One particularly confusing aspect of family law is knowing how to proceed when a judge has ruled against you. Being ruled against doesn't mean just losing a case, by the way; many cases are dismissed by the judge before or during the trial because of a procedural or legal error. When a case is involuntarily dismissed by a judge, it is dismissed “with prejudice” or “without prejudice”. Understanding the difference between the two types of dismissals is essential for determining your next course of action.
When a case is dismissed with prejudice, it means that it cannot be brought back before the court. You do have the choice of filing with the Appellate Division, but the odds of winning a case on appeal are extremely slim. It can also be incredibly expensive and time-consuming, which is why you should consult an experienced family law attorney prior to filing. An attorney will review your case in order to determine whether it meets the Appellate Division's standards of review. These standards fall into 3 basic categories: de novo (issue of law), clearly erroneous (issue of fact), and abuse of discretion (judge's failure to issue a reasonable and/or legal ruling). Proving any of these standards requires extensive legal knowledge, along with significant trial experience in the New Jersey family courts.
Because of the final and restrictive nature of a dismissal with prejudice, judges often dismiss a case without prejudice, which allows the case to be brought back before the same court system. While the judge acknowledges that the case cannot proceed because of a legal or procedural error, it is believed that the plaintiff should be given a chance to correct these errors and bring the case back to trial. The primary benefit to a dismissal without prejudice is that you are aware of what mistakes need to be fixed. In addition, it is generally easier to retry a case at the superior level than it is to bring a case before the Appellate Division. However, rebuilding a case based on the judge's recommendations requires a high level of legal knowledge and trial procedures. Therefore, it is in your best interest to retain representation from an experienced trial attorney.
As you can see, deciding how to proceed after an unfavorable ruling requires careful consideration of numerous legal and personal factors. In some cases, it may be in the best interest of you and your children to accept the court's ruling. Depending on the issues in your case, you may have the option of filing a modification request in the future, which may be cheaper and less tedious than retrying a case or going through the appeals process. There may be additional legal options that are available to you, which is why you should speak with a family law attorney before making any decisions. If you have had your case dismissed by the family courts, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.