California Father’s Failed Appeal Demonstrates the Risks of ‘Going it Alone’ in Your Family Law Case

man aloneThe chances are that you are good at the job you do. Whether you are a plumber or a podiatrist, a kindergarten teacher or a chemical engineer, it is reasonably likely that there are things about your job and your industry that are well within your personal sphere of knowledge that would be outside that of the average “person on the street” who hasn’t done your job. The same is true for the law — all types of law. While family law matters may seem more manageable as a layperson than, say, patent law or international business transactions, thinking that there isn’t a cost to be paid when you forego counsel can very often be dangerous. In one recent case, a father managed, as a result of the way he mishandled his appeals case, to block the First District Court of Appeal from reviewing either his divorce judgment or his post-judgment child support case.

The husband, Benjamin Parkinson, married Wing Fong Lee in 2008. The couple had a son in 2009 and then filed for divorce in 2013. In 2015, the trial court entered a judgment that addressed most of the issues in dispute. Another order, entered in August of that year, took care of the remaining disputed issues. That October, the trial judge entered another order, this one dealing with a motion to modify child support that the father had filed.

The next month, the father launched an appeal in his case. In this appeal, the father did not hire legal counsel but instead represented himself. In his appeal papers, the father indicated that he was appealing the order that the trial judge entered in October. In other words, his appeal centered on the child support issue…and only the child support issue. The problem for the father, and his case on appeal, was that his argument did not focus on child support. It was apparent from the brief he filed that he actually desired to argue that the appeals court should reverse parts of the trial court’s order from August, rather than October.

The appeals court concluded that the law, and the wording of the father’s wayward appeal, did not allow it to consider reversing anything the trial court had done. Although the “Notice of Appeal” form is a very brief, two-page document, it is very important, or, more to the point, completing it carefully is very important. If you launch an appeal about an issue but fail to argue that issue in your brief, you may lose your right for the appeals court to consider that matter. If you argue an issue in your brief but fail to reference it in your notice, you may lose your right for the appeals court to hear that argument as well.

That’s what happened to this husband. His notice of appeal was abundantly clear in saying he contested the trial court’s order issued on Oct. 7, 2015. Without proper notice, the appeals court lacks jurisdiction over an issue. While the law allows courts to give leeway in interpreting notices of appeal, it does not allow the court to consider trial court actions that are plainly outside the notice. The plain wording of the notice here made it clear that the father was not appealing the August order. While he may have intended to do so, his notice of appeal did not say that. Since he did not give notice of an appeal regarding the August order, the appeals court did not have jurisdiction over that.

Additionally, by failing to make any arguments about child support, the one issue that was covered in the order from October, the father forfeited his right regarding that appeal. The law says that “an appellant’s failure to discuss an issue in its opening brief forfeits the issue on appeal.” The father didn’t discuss the October order, so the child support issue was legally abandoned.

Your family law case is no time to decide to “go it alone.” Instead, contact the skilled San Diego child support attorneys at Doppelt & Forney. Our attorneys have been helping clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista, for many years and can provide you with the advice and advocacy you deserve. For a free consultation about your divorce, reach out to Doppelt & Forney through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Court Denies Father’s Request to Modify Child Support Award, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2016

California Court Upholds Award of Attorney Fees and Sanctions in Divorce Litigation, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 1, 2015