The Maryland state court system is a source of plenty of confusion, especially for people who are new to the legal processes that go into adjudicating a family law issue. In most family law issues, the parent or spouse will be required to appear before the Maryland circuit court, except for certain domestic violence-related issues, which will generally appear before the district court. Often, a case before the circuit court or district court will appear before a different court on appeal.
Maryland, like all other states, has a multi-tiered hierarchy of appeals courts, but unlike the common names in most states, the Maryland court system’s names for these appeals courts may be somewhat misleading. In most states, cases tried before the district court go to the court of appeals, and then if the matter goes any further, it may appear before that state’s supreme court.
Maryland has a similar system, but instead of the court of appeals, Maryland’s first appellate court is called the Court of Special Appeals. All appeals in family law cases which involve issues of law and fact are first heard by the Court of Special Appeals. This court may either agree with the Circuit Court’s ruling, or it may disagree, in which case it may remand the case back to the Circuit Court for additional fact-finding, or with instructions to rule in a different fashion. For example, if the Circuit Court did not properly weigh the evidence in a complex divorce case, or if it made a procedural mistake which prejudiced the case of either party, the Court of Special Appeals should be able to step in and remedy any such issues.
If the decision of the Court of Special Appeals is overturned, the next step may be the Maryland Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in the state and the counterpart of what most states call their supreme court. The Maryland Court of Appeals has wide latitude to either hear or decline to hear a case and generally only gets involved in matters of great importance to state law or public policy.
With so many courts and opportunities for appeal, a family law matter may not be fully settled after the lower court rules. For more information on how to bring or defend against an appeal, people should consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney.
Source: Maryland Courts, “Court of Special Appeals Guide,” accessed Jan. 24, 2014