enter their decision making process. The most important thing is to recognize all the issues, understand the rules, and get some good, quick advice. Appeals can succeed. And the legal system recognizes the right to appeal. Good luck on your case and prepare well!

Howard Iken is a Tampa Florida divorce attorney with offices in five counties. For more information on Mr. Iken visit his website. or www.myfloridalaw.com


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