Appellate cases can be extremely complicated, as both the Court of Appeals of Georgia and the Supreme Court of Georgia have different rules specific to each court. In addition, the appellate process in general is very unique and those who are unfamiliar with the rules and guidelines governing that process may find themselves on the losing end for a procedural error, rather than for the substantive issues in the case. Such was the case for a mother challenging an order modifying visitation in the Court of Appeals of Georgia.
In Stanford v. Pogue, the father filed a motion for contempt alleging that the mother “had willfully failed to comply with the Consent Order and had frustrated the father’s attempts to exercise his visitation rights.” Stanford v. Pogue, A16A1823 (January 20, 2017) After a hearing, the trial court found the mother in willful contempt, ordered her incarcerated for 20 days, and modified the visitation outlined in the Consent Order. The mother appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in modifying the visitation order, “without making any findings that there had been a material change in condition or that the modification was in the best interests of the child.” Id. However, the mother submitted no transcript of the trial court hearing showing what had happened in that court and, for this reason, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
The Court of Appeals held that, in the absence of a transcript, they must presume that the evidence supported the trial court’s ruling. Further. “[a] litigant, including a pro se litigant, has the burden to compile a complete record of what happened at the trial level which, at a minimum, includes a transcript of that portion of the proceedings in which the error is alleged to have occurred or alternatively, a stipulation of the case approved by the judge who conducted the proceeding.” Id. citing Alexander v. Mosley, 271 Ga. 2, 2-3 (1) (1999). With no transcript showing how the trial court reached its decision, the appellate court will always defer to the trial court’s ruling.
Though a party can certainly file an appellate case without an attorney, this case shows that party runs a higher risk of finding himself/herself on the losing end of a procedural battle in the appellate courts, simply because he/she is unfamiliar with the process and requirements. A party considering an appeal would be best served scheduling a consultation with an experienced appellate attorney at a minimum prior to filing any appellate documents. It should be noted, however, that each appellate court has strict timelines regarding how soon an appeal must be filed after an order is handed down. Thus, if you are considering an appeal, you should immediately consult with an appellate attorney so you do not find yourself on the losing end simply because you did not file the proper paperwork in time.