Child custody cases can be highly contentious and emotional, and an unfavorable ruling can be devastating. Texas law allows parents to appeal custody rulings, but the appeals process can be lengthy and difficult. If you are not already represented by an attorney, you will have a much greater chance of success if you hire a family law attorney who specializes in custody appeals. Appeals in Dallas are heard through the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals.
Submit a motion for new trial to the clerk of family court within 15 days after the issuance of the final custody order. If the motion is not submitted in time, it is highly unlikely it will be heard or you will be granted a new trial. The motion must be submitted to the trial court that heard your original case, not directly to the court of appeals. Texas appeals courts are more likely to grant new trials whenever there is any evidence the trial court may have erred. You must demonstrate an error was made by the trial court, such as a refusal to hear certain evidence or newly discovered evidence, or judicial or juror misconduct occurred.
Provide any new evidence to the appeals court as well as any evidence the trial court refused to hear. The appeals court may schedule a hearing to determine if there should be a new trial. If so, you should attend this hearing. The appeals court may also grant an appeal without a hearing. If the appeals court finds grounds for a new trial, it will send the case back to the trial court. The trial court may be directed to conduct an entirely new trial or only hear certain issues.
Attend the new trial and present all of your evidence as well as any witnesses you have. Texas uses the "best interests of the child" standard in making child custody determinations; judges may consider the child's attachment to each parent, relative emotional stability of each parent and quality of the child's environment, as well as any other factors that affect the child's well-being. You must demonstrate why your proposed custody plan is in your child's best interests. If the other parent does anything that is harmful to the child, such as drinking excessively or exposing the child to criminal behavior, call witnesses and submit evidence that can support this claim.
Submit an application for writ of error to the Supreme Court of Texas if the appeals court denies your appeal. If there is a dissenting opinion in your appeal, you will be more likely to be granted Supreme Court review.
If you are outside of the window for appeal and there has been a change in the child's or parents' circumstances, you can petition the court for a modification in custody rather than appealing the final custody order. . Try to settle the custody case with your former spouse before you are granted a new trial. Trials are long, expensive and stressful. You and your ex will have much more freedom with your custody arrangement if you write it yourself.
The trial court may order you to attend mediation prior to the new trial. You must attend all mediation sessions. Mediation will also give you a good idea of any new arguments your ex-spouse plans to make at trial.
- Texas Courts Online: Courts of Appeals
- Law Offices of Thomas P. Jackson: The Appellate Process in the Dallas District
- Texas Family Code: Section 56.01. Right to Appeal
- Cases and Materials on Family Law; Judith C. Areen
- Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images