Appellate Court versus Trial Court on Family Law Issues
A guide by the Levoritz Law Firm

You may be wondering about the differences between Appellate Courts and Family law Trial courts and how each court’s decisions affect the other. Read on to learn more about the differences and similarities between the two courts.

Testifying in Court

In a family law trial court matter, you can testify on your own behalf if you are a spouse divorcing another spouse or other similar family law issues. However, in an Appellate court case, where you appealed the trial court’s decision based on a mistake or improper application of the law, you will not be able to testify again. This is because the Appellate court utilizes the previous testimony and evidence to rule on the alleged mistake or misinterpretation of the law.

This means that as much as it may feel vindictive to be able to testify again for your family law case, you will not be able to do so during an appellate appeal. However, it is essential to remember that the court records everything you previously testified via the services of a court reporter in your trial court hearing, so all of the testimony you once told to the court will still be accounted for in the Appellate court decision making.

Providing Evidence to Support Your Family Law Claim

When you first bring your family law matter to the trial court, you and your attorney will prepare relevant evidence to submit to the court. However, when you appeal your family law matter based on a misapplication of a law or a mistake of law, you can only provide new evidence to support your family law claim in very particular circumstances when the judge requests.

The Appellate Court will generally utilize the evidence previously used in the trial court’s decision-making process to rule on your appeal; however, in minimal circumstances, the appellate court may request particular pieces of additional evidence to rule on your case.

How are Appellate and Trial Courts different?

According to the United States Court, witnesses give testimony at a U.S. District Court trial, and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not listen to witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to ensure that the proceedings are fair and that the proper law is applied correctly.

Appellate and Trial courts for family law matters serve different functions. Appellate courts decide mistakes of law after a party to a family law matter “appeals” it to the Appellate court. This differs from the lower court or the family law trial court, where they decide on all of the legal matters for your case, hear new evidence, call witnesses, and solicit testimony to aid the trial court in decision-making. The following are some more differences between the two courts:

● Appellate courts do not decide on issues of fact; only trial courts decide on matters of fact, which is the trial court’s primary goal in hearing family law cases.
● Often, Appellate courts will have a panel of judges to decide on the matters at hand, versus trial courts with a singular judge presiding.
● When the Appellate courts issue a decision, it is considered to be a “binding” decision on other courts, whereas trial court decisions are not binding to different courts.
● When Appellate courts issue a binding decision, it becomes precedent or an earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances. Family law trial courts do not issue binding decisions and, therefore, do not create legal precedent on your issue.
● Appellate courts only decide on issues of a legal mistake or the improper application of the law.
● Appellate courts can only look at the evidence already in the court’s record and rarely request new evidence or testimony to decide on the mistake of law. This differs from family law trial courts, where new evidence is submitted and evaluated during the court proceedings.

How are Appellate and Trial Courts similar?

Although the Appellate and Trial courts in a family law matter serve different functions, as discussed above, there are still some similarities between the two courts.

● In both Appellate and Trial courts, the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney will aid you in preparing, arguing, and enforcing the legal judgment of your family law issue.
● Similar to bringing a family law action to the trial court, either party in a family law matter, if they believe an issue or mistake of law is applied in their family law case, can appeal the matter to the appellate court.
● Both Appellate and Trial courts will issue written decisions based on the issues presented in your case. You will be able to review the findings with your attorney, who will assist you in understanding the Judge’s decision and rulings.
● For both courts, your attorney will be able to assist you with writing what is called a “legal brief” or a summary of the facts, evidence, and circumstances to the courts to help decide on the issues at hand.
● During both the Appellate and Trial court proceedings, the judge or panel of judges will ask the attorney representing you and your matter at hand relevant questions in the hope that the attorney’s answers will aid the judge with decision-making.
● In family law cases, both the Appellate and Trial Courts will not have a jury for your court trial; it will just be a singular judge, or in some cases in the appellate court, a panel of judges will rule on your family law matter.

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