Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

By
In 2011, Husband filed a petition for dissolution of his marriage to Wife. The family court entered a decree of dissolution in 2013 that divided the parties’ marital assets, awarded the parties joint custody of their two children, and ordered Husband to pay maintenance to Wife in the amount of $7,300 per month for a period of nine years. The court of appeals reversed in part, finding that the family court erred by including a portion of the children’s living expenses in its calculation of Wife’s maintenance award and by failing to make findings that justified its award of maintenance for a period of nine years. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the family court’s decision to include the children’s living expenses in its calculation of Wife’s reasonable living expenses was neither clearly erroneous nor an abuse of discretion; (2) the family court acted within its discretion in awarding Wife maintenance for nine years; (3) the court of appeals did not err in affirming the family court’s calculation of Husband’s income; and (4) the court of appeals properly found the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Wife’s request that Husband pay the entirety of her attorney’s fees. View "Weber v. Lambe" on Justia Law

By
Tuke and Heroy married in 1980 and divorced in 2006. Heroy was ordered to pay $35,000 per month in permanent maintenance, based on a finding that the couple had enjoyed a lavish standard of living while married. The court found that Tuke could reasonably be expected to earn $40,000-$50,000 per year, based on her prior experience as a law librarian and publisher of a law bulletin. Months later, Heroy sought to terminate or modify the award. Tuke sought contribution to her attorney fees. In 2012, the court concluded that Heroy had proven that his income had decreased, justifying reduction of the maintenance award to $27,500 per month. The court concluded that Tuke had some ability to pay her attorney fees but that if she were required to pay all of the fees, her financial stability would be undermined, while Heroy was able to pay Tuke’s fees. The court instructed Heroy to pay $125,000. Heroy appealed; the court ordered Heroy to pay $35,000 in prospective attorney fees. The appellate court concluded the maintenance award should be $25,745 per month but reversed the attorney fee awards. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the trial court holding. That court properly considered the factors in the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act; the record supports that Tuke’s financial stability would be undermined if she were required to pay all of her attorney fees. The court carefully considered the factors set forth in section 510(a-5) of the Act, including Tuke’s efforts at supporting herself. View "In re Marriage of Heroy" on Justia Law

By
Spencer Curtiss appealed the district court's Third Amended Judgment modifying his parenting time and its order denying his motion to reconsider. The Supreme Court remanded to the district court for further findings and retained jurisdiction under N.D.R.App.P. 35(a)(3). The Court concluded on remand the district court made adequate findings to support its decision to suspend visitation of D.C., but that the findings suspending P.C.'s visits to the penitentiary were inadequate and are not supported by the record.The Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded again for further proceedings. “On remand, the district court must address how supervised visitations by P.C. will be facilitated, and determine which party shall be responsible for any costs associated with supervised visitation by a third party.” View "Curtiss v. Curtiss" on Justia Law

By
This certified questions in this case arose out of divorce proceedings pending in Connecticut between Wife and Husband, who was the beneficiary of a Massachusetts irrevocable trust. The Connecticut Supreme Court certified three questions to the Supreme Judicial Court concerning the authority of a trustee to distribute substantially all of the assets of an irrevocable trust into another trust. The Supreme Judicial Court did not answer the second question but answered the remaining questions as follows: (1) under Massachusetts law, the terms of the Paul John Ferri, Jr. Trust (1983 Trust) empowered its trustees to distribute substantially all of its assets to the Declaration of Trust for Paul John Ferri, Jr.; and (2) under Massachusetts law, a court, in interpreting whether the 1983 Trust’s settlor intended to permit decanting to another trust, should consider an affidavit of the settler offered to establish what he intended when he created the 1983 Trust. View "Ferri v. Powell-Ferri" on Justia Law

By
A father requested court-appointed counsel in a child custody modification proceeding after learning that the mother had hired a private attorney. The court denied the request. The father (supported in part by several amici curiae) claimed that the denial violated his due process and equal protection rights under theAlaska Constitution. The Supreme Court disagreed, declining to expand its prior decisions by mandating court-appointed counsel for every indigent parent in a child custody proceeding when the opposing parent was represented by private counsel. The Court concluded that on the facts of this case the father’s constitutional rights were not violated by the denial of court-appointed counsel. View "Dennis O. v. Stephanie O." on Justia Law

By
In consolidated dependency actions, Mother contested the juvenile court's detention and dispositional orders temporarily denying her visitation to her infant son. In the published portion of the opinion, the court joined the Third District in concluding that parental visitation may be denied during the reunification period if such visitation would be inconsistent with the physical or emotional well-being of the child. In this case, Mother was hospitalized after having been badly beaten by Father; it was unclear whether it was Mother or Father who had intentionally burned and bitten the child, thereafter abandoning him at a Starbucks in "very poor" condition; if Mother was responsible for these odious and life-threatening actions, she showed an utter disregard for the well-being of her six-week-old son and clearly represented a physical and emotional threat to him; and, even if Father was responsible, mother's conduct still showed a gross lack of concern for the child's safety and well-being. Therefore, the court affirmed the juvenile court's challenged visitation orders. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the court denied Mother's writ petition challenging the juvenile court's decision to terminate her reunification services. View "In re Matthew C." on Justia Law

By
Father appealed from a decree dissolving his marriage to Mother, contesting the award of custody of the parties’ two children to Mother, the order that Father pay child support, and the classification of lump-sum disability benefit payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as marital property. The Supreme Court modified the decree to exclude the payment’s proceeds, holding (1) federal law prevents a state court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over VA disability benefits, and therefore a state court cannot include the amount of military retirement pay that a veteran waives in order to receive such benefits as divisible marital property; and (2) the remainder of the district court’s rulings were not in error. View "Donald v. Donald" on Justia Law

By
Mother and Family divorced in 2013. In 2015, Mother filed a motion for an order to show cause as to why Father should not be held in contempt of court, asserting that Father had failed to pay amounts owed under the divorce decree for the expenses of the parties’ two children. The district court found Father in contempt for failing to pay certain expenses and also found Father in contempt for failure to pay child support. The court ordered that, in order to purge the contempt, Father was to pay not less than $50 monthly towards the child support arrearages and ordered that interest would not accrue on the delinquent amount as long as Father made the required payments. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Mother had a judgment on the child support arrears as they became due, and the district court’s order was in error to the extent it impeded Mother’s right to execute on the judgment; and (2) Mother was entitled to interest on the arrears. Remanded. View "Rambo v. Rambo" on Justia Law

By
The trial court entered a divorce decree between Mother and Father that incorporated an agreed parenting plan that did not designate a primary residential parent. After the divorce, Father spent the majority of the residential parenting time with the parties’ child. Father later filed a petition asking the trial court to modify the parenting plan to permit him to move with the child to Arizona because he had secured a job in an area where he and the child would live near family. After a trial, the trial court concluded that Father did not have a “reasonable purpose” for the relocation under Tennessee’s parental relocation statute, Tenn. Code Ann. 36-6-108. The court then entered a modified parenting plan designating Mother as the primary residential parent. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Webster v. Webster is overruled insofar as it misconstrued the meaning of the term “reasonable purpose” as used in the parental relocation statute; and (2) under the natural and ordinary meaning of the term “reasonable purpose,” Father stated a reasonable purpose for relocating with the parties’ child to Arizona, and Mother did not establish a ground for denying Father permission to relocate with the child. Remanded. View "Aragon v. Aragon" on Justia Law

By
Jason P., a sperm donor, sought to establish that he is a legal parent of a child conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) using his sperm, and that he is entitled to joint legal and physical custody of the child with the child’s mother, Danielle S. Jason and Danielle were involved in a romantic relationship. In this second appeal, Danielle challenged the family law court's finding that Jason is a presumed parent and the family law court's custody order. The court concluded that the family law court correctly applied the law governing presumed parentage, and its finding that Jason is a presumed parent was supported by substantial evidence; however, the family law court's award of joint custody was premature because it had not yet received evidence that Jason completed the requirements that court deemed necessary to rebut the Family Code section 3044 presumption; and thus the court affirmed the parentage finding, but conditionally reversed as to the award of custody. The court directed the family court on remand to determine and make findings as to whether Jason satisfied the conditions the family court deemed necessary to rebut the section 3044 presumption. View "Jason P. v. Danielle S." on Justia Law