California Court Addresses Timeliness of Appeal from Divorce Judgment

When a court issues a judgment of divorce, the parties to the case have a legal right to appeal the ruling. But California law sets forth certain requirements that must be met, such as the time period within which one may file an appeal. The law states generally that notice of an appeal must be filed within 60 days after the “Notice of Entry” of judgment is served. While this may seem clear cut, courts have been called upon to interpret the language as it applies to the facts of each individual case. This law, like many others that govern various aspects of a divorce proceeding, must be followed; otherwise, parties stand to lose certain rights. In order to ensure that your rights are sufficiently protected in a divorce-related action, it is important that you contact an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area.

In a recent California divorce case, the husband disputed the timeliness of the wife’s notice of appeal of their divorce judgment. Here, the couple got married in 1999, and the husband filed for divorce in 2009. After a six-day trial, the court issued a “tentative statement of decision” on November 28, 2012. As part of this decision, the court ordered the husband to prepare and submit a judgment containing the court’s decision and the couple’s settlement agreement. On March 11, 2013, the court entered the husband’s proposed judgment, and the clerk filed and served the notice of entry of judgment that day. The judgment covered issues such as the division of assets in contention, spousal support, and attorney’s fees and costs.

However, the court entered a second judgment several days later on March 18. But this version only contained handwritten changes to one paragraph of the original order. Later, on May 15, 2013, the court directed the clerk to make further changes to the judgment. The wife filed a notice of appeal on May 17, attaching the second judgment of March 18. The husband argued that her appeal was untimely and that the time to appeal began to run on March 11. The wife claimed that the time to appeal did not begin to run until she was served with a notice of entry of the second judgment. Under California law, the question is whether the second judgment superseded the original judgment.

In order to make that determination, courts have looked to whether the revised judgment results in a substantial modification of the judgment. This phrase has been defined as one “materially affecting the rights of the parties.” Most importantly, courts are concerned about parties having an opportunity or ability to challenge a particular ruling. The court looked at the modification contained in the second judgment and found that it did not change: 1) the amount to be paid, 2) the wife’s rights to receive any payment, or 3) any other rights the wife would have been unable to raise on appeal from the original judgment.

Based on these findings, the court concluded that the second judgment did not constitute a material or substantial change and that the first judgment remained the final one for purpose of establishing the time to appeal. This case nicely illustrates the important of understanding how local state laws can affect your rights in a divorce proceeding. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters for more than 20 years. His office serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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