Watch enough TV crime dramas and, at some point, you’ll likely encounter your favorite grizzled detective grumbling about how a suspect was set free on “some ridiculous technicality.” What does that scene have to do with your divorce? It’s a reminder that there are “technicalities” in all areas of the law, including divorce law, and those aspects of the law or court rules can harm or destroy your case. When it comes time to pursue your divorce, relying on an experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you to minimize the risk that a technical matter of law or procedure will trip you up.
The recent divorce case of a couple from Hagerstown is a good example. After the trial court entered its order, A.P., who was not pleased with the outcome, did two things. She initiated an appeal process by filing a document called a “Notice of Appeal.” She also filed a document asking the trial court to change its order, called a “Post-Trial Motion to Reconsider.” She submitted both of these more than 10 days but fewer than 30 days after the court’s decision.
Both of these were viable options for the disgruntled wife. Maryland law says you can ask a judge to reconsider his/her order by filing a motion to alter or amend a judgment within 10 days. You can also file a motion in which you ask your trial judge to revise the judgment. (You have 30 days to file that kind of request.)
A final order, as this judge’s order was, is also eligible to be appealed. You have 30 days after the entry of the final divorce judgment in which to file your notice of appeal.
When you do both, as this wife did, you need to be keenly aware of how the law views your motion to reconsider and what relationship that has to your appeal filing. By filing each document 28 days after the judge’s order, this wife’s documents constituted a valid appeal and a valid motion to revise.
If a trial judge grants your motion to reconsider that counted as a motion to revise, and you are still dissatisfied with the revised order, you still have the right to appeal. However, to bring that appeal to life, you’ll likely need to file a new notice of appeal that specifically targets the amended order, and not rely on your first appeal filing.
Timing Isn’t Always Everything… But it Was in This Case
Why? It comes down to timing. If your request is filed quickly enough to constitute a motion to alter or amend, then it creates something called “tolling” in the time to appeal. “Tolling,” in this context, means that the deadline “clock” for appealing stops running for a duration of time. By contrast, there is no tolling on a motion to revise. Due to that lack of tolling, you’ll probably need a new notice of appeal to bring your case before the Court of Special Appeals if your trial judge amended his/her order on the basis of your motion to revise.
That was the mistake that A.P. made. The trial judge agreed to reconsider, then issued an amended order. A.P. never filed a second notice of appeal. That proved fatal to her appellate case. Because her post-trial motion qualified as a motion to revise, she needed to file a new notice of appeal to attack the amended order. Because she didn’t, the appeals court had to rule against her without addressing the merits of any of her arguments.
That is probably a lot to take in. Perhaps the most essential thing you should take away is this: whether you think your divorce is going to be something straightforward or highly complex, a skilled legal advocate can be invaluable in helping to protect you… including protecting you from the pitfalls of legal and procedural technicalities. For the finest in intelligent, thoughtful, and determined legal representation, count on the experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.