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Grounds for an Interlocutory Appeal in Family Law Cases

Family law cases involve claims for divorce, alimony, child support and the like. Generally, these cases are what the legal field classifies as civil disputes. Civil cases involving disputes concerning family law claims in North Carolina are decided in the district court. A final judgment entered in a family law case is appealable to the Court of Appeals. Similarly, an interlocutory order entered in a family law case may be immediately appealed, so long as it satisfies the necessary criteria required in other civil cases entered into by a district court.

An interlocutory order is one made during the pendency of an action, which does not dispose of the case, but leaves it for further action by the trial court in order to determine the dispute in its entirety. Unlike final judgments, which are always appealable, an interlocutory order is immediately appealable only if:

  • The trial court certifies the case for immediate appeal; or
  • The order affects a substantial right of the appellant that would be lost without immediate review.
Interlocutory Orders Affecting a Substantial Right

The burden is on an appellant to establish that a substantial right will be affected unless he or she is allowed immediate appeal from an interlocutory order. The purpose of the substantial right rule is to prevent inconsistent and untimely appeals that unnecessarily delay judicial administration. Thus, ensuring the trial courts are able to dispose of cases fully and finally before an appeal can be heard. According to North Carolina case law, an order that completely disposes of one of several issues in a lawsuit affects a substantial right.

North Carolina Statutory Law Regarding Interlocutory Family Law Appeals - § 50-19.1

In August of 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a statutory provision that permitted certain family law appeals. This provision created a sort of intermediate class of “quasi-interlocutory” orders that would be final if considered in isolation, but that would technically not be a final judgment since another related claim, or issue, is still pending in the larger action. Under the statute, notwithstanding any other pending claims filed in the same action, a party may appeal an order, or judgment, that adjudicates a claim for:

  • absolute divorce,
  • divorce from bed and board,
  • the validity of a premarital agreement,
  • child custody,
  • child support,
  • alimony, or
  • equitable distribution

if the order or judgment would otherwise be a final order or judgment, were it not for the other remaining claims pending in the same action.

The Substantial Right Addition to North Carolina General Statute § 50-19.1

In June of 2018, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the case of Beasley v. Beasley, concluded that while § 50-19.1 restricts interlocutory appeals to the claims listed in that section, a path for appeal still exists. The Court reasoned that because precedent case law decisions have allowed interlocutory appeals in family law cases based on a substantial right, it follows that the traditional substantial right exception may also apply to other interlocutory orders entered in a family law case despite not appearing in the statutory list in G.S. § 50-19.1. Specifically, the court in Beasley held that a party may immediately appeal an interlocutory order for attorney’s fees.

In Beasley, the Appellate Court held that a district court order to pay a wife’s attorney’s fees was reviewable, despite other pending issues and the fact that an order for attorney fees is not in the list in G.S. § 50-19.1, because:

  • interlocutory review of an issue affecting a substantial right was allowed, and
  • the order completely disposed of the issue and ordered payment of a substantial sum.

In order to preserve an issue for review by the appellate court, a party must have presented a timely request, objection, or motion, to the trial court stating the specific grounds for the court ruling that the appellant desired and felt entitled to under the law. Furthermore, the appellant must receive a ruling upon the request, objection, or motion that they presented.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you are currently undergoing a family law dispute in district court and have been issued interlocutory orders, you may be able to immediately appeal the order. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC our experienced family law appellate attorneys can walk you through the interlocutory appeals process. The North Carolina case law decision in Beasley v. Beasley is still relatively new and is still being implemented by the North Carolina appellate courts. Our attorneys are familiar with the newly accepted application of the substantial right exception to interlocutory orders entered in a family law case.

Call our office at 704.370.2828 or fill out our contact form online to schedule an initial consultation with one of our experienced family law attorney’s to discuss your legal options. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Union County.