Appealing a Custody or Divorce Case in Iowa

Divorce and custody cases can be the most important legal system event in a person’s life, as the outcome can influence custody, visitation, property, and financial aspects of the person’s life for years to come.  If the outcome of the trial is not favorable, then an appeal should be considered.

The appeal process exists because our legal system recognizes that judges are not perfect when it comes to reaching their rulings.  By having an appeal process, our legal system gives people a chance to take their case to a higher court, which can review the decisions of the lower court and ensure that justice prevails.  As as attorney who has handled appeals and seen improper rulings changed by higher courts, I know that the appeal process is a valuable one for clients and the legal system as a whole.

Before an appeal is taken, often times it is wise to file various Motions with the trial court, so as to put the case in the best posture possible for an appeal.  For example, it is common in Iowa custody and divorce cases to file a Motion to Amend or Enlarge before appealing, as the evidence introduced with such a Motion may prove vital on appeal.  Iowa has a rather short deadline for such a Motion (only 15 days), so it is important that a Motion to Amend or Enlarge is timely filed.

An appeal is the process through which a higher court reviews the decisions of a lower court.  In Iowa, appeals go from the District Court (the trial court) to the Supreme Court (the highest court in the state).  The Supreme Court then either handles the appeal itself, or sends the case to the Court of Appeals (and intermediate-level court) to rule on the case.

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When it comes to appealing, the deadlines are quite strict.  Missing the deadline by even 1 day means that the appeal cannot proceed.  Indeed, because the deadline is “jurisdictional,” even having the best excuse in the world for missing the deadline will not allow the appeal to proceed.  Some cases (e.g. some juvenile abuse/neglect cases) have an even shorter appeal deadlines than the normal 30-day deadline.  For that reason it is vital that appeals be timely filed.  Note that the deadline is the date by which the appeal must be filed, and it can take time to prepare the necessary documents to proceed with an appeal, which means that it is wise to retain an attorney for an appeal as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the last minute.

The process of appealing involves a great deal of persuasive writing, which must be done to exacting legal standards.  While much of the work at Trial involves presenting evidence in a courtroom, an appeal is almost always entirely done in writing, as the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals rarely grant requests to present argument in person (and even then the written documents remain the most important part of the appeal process).

If an appeal is successful, the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals may modify the District Court’s order, or may send the case back to the District Court to be reconsidered in light of the higher court’s ruling.