“Justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel”-Judge Sturgess
Caveat: This post is intended to empower you. It is not legal advice.
It sounds crazy but some people find themselves in the Appellate Courts for their divorce. Picture this; two people cannot agree on their divorce settlement so they proceed to trial. A judge decides for them how their assets will be divided and how much alimony if any will be awarded and where the kids will be and when. But that’s not the end…
Inevitably, someone doesn’t ‘like’ the judgment. Usually it’s the person who pays the support or deems he got less in the decision. If he or she has the resources they take the judgment to Appeals in an attempt to change the decision…. Do they need grounds for the appeal? Not really. It is a very low bar to clear. The most common grounds for appealing a divorce judgmemt is a mistake in law that was committed by the judge or the lower court. The party filing for appeal must show that the trial judge made an error in applying or interpreting the law.
But let’s face it, a lawyer can find almost any reason to be granted Leave to appeal (maybe he didn’t like the color of the judge’s shirt). Off they go to appeals courts for another $50,000. All that’s required is money to continue in what I like to refer to as a ‘revenge divorce appeal’.
It’s unfortunate fact that money buys justice. The courthouse is not unlike the Ritz hotel. If you don’t have the money sister, finding yourself at The Ritz in Paris is about as unlikely as challenging a legal decision. You’ll suck it up buttercup, at the motel 8…
However, if you have money to burn (and more often it is the man as the bread winner) you can continue in the system until you may (or may not) get that satisfactory decision i.e. less support, more child custody, _______________ (fill in the blank).
As the Respondent in an appeal, you have no choice but to participate. You are forced to defend it and continue spending your savings on legal fees. If you have no money left or you fear you will have no money left when it’s all over, what are your options?
a. continue spending what may end up costing you another $50,000 by maintaining your legal representation
b. seek limited legal assistance at a much lower cost (if you can find a lawyer willing to be minimally involved) say around $5,000-$10,000
c. self represent at a cost of your time and around $200 for filing and copying fees.
e. You can make or accept an offer to settle out of court but you will have to be willing to accept less.
In finally deciding which option to take, deliberate carefully on how much is at risk. If you were to lose the appeal, how much would you be losing? How much will you be spending to have legal representation (always add 20% on to the lawyer’s estimate). If your risk is 3x more than your legal fees, then it makes sense to continue with legal representation. Read more about cost vs. benefit analysis here.
If you are in a certain income bracket (under $2,000 monthly salary, depending on the # of people in your household) you may be eligible for legal aid.
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