Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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Mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights over her daughter, Charlotte V., on the ground the juvenile court failed to comply with the strict notice requirements specified in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq. A juvenile dependency petition alleged that Mother repeatedly rammed her car into Father's while Charlotte was sitting in the back seat of Mother's car; Mother also brandished a loaded handgun at Father; the handgun was within Charlotte's reach inside the car; Mother and Father wrestled for the handgun; and Father was arrested for concealing a firearm and Mother was arrested for child endangerment. The court concluded that the record contains substantial evidence of proper notice to the Blackfeet Nation where DCFS provided two notices by certified mail to the tribe containing information about Mother, Father, and Charlotte's grandmother and uncle; the Blackfeet Nation was given a copy of Mother's tribal identification card and number as well as information about Mother's time at the reservation and Charlotte's health care at a health clinic on the reservation; and, because Charlotte claims Indian ancestry from Mother, that information would be sufficient for meaningful review. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "In re Charlotte V." on Justia Law

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Respondent, mother of a minor child, appealed a circuit court order terminating her parental rights over the child. On appeal, she argued that the trial court erred by: (1) granting the petition brought by the petitioner, the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), to terminate her parental rights while the direct appeal of her underlying criminal conviction was pending; and (2) finding that termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the child. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the consequences of interpreting the termination statute to permit termination of the parent-child relationship while an appeal of the underlying judgment of conviction was pending was “troubling.” The lack of finality of a conviction that was being appealed raised the question whether DCYF satisfied the heightened requirement of proving the grounds for termination beyond a reasonable doubt. “Taking into consideration the interests of both parents and children that are at stake in termination proceedings, and the heightened standards we apply to such proceedings, we concluded that the legislature intended the terms ‘convicted’ and ‘conviction’ as used in RSA 169-C:24-a, I, and RSA 170-C:5, VI and VII, to mean an affirmance of guilt following a direct appeal as of right to [the Supreme Court] that raises an issue of innocence or guilt.” Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it terminated the mother’s parental rights while her direct appeal of the conviction that formed the statutory ground for the termination was pending. View "In re S.T." on Justia Law

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In 2011, the district court issued a parental rights and responsibilities judgment pertaining to the minor child of Mother and Father. The judgment granted primary physical residence to Father and mode provisions for Mother’s continued contact with the child. After Father purposefully misled Mother about the child’s location and Mother was unable to see the child for over five months, Mother filed a motion to modify the order. The district court granted the motion and changed the child’s primary residence to being with Mother. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a modification of the parental rights and responsibilities order was in the child’s best interest. View "Clark v. Leeman" on Justia Law

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The trial court terminated the parental rights of Father to his child. The trial court filed the memorandum of decision terminating Father’s parental rights approximately two weeks after publication of the Supreme Court’s decision in In re Yasiel R. The Appellate Court reversed, concluding that the trial court’s failure to canvass Father prior to the commencement of the trial in accordance with the rule promulgated pursuant to the exercise of the Supreme Court’s supervisory authority in In re Yasiel R. applies retroactively to the present case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that applying the canvass rule announced in In re Yasiel R. to the instant case would exceed the scope of the exercise of the Court’s supervisory authority in that case. View "In re Daniel N." on Justia Law

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Clifford George and Jacquelyn George divorced in 2002. In 2013, Clifford filed a complaint seeking to modify his alimony obligation based on Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 49(b), part of the Alimony Reform Act, which became effective nearly ten years after the parties’ divorce. Section 49(b) provides that general term alimony for certain marriages shall not continue for longer than seventy percent of the number of months of the marriage. A judge can deviate from the durational limit where doing so is required in the interests of justice, and the Act provides a schedule for when complaints for modification based on the new durational limits can be brought for alimony obligations that predated the effective date of the Act. The probate and family court judge denied Clifford’s complaint for modification, finding that deviation beyond the durational limits of the Act was warranted. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed on other grounds, holding that Clifford’s complaint was filed prematurely. View "George v. George" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the district court entered a decree dissolving the marriage of John and Emily Brown. The decree incorporated by reference a separation agreement that provided a parenting plan and child support for the parties’ daughter. The parenting plan designated Emily as the primary parent. In 2014, John filed a motion to modify his child support obligation, claiming that his income and financial circumstances had changed significantly. The next year, John filed a motion to amend the parenting plan seeking increased visitation. The district court denied John’s motions without holding a hearing, concluding that John had not shown a substantial change in circumstances or provided a basis for modifying his child support obligations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying John’s motions to modify child support and amend the parenting plan without a hearing; and (2) Emily was not entitled to attorney’s fees associated with the appeal. View "In re Marriage of Brown" on Justia Law

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The children, ages two and four, were detained after their parents‘ residence was raided by the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force. Both parents allegedly had substance abuse problems. Father was in Mendocino County jail. Months later, the court ordered the children to be returned to Mother under a family maintenance plan. Weeks later, Mother was arrested in another raid; drug paraphernalia and honey oil were found within the children‘s reach. The children were detained. Father‘s reunification services were later terminated for lack of compliance. Mother’s services were terminated for lack of compliance and inability to have the children returned to her by the 12-month review. Over mother‘s objection, visitation was later terminated, due to distance. The court eventually terminated parental rights. The parents appealed, arguing failure to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901. The minors‘ possible Wailaki Native American ancestry was first noted in the initial petition. Father‘s attorney informed the court that Father had provided to the social worker a completed ICWA-020 form indicating he had both Wailaki and Pomo heritage. The court of appeal reversed the termination of parental rights. Not all of the Pomo Indian Bands were noticed. View "In re: O.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a discretionary appeal of a superior court’s orders setting aside, in part, a final judgment and decree of divorce, and amending the final judgment of divorce. After a proceeding in which Wife was held in contempt, she filed in late 2013, a motion to set aside the March 2009 judgment and decree claiming, inter alia, that in his 2008 financial affidavit, Husband failed to disclose his interest in certain real properties. Husband opposed the motion to set aside, contending that the three-year statute of limitations barred any such claim under OCGA 9-11-60 (f). The trial court held that the three-year “statute of limitations” of OCGA 9-11-60 (f) was tolled until Wife became aware that Husband possessed certain previously undisclosed funds. However, the Supreme Court found that motion to set aside the judgment under OCGA 9–11–60 (d) was filed more than three years after the 2009 judgment. Because the motion to set aside the judgment was filed outside he exclusive time limitation for such a motion, the trial court’s order setting aside the judgment, as well as its subsequent order, was reversed. View "Myles v. Myles" on Justia Law

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In 2006, appellant Carla Christian and appellee Ben Christian, Jr. signed a Separation Agreement. The agreement was approved by a trial court in 2008. Carla filed a complaint for divorce in 2013. By October 2014, she moved for partial summary judgment, asking the trial court to rule that Paragraph VII of the Agreement entitled her to one-half of Ben’s retirement, 401(k) and other employment benefits as valued on the date of divorce. In early 2015, the trial court denied the motion, calling it an attempt to replace an “or” with an “and” in the language of the Separation Agreement. The trial court found no ambiguity in Paragraph VII and did not consider any parol evidence Carla sought to introduce to explain the paragraph further. The court later reconsidered its prior holding, and ruled that Carla was entitled to one-half of Ben’s 401(k) and retirement pension plan or one-half of his other employment benefits. Months later, the court issued a “clarifying” order, holding that Carla was “entitled to choose from the 401(k) or other employment benefits.” Carla appealed once the final divorce decree was entered. The Supreme Court reversed in part, vacated in part and affirmed in part. The Court reversed the trial court’s ruling that the date of valuation under Paragraph VII was the date of the Separation Agreement rather than the date of the divorce. The Court vacated the trial court’s ruling that the Paragraph was unambiguous “as a matter of law,” because it found two viable interpretations of it. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Christian v. Christian" on Justia Law

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Appellants were the adoptive parents of Katherine, who was an older sibling of Nettie, the child who was the subject of this juvenile dependency proceeding. Appellants filed a complaint seeking to intervene on Katherine’s behalf to seek guardianship or adoption of Nettie. The court ultimately limited Nettie’s foster parents and Appellants to presenting evidence on their own qualifications to be Nettie’s adoptive parents. The juvenile court determined, after a hearing, that Nettie’s foster parents and Appellants were equally qualified to be foster parents but that it was in Nettie’s best interests to be placed with her foster parents because a joint-sibling placement with Appellants would be contrary to Nettie’s safety and well being. Appellants appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that Appellants had no right to appeal the court’s order on Katherine’s behalf, and therefore, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over Appellants’ purported appeal. View "In re Interest of Nettie F." on Justia Law