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In this article we are going to discuss the process of appeals in family law and divorce cases in Iowa, including:

  • When Can You File an Appeal in a Family Law Case in Iowa?
  • What Court Has Jurisdiction Over Family Law Appeals in Iowa?
  • How Are Family Law Appeals in Iowa Reviewed?

In Iowa, all cases are originally heard by district trial courts. At the conclusion of a trial court case, a final decision is entered by the district court judge. In Iowa family law cases, these final decisions are called final decrees. A party who is dissatisfied with a decision made by the trial court may appeal the judge’s ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Iowa Supreme Court then decides what cases it will hear and which it will remand back to the Iowa Court of Appeals.  

In this article we are going to discuss the process of appeals in family law and divorce cases in Iowa, including:

  • When Can You File an Appeal in a Family Law Case in Iowa?
  • What Court Has Jurisdiction Over Family Law Appeals in Iowa?
  • How Are Family Law Appeals in Iowa Reviewed?

When Can You File an Appeal in a Family Law Case in Iowa?

If you are dissatisfied with the final judgement entered by the district court, you may appeal the decision within 30 days of the final judgement. Cases involving termination of someone’s parental rights or Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases, however, must be appealed within 15 days. Failure to meet these deadlines will result in an automatic rejection of the appeal. No appeal may be made until a final decision is handed down. For more on the appeals process in Iowa, check out our article The Iowa Appeals Process Explained.  

What Court Has Jurisdiction Over Family Law Appeals in Iowa?

Once a final decree is ordered, the District Court loses the jurisdiction necessary to review the merits of the controversy, meaning that they cannot simply redecide the case using the same information. This is true unless a supersedes bond is filed, allowing the District Court to modify the original decree even after the appeal process was underway. However, the District Court maintains jurisdiction to enforce the original final decree until an appeal is complete. This means that the District Court and the Court of Appeals (or Iowa Supreme Court if they choose to hear the case) technically share jurisdiction during the appeals process. Once an appellate decision has been issued, the District Court maintains jurisdiction only to enforce the appellate decision. Read more about legal updates in our Recent Changes to Iowa Family Law article.

How Are Family Law Appeals in Iowa Reviewed?

Certain types of cases in Iowa are reviewed de novo. This means that they are viewed as if they are an entirely new case, and the appellate judges review the original evidence involved in the case. However, in family law cases in Iowa, cases are reviewed based on specific error by the Court or attorneys. There is no ‘plain error’ rule that allows the appellate court to modify a decree based on a clear error by the Court. Therefore, any issues you have with an Iowa family law decision must be raised in your request for an appeal, or the appellate court will not look at that issue.  

Instead of looking at all of the evidence already presented in the original trial, the appellate court judges typically review the record of the trial court case, along with written briefs submitted by each attorney, explaining the issue, or lack of issue, with the trial court’s decision. After reviewing such information, the appellate court will either affirm the decision made by the district court, meaning they agree and the decision remains the same, or they reverse the decision. They may also simply modify the original decision or send the case back to the district court to be redecided, on certain issues or on all.  

In conclusion, final decisions by the district trial court are not always final. There are procedures in place that allow for appeals of district court decisions, including final decrees in Iowa family law cases. While general belief that the judge was wrong will not suffice to reverse a district court decision, misconduct or procedural injustices may be valid grounds for an appeal.  

If you would like to appeal a recent district court decision in Iowa and would like the assistance of an experienced attorney, contact O’Flaherty Law at (630) 324-6666 today.  

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