Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves a dispute over parental rights and responsibilities between a mother and father who filed for divorce. The couple, who married in Vermont in 2006 and had two children, moved to California in 2008. The mother was the primary caregiver, while the father was actively involved in the children's lives. In 2016, they moved back to Vermont. In 2021, due to financial strain and dissatisfaction with his job, the father wanted to move back to California. The mother agreed to look for work in California, but did not commit to staying there. By August 2021, neither party had found work and the mother returned to Vermont with the children. The father returned to Vermont in the fall but moved back to California in the spring of 2022 without informing the mother of his intention to move permanently.The Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Family Division, found that the father's attempt to move the family to California constituted abuse within the statutory meaning, as it risked and actually caused harm to the psychological growth, development, and welfare of the children. The court awarded the mother sole legal and primary physical rights and responsibilities, subject to a parent-child contact schedule that gave the father approximately equal time with the children. The father appealed this decision.The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the father that the finding of abuse was clearly erroneous and struck that finding. However, the court affirmed the rest of the order, stating that the remaining findings were sufficient to support the award of parental rights and responsibilities to the mother. The court found that both parents were able to provide the children with love and guidance and meet their material and developmental needs. However, the court also found that the father had a tendency to be controlling and belittling toward the mother and expressed concern that if the father were given the power to make legal decisions for the children, he might have difficulty putting their interests ahead of his own or supporting the mother's relationship with them. View "Centeno v. Centeno" on Justia Law

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The case involves Rachel Goldstein and James Sabatino, who had a two-year relationship in Massachusetts that ended in 2017. In March 2020, Sabatino began contacting Goldstein, informing her that he had found sexually explicit photos and conversations on a cell phone she had loaned him during their relationship. Despite Goldstein's request for Sabatino to return the phone, he refused. Goldstein became concerned that Sabatino would use these texts and images to control her and ruin her career. In May 2020, a Massachusetts court granted Goldstein a protective order against Sabatino, which he violated, leading to his arrest. In June, the Massachusetts court extended the protective order for another six months. The same month, Goldstein moved to Harris County, Texas. While the Massachusetts protective order was still in effect, Sabatino began filing small-claims lawsuits in Massachusetts against Goldstein. In October 2020, Goldstein filed an application for a protective order against Sabatino in Harris County.The district court in Harris County issued a protective order against Sabatino, a Massachusetts resident, based on conduct that occurred entirely within Massachusetts. Sabatino appealed, challenging the district court's personal jurisdiction over him and its subject matter jurisdiction over the proceeding. The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas vacated the order and dismissed the case, holding that the district court lacked territorial jurisdiction—a purportedly nonwaivable, third jurisdictional requirement. The court of appeals did not address personal jurisdiction.The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the court of appeals’ territorial jurisdiction analysis, but agreed with Sabatino that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. The court held that territorial jurisdiction is not an independent jurisdictional requirement in Chapter 7B protective-order proceedings. The court also held that Sabatino did not enter a general appearance, and thus did not waive his challenge to the district court's personal jurisdiction. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Texas affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment vacating the protective order and dismissing the case. View "GOLDSTEIN v. SABATINO" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Abel Gomez Medina, who was convicted of sexual abuse and indecent contact with a minor. The minor, identified as Dorothy, was his stepdaughter. She reported the abuse to her school counselor, stating that it had been ongoing since she was eleven years old. Dorothy's stepbrother, Frank, also testified that he had witnessed inappropriate behavior between Medina and Dorothy. The defense presented witnesses who claimed they had never seen anything inappropriate between Medina and Dorothy.Prior to the trial, the State moved to permit Dorothy and Frank to testify via closed-circuit television, citing the potential trauma caused by in-person testimony. The district court granted this for Dorothy but denied it for Frank. During the trial, Dorothy turned eighteen and Medina objected to her continuing to testify via closed-circuit television, arguing that the statute permitting such testimony only applied to minors. The district court overruled this objection, citing a different paragraph of the statute that allowed for closed-circuit testimony for victims or witnesses with mental illnesses, regardless of age.Medina appealed his conviction, arguing that allowing Dorothy to testify via closed-circuit television violated both the Iowa Code and the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. The court of appeals affirmed Medina's convictions, holding that permitting Dorothy’s closed-circuit testimony satisfied constitutional requirements while she was a minor, and that by meeting the requirements under Iowa Code after she turned eighteen, Medina’s claim of a Confrontation Clause violation similarly failed. Medina then filed an application for further review of the court of appeals ruling, which was granted by the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. It concluded that Medina had failed to preserve error on his Confrontation Clause argument concerning Dorothy’s testimony after she turned eighteen. The court also found that the district court had properly applied the statute to permit Dorothy’s closed-circuit testimony, based on the evidence presented at the pretrial hearing. The court let the court of appeals decision stand on Medina's arguments that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the prosecutor to comment during closing argument and by excluding 911 call logs. View "State v. Medina" on Justia Law

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In a marital dissolution case, the Nebraska Supreme Court reviewed the division of assets, alimony, attorney fees, and other matters. The couple, Clint and Lisa Seemann, had a premarital agreement that classified certain assets as marital or nonmarital. The court found that the appreciation of certain assets, such as a membership interest in a limited liability company (LLC) and carpet and tile, should have been included in the marital estate. The court also found that Lisa's retirement accounts were overvalued and that the value of Clint D. Seemann, P.C. should have been included in the marital estate.The court affirmed the lower court's decision in part, but reversed the division of the marital estate and remanded the case for a new equitable division of the marital estate. The court also modified the decree to require Clint to pay a larger amount towards a line of credit debt. The court affirmed the lower court's decision on alimony, attorney fees, and other matters.The court's decision was based on a de novo review of the record, and it made independent factual determinations based on the record. The court also considered the parties' premarital agreement and the general rule that a spouse should be awarded one-third to one-half of the marital estate. The court did not find any abuse of discretion by the lower court in its determinations regarding alimony, attorney fees, and other matters. View "Seemann v. Seemann" on Justia Law

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The case involves a mother, M.L., who has a history of substance abuse and involvement with the Department of Human Services (DHS). She has four children, all of whom have been affected by her substance abuse. The case at hand pertains to her fourth child, H.T., who was born drug-addicted. After H.T.'s birth, the court transferred his custody to DHS, which placed him with his father's relatives. M.L. was granted a disposition that allowed her to retain her parental rights while H.T. remained in the physical and legal custody of his father, D.T. However, D.T. died of a drug overdose, leaving H.T. without a legal guardian.The Circuit Court of Marion County had previously granted M.L. a disposition that allowed her to retain her parental rights while H.T. remained in the physical and legal custody of his father. After D.T.'s death, M.L., acting as a self-represented litigant, filed a motion to modify disposition to regain custody of H.T. However, the court found that M.L. had not shown a material change in circumstances warranting a less restrictive alternative than the previous disposition.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that M.L. had a long history of substance abuse and had exhausted all improvement periods and services available to her. Despite her claims of sobriety, she continued to test positive for drugs. The court concluded that there was no reasonable likelihood that the conditions of abuse and neglect could be corrected in the near future and that it was in H.T.'s best interest to terminate M.L.'s parental rights. View "In re H.T." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the custody of three children, Kelly, Amy, and Matt, who were taken into nonsecure custody by the Vance County Department of Social Services (DSS) due to their parents' issues with homelessness, mental health, and domestic violence. The children were initially placed in foster care and later with their paternal great aunt (Great Aunt). The trial court ordered an investigation into the possibility of placing the children with their maternal grandmother (Grandmother) who lived in Georgia. However, DSS did not initiate the out-of-state home study on Grandmother until November 2021, despite the court's order in February 2019.The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision to grant guardianship to Great Aunt, concluding that there was no obligation under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) for a home study to be completed to rule out an out-of-state relative as a placement option. The Court of Appeals also vacated the order in part and remanded for reconsideration of the mother's visitation rights.The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court held that trial courts are not necessarily required to wait on completion of a home study to rule out the placement with an out-of-state relative if the trial court concludes that an in-state relative is willing and able to provide proper care and supervision and the placement is in the best interest of the children. However, the court noted that in some scenarios, the best-interest determination may require the completion of an ICPC home study before the trial court can make a placement. The court also clarified that the ICPC does apply to an order granting guardianship to out-of-state grandparents. View "In re: K.B., A.M.H., M.S.H" on Justia Law

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The case involves Russell Patrick Benedict, who was convicted of sexually abusing his sixteen-year-old daughter, AB. During the investigation, Benedict's cellphone was seized, and a warrant was obtained to search its contents. However, the phone's contents were never searched as Benedict claimed he could not remember the passcode. After his conviction, Benedict filed a motion for the return of his and AB's cellphones. The State objected to the return of Benedict's phone, suspecting it contained nude photos of AB, which would constitute child pornography. The district court denied Benedict's motion without taking evidence on it, leading to an appeal.The State conceded that the district court should have received evidence before ruling on Benedict's motion and requested a reversal and remand for the district court to receive evidence. The Supreme Court of Wyoming granted the State's motion and ordered the matter to be remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on Benedict's motion.The district court held the evidentiary hearing, during which the State argued against the return of Benedict's cellphone based on its earlier assertion that it likely contained child pornography. The district court found that the State had an interest in preventing the dissemination of child pornography and in preventing further trauma to AB. It concluded that the State had an interest in retaining Benedict's phone and denied Benedict's motion for its return. Benedict appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the district court's decision, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the State had met its burden of proving an interest in retaining Benedict's cellphone. View "Benedict v. State" on Justia Law

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This case involves a marital dissolution proceeding between Monique Covington Moore and Charles Moore. During the discovery process, Covington served deposition subpoenas for the production of business records on nonparties Rocket Lawyer, Inc. and Acendi Interactive Company, LLC. Both companies objected and refused to comply with most of the subpoenas’ demands. Covington then filed a motion to compel their compliance. The trial court granted the motion in substantial part and ordered each company to pay Covington $25,000 in monetary sanctions. The companies appealed, raising several claims of error regarding the trial court’s rulings.The trial court had found that Rocket Lawyer and Acendi did not act with the requisite substantial justification in resisting the subpoenas. The court ordered them to comply with most of the document demands, subject to a protective order, and imposed monetary sanctions. The companies appealed, arguing that Covington’s motion was untimely, that her attempts to meet and confer were insufficient, and that the monetary sanctions were unreasonable, among other issues.The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District Division Three affirmed the trial court’s rulings in most respects. However, it agreed with the companies that the fees and costs Covington incurred in mediation as meet and confer attempts after her discovery motions were already filed were not compensable as discovery sanctions. The court reversed the orders in part and remanded for redetermination of the sanctions awards. View "In re Marriage of Moore" on Justia Law

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Danielle LeFebvre was convicted of first-degree child abuse after her seven-week-old son suffered life-threatening injuries. LeFebvre claimed that her son's injuries were accidental, resulting from a fall from her bed. However, medical examinations revealed complex skull fractures, brain contusions, and rib fractures consistent with abuse. LeFebvre was sentenced to twenty years in prison, with eighteen years to serve and the balance suspended, with probation. She appealed her conviction, but it was affirmed.LeFebvre then filed an application for postconviction relief, arguing that she was deprived of effective assistance of counsel. She claimed her trial counsel failed to consult and present a medical expert at trial and disclosed harmful information to the prosecution. The Superior Court denied her application, finding that her counsel's decision to disclose her medical records was a tactical one and that the absence of expert testimony did not deprive LeFebvre of effective assistance of counsel.LeFebvre appealed to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, which affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found that while the disclosure of LeFebvre's medical records was objectively unreasonable, it did not deprive her of a fair trial given the overwhelming evidence of her guilt. The court also found that the failure to consult and present an expert at trial did not satisfy the criteria for ineffective assistance of counsel. View "LeFebvre v. State" on Justia Law

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Jamie Pacheco filed a divorce case against her then-husband, Kevin Pacheco, in 2015. She was represented by Jeffrey Bennett, Esq., and his firm, Legal-Ease, LLC, P.A. During the divorce proceedings, Bennett voluntarily produced to Kevin's counsel, Libby, O’Brien, Kingsley, and Champion, LLC, the complete counseling session notes of Jamie’s therapist, Sandra Falsey, with one redacted line. Libby later subpoenaed Falsey without notifying Bennett and obtained her complete counseling records related to Jamie, including the unredacted therapy notes. After the divorce proceedings concluded, Jamie, still represented by Bennett, filed an action against Libby asserting claims of abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) based on Libby obtaining Falsey’s unredacted therapy notes and disclosing them to Kevin.The Superior Court (Androscoggin County, Stewart, J.) had previously granted a motion to dismiss Jamie’s tort complaint. However, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court partially vacated the dismissal, leaving Jamie’s claims of abuse of process and IIED in dispute. Later, Libby filed a motion to disqualify Bennett, asserting that Bennett’s continued representation of Jamie would violate Maine Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7 and prejudice Libby. The Superior Court granted Libby’s motion, finding that Bennett is likely to be a necessary witness on several topics related to the case.On appeal, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Bennett's actions or inactions in the treatment and disclosure of Jamie’s psychotherapy records were central to Jamie’s case, and Bennett alone had this knowledge, making his testimony relevant, material, and unobtainable from other sources. The court also found that there were sound bases in the record for the lower court’s conclusion that there would be actual prejudice in allowing Bennett to continue representing Jamie. View "Pacheco v. Libby, O'Brien, Kingsley and Champion, LLC" on Justia Law