In Illinois, a person who is not satisfied with the Circuit Court’s ruling in a divorce or custody case can appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals. If that ruling is still not satisfactory, the Illinois Supreme Court can be petitioned as well.
The appeal process beings with the timely filing of a Notice of Appeal and Notice of Filing Notice of Appeal. Filing fees must also be paid. There are strict deadlines that apply (often 30 days) and a failure to follow those deadlines will result in the appeal being dismissed. It is important to note that appeal deadlines are often “jurisdictional” which means that a failure to timely appeal means the Court of Appeals lacks any authority to handle the appeal, as a matter of law in Illinois.
The Court of Appeals then sets a schedule for the case that will include when briefs are due. Briefs, which are the (rather lengthy and technical) written documents submitted to the Court of Appeals, are the most important part of an appeal. A brief will address the facts that were established at trial, and will contain legal arguments as to why the Illinois Circuit Court’s ruling should be changed by the appellate court. In some appeals, the Court of Appeals will have Oral Argument, which is when the attorneys for the parties will appear at the Court of Appeals and give verbal argument to the court.
If the Court of Appeals ruling is not favorable, then the Illinois Supreme Court can be petitioned to take the case. The Illinois Supreme Court agrees to hear only a small portion of the cases that it is petitioned to hear. Normally, only cases that the Illinois Supreme Court believes have important legal aspects are heard. That means that the Court of Appeals is the highest court to which most cases in Illinois will go.
In some cases, where a Federal right or law is at issue, it is possible to seek further review in the Federal court system. However, it is rare that such a Federal law or right is at issue in a divorce or custody case, which makes the Illinois Court of Appeals and Illinois Supreme Court the only options for appeal in most divorce and custody cases.
It is important to remember that an appeal is not a “second bite at the apple,” so to speak. That means that an appeal is a chance to point out legal errors that were made by the court at trial, not a fresh chance to redo the case just because the outcome was not favorable. That means that it is important to properly address the case at trial so as to seek the best outcome at trial and so as to preserve any errors made by the trial court for appeal. Failing to do so can make a case difficult if not impossible to appeal.