Challenging a Final Divorce or Custody Order: The Appeals Process in Family Law

Appeals in Texas Family Law

Family law cases in Texas can be emotionally and legally complex, encompassing issues such as divorce, child custody, property division, and spousal support. When a trial court issues a decision that one party believes constitutes an abuse of the Court’s discretion, the appellate process offers a means to challenge and potentially overturn that decision. Understanding the appeals process is crucial for anyone considering challenging a final order in a divorce or child custody case.

What Is an Appeal?

An appeal is a request for a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. In Texas family law cases, the appellate courts do not retry the case or hear new evidence. Instead, they review the trial court’s proceedings to determine if there were any legal errors that affected the outcome of the case.

Grounds for Appeal

Not every unfavorable decision is grounds for an appeal. Valid grounds typically include:

  1. Legal Errors: Mistakes in applying the law, such as misinterpretation of statutes or incorrect jury instructions.
  2. Procedural Errors: Issues with how the trial was conducted, such as improper admission or exclusion of evidence.
  3. Abuse of Discretion: Situations where the trial court judge’s decisions were arbitrary or unreasonable, and not supported by sufficient evidence.

Steps in the Appeal Process

  1. Notice of Appeal: The appealing party (appellant) must file a Notice of Appeal with the trial court. This document officially notifies the court and the opposing party (appellee) of the intent to appeal.
  2. Record on Appeal: The appellant is responsible for preparing the record on appeal, which includes transcripts of the trial court proceedings, evidence presented, and other relevant documents.
  3. Appellate Briefs: Both parties submit briefs to the appellate court. The appellant’s brief outlines the errors alleged and argues why the trial court’s decision should be reversed or modified. The appellee’s brief responds to these arguments and supports the trial court’s decision.
  4. Oral Arguments: In some cases, the appellate court may schedule oral arguments where attorneys for both sides can present their case and answer questions from the judges.
  5. Appellate Court Decision: The appellate court will issue a written opinion, which may affirm, reverse, modify, or remand the case back to the trial court with instructions.

Potential Outcomes of an Appeal

  • Affirmation: The appellate court agrees with the trial court’s decision, and it stands as is.
  • Reversal: The appellate court disagrees with the trial court’s decision and overturns it.
  • Modification: The appellate court changes certain aspects of the trial court’s decision.
  • Remand: The appellate court sends the case back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Timelines and Considerations

The timelines for filing an appeal in Texas family law cases are strict. Typically, a Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days after the trial court’s judgment is signed, but certain extensions may apply depending on other post-trial motions.

Appeals can be costly and time-consuming, often taking several months to well over a year to resolve. And, while the case is pending on appeal, the Trial Court’s judgment still stands. Therefore, it’s essential to weigh the potential benefits against the financial and emotional costs. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney who specializes in appeals can provide valuable insight into the merits of your case and guide you through the complexities of the appellate process.


Appealing a family law decision in Texas is a nuanced and intricate process that requires a deep understanding of legal principles and procedural rules. While it offers a path to rectify perceived injustices, it demands careful consideration and expert legal guidance. If you believe an error occurred in your family law case, exploring the appellate process with a knowledgeable attorney could be the key to achieving a fair resolution.