How to Appeal a Divorce Decree in Arizona

The superior court hears divorce cases in Arizona. That means that it listens to witnesses and weighs the facts and evidence presented in order to come to a ruling.

When its rulings are appealed, the Court of Appeals uses two different standard for reviewing them. For any issues that involved weighing facts or evidence, the appellate court only reverses the superior court decision if it is an abuse of discretion. It looks for evidence in the record supporting the decision and, if evidence exists, it upholds the decision.

On the other hand, the Court of Appeals reviews interpretations of law de novo. This means that the Court of Appeals looks at the issue as if it were reviewing it for the first time.

In the case of Thorn v. Thorn, 330 P.3d 973 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2014), the Arizona Court of Appeals was asked to review various property division decisions the superior court made in a divorce ruling. Most of them involved factual issues, reviewed by the court under an abuse of discretion standard.

Susan and Stuart Thorn signed a prenuptial agreement before they married agreeing to keep their property separate during the marriage. They divorced in 2013 and the court entered a judgment dividing their real and personal property. Stuart appealed from several parts of the ruling.


Amended Notice of Appeal Cannot Add New Issues

Stuart filed a notice of appeal within the 30 days following the entry of the divorce judgment, as Arizona law requires, listing five orders of the court he wanted reviewed. After that time period expired, he filed an “amended notice of appeal” in which he listed a sixth, the order for division of personal property.

The Court of Appeals noted that Arizona law requires that a notice of appeal be filed “not later than 30 days after the entry of the judgment from which the appeal is taken.” If a notice is filed after that day, the appellate court does not have jurisdiction. Since Stuart’s sixth point on appeal was late, the Court found it did not have authority to consider it.


Cannot Raise New Factual Theories on Appeal

At trial, Stuart argued that the couple should divide the equity in their marital home based on the percentage of separate property each of them put into the residence. He claimed that he contributed 74% and Susan contributed 26%.

Ultimately, the court awarded each spouse approximately these percentages, with slight adjustments made for small contributions Susan made that had been omitted. It gave Stuart 73.2% and Susan 26.8%.

On appeal, Stuart claims that his own system was flawed and that it included sums that should have been excluded. However, the Court of Appeals said that it wasn’t fair to allow Stuart to now present different arguments. It refused to substitute its judgment for a decision properly made in the family court. Likewise, it refused to second-guess the lower court’s decision that a $60,000 loan from Susan to Stuart had not been repaid.