One of the best and worst features of the law is that cases are heard by judges who are, ultimately, human. Like all human beings, sometimes judges get it wrong. This can be particularly true in family law cases where the law leaves a lot of work for judges to do. Judges can mis-interpret facts, mis-apply laws, or just plain miss what was important about the case in front of them. When your case has ended up with the wrong result, you may not know what to do – but you do have an option. You can pursue an appeal.
An appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court or Court of Appeals is not like a trial – there are no witnesses, no cross-examinations, no evidence shown to the court outside of what was presented at trial. Instead, an appeal involves both sides preparing briefs to support their position to the appellate court, and, if allowed by the appellate court, oral arguments of attorneys to support their position. But again, these oral arguments are not like the oral arguments an attorney might make at a trial – usually each side only gets 15 minutes to present their case, and it is just the attorney talking, no witnesses or evidence. That said, despite oral arguments only lasting 15 minutes per side, the attorneys need to engage in extensive and substantial preparation before-hand, because judges on the appellate panel will routinely pepper the attorneys with questions that may or may not cover topics the attorneys had planned to discuss – meaning for a 15 minute oral argument, it is not unusual for an attorney to have several hours’ worth of potential arguments, statements, and answers prepared.
Moreover, appellate litigation has a whole array of rules which are completely distinct from the rules in the trial court and the violation of these rules can result in dismissal of your appeal. This means that just because an attorney is a good trial attorney does not mean they will be a good appellate attorney.
If you are looking to challenge a Circuit Court ruling, or are defending against an appeal from a victory at the Circuit Court, even if you are happy with your trial attorney, you may want to consider another attorney to handle your appeal. In addition to the differences between a trial and an appeal, it can often be useful to get a fresh set of eyes on your case.
Attorneys at The Baldwin Law Firm have more than 40 years of experience in handling family law appeals, representing both appellants and appellees. We know the rules of the appellate courts, how to prepare effective briefs and oral arguments, and how best to present your case to a panel of judges who will never get a chance to meet you.
If you are interested in learning more about how family law appeals work, Sam Leven, the current appellate attorney in the office, wrote a blog post about the process in 2017, which you can access by clicking here.
Please further note that in the Spring, 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly, a law was enacted expanding both the size and jurisdiction of the Virginia Court of Appeals effective January 1, 2022. Attorneys at The Baldwin Law Firm have been following this change in law since it was first proposed, and are well equipped and ready to adapt the firm’s appellate practice to the new law and procedures of the Court of Appeals.
The following cases are a few examples of our work at the appellate level (please note that case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case and do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case undertaken by the lawyer):
- Obtained reversal of an Alexandria Circuit Court ruling denying a motion to modify child support in a published opinion of the Court of Appeals that now serves as binding precedent on all Virginia trial courts.
- Successfully defended a $50,000 equitable distribution award to our appellee client that had been challenged on appeal, obtaining a summary affirmance of the trial court’s ruling and an award of all of our client’s appellate attorneys’ fees.
- Zealous advocacy on appeal of adverse Fairfax Circuit Court ruling regarding equitable distribution of marital property successfully convinced appellee to settle prior to oral arguments.
- Obtained dismissal of opponent’s appeal of Fairfax Circuit Court custody order on basis of opponent’s failure to comply with rules of Court of Appeals.
- Successful defense against opponent’s appeal of Prince William Circuit Court custody, visitation and show cause order resulted in complete victory on appeal and opponent being ordered to pay client’s appellate attorneys’ fees.