If you don’t like a legal decision issued by a court, under normal circumstances, you can appeal it at some point. Appeals are difficult to win, however, because the appeals court grants the trial court a great deal of deference. 

A de novo hearing, however, doesn’t involve any deference at all. The court ignores the previous trial judgment as if it never happened. It conducts its hearing on the matter as if for the first time. 

In New Jersey, the criteria for granting or refusing a request for a de novo hearing can differ depending on the type of legal proceeding and which court is considering the request. De novo hearings are not uncommon in family law cases: divorce cases, child custody, and child support cases, for example.

What Happens in an Appeal?

You typically have very little time to file an appeal, usually around 30 days after the trial judgment becomes final. Typically, an appeals court will not call witnesses and will not hear new evidence. Instead, it will review documents and make a decision on whether the trial court committed any legal errors. 

If it finds any serious legal errors, it might overturn the decision. It might end the case there. Alternatively, it might kick the case back downstairs for a new trial. If it does, it will give instructions to the trial court to rectify its legal error. This is called a remand. 

Grounds for Granting a De Novo Hearing

Following are descriptions of some of the most common grounds for granting a de novo hearing in a New Jersey family law case. 

  • Procedural errors: It is difficult to hold a trial without committing any legal errors. Most errors don’t affect the outcome of the case. However, some trials are so riddled with errors that they may very well have affected the outcome. Under these circumstances, a court might grant a de novo hearing to ensure the fairness and integrity of the legal process.
  • New evidence: Not all new evidence is likely to change the result of a case already decided. Suppose important new evidence surfaces after a hearing has ended. In that case, however, a court may grant a de novo hearing to consider the impact of the new evidence in the context of the totality of the evidence.
  • Incorrect application of the law: In many cases, the incorrect application of the law will justify an appeal but not a de novo trial. Nevertheless, a judge may order a de novo hearing to correct serious legal errors.
  • Substantial injustice: If upholding the original trial court decision would result in a “substantial injustice,” a court might order a de novo hearing. This justification operates as a sort of catch-all category.

In general, de novo hearings are rarely held. 

Grounds for Refusing a De Novo Hearing:

Courts do not grant all de novo hearing requests. If the court rejects a de novo hearing request, it is probably for one of the following reasons:

  • Lack of new evidence or arguments: If the party requesting a de novo hearing cannot base the request on new evidence or significant legal error in the first trial, there is no need for a de novo hearing. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  • Timeliness: If you wait too long after the original trial court hearing, the court might deny a de novo hearing request simply because it was filed too late.
  • Frivolous or bad faith request: Sometimes, parties file de novo hearing requests for strategic reasons. They might want to delay proceedings or harass the other party, for example. Courts typically refuse such requests.

A court may reject a request for various other reasons as well.

Contact the Bergen County Family and Divorce Law Firm of Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers for more help

Contact the experienced family attorneys at Arons & Solomon Divorce Lawyers today for legal assistance. Visit our law office in Bergen County or give us a call at (201) 487-1199 to schedule a free consultation with our team.

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