Appealing Divorce Decisions in MontanaMarybeth Sampsel
Unlike many other states, Montana does not have an intermediate appellate court and, instead, district court cases in Montana are appealed directly to the Montana Supreme Court. If you have had a divorce or parenting trial and believe that the result was improper under the law, your remedy is generally to initiate an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
The Montana Supreme Court is located in Helena, MT. All appellate proceedings take place in Helena (except in a few limited circumstances), regardless of where you live in the state and regardless of where your district court case took place. The beauty of the appellate court being located in Helena is that parties have an entire state of attorneys to choose from. You can easily hire an appellate attorney on the western half of the state, even if you live in Eastern Montana.
After having been through months of litigation in district court, you will find that appellate procedure is a lot different than trial court procedure. Generally speaking, the Montana Supreme Court decides issues of law, not issues of fact. In other words, appellants argue that the district court made the wrong decision as a matter of law. This means that you cannot necessarily appeal just because you were unhappy with the result at district court. Instead, you have to have a legal basis for your appeal. Unlike district court, the Supreme Court will never hold a hearing where the parties tell their side of the story. Instead, the Supreme Court sees a transcript of the trial, along with the district court file. Most family law litigants never even see the Supreme Court. Instead, the parties submit briefs and the case is generally decided based on those briefs only.
Because appellate procedure can be very different from regular district court rules, many litigants choose to use a different attorney for appellate work than for district court/trial work. It can often be beneficial to have a fresh set of eyes look at your case or prepare it for appeal. Most importantly, you want to be sure to utilize someone with appellate exprience and with experience in research and brief writing.