Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries
Marriage of Maher and Strawn
David Maher appealed the judgment of dissolution of his marriage with Laurie Strawn. He primarily contended there was insufficient evidence to impute income to him and to step down the spousal support he received. In determining Laurie’s ability to pay David support, the court took into account numerous circumstances, including that Laurie was spending about $3,000 per month for their adult son’s college expenses. The question this case posed was whether the court could properly consider that expense in determining her ability to pay spousal support. The trial court determined that the "better reasoned cases" indicate that the court has discretion to consider an adult child’s college expenses like any other expenditure of discretionary income. "The ultimate question in determining ability to pay is whether the expense is reasonable and will result in a just and equitable award of spousal support." The main argument to the contrary was that supporting an adult child reduces the supporting spouse’s available funds to pay spousal support. "The supported spouse, so the argument goes, is in effect being compelled to pay adult child support, which the law prohibits." The Court of Appeal found that both In re Marriage of Epstein 24 Cal.3d 76 (1979) and section Family Code 4320 compelled the conclusion that a trial court may appropriately consider a supporting spouse’s payment of adult children’s college expenses in determining ability to pay spousal support. With no reversible error, the Court affirmed the trial court's support order. View "Marriage of Maher and Strawn" on Justia Law
A.M. v. Superior Court
By petition for writ of mandate A.M. (Mother) challenged the family court’s ruling subjecting her and her child (Minor) to its continued jurisdiction to adjudicate the paternal grandparents’ petition for visitation. Mother’s husband and father of her child died tragically in October 2018 while performing his job trimming trees. In 2019, father’s parents, R.M. and E.M. (Grandparents), filed a petition requesting visitation with Minor under Family Code section 3103. Concurrently with the petition, Grandparents filed a jurisdictional declaration in accordance with the UCCJEA stating Minor had lived in San Diego since birth in November 2015. Before any action on the petition, on January 31, 2019, Mother filed an ex parte application for an order allowing her and her child to move from San Diego to Washington state to be near Mother’s parents and other close family members. The family court denied the application on the ground it was “not an emergency.” The Court of Appeal agreed with mother that writ relief was warranted in this case, and issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the court to vacate its October 22, 2020 order and enter a new order dismissing the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (1997). View "A.M. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
In re A.T.
The juvenile court asserted emergency jurisdiction over seven-year-old A.T., whose mentally ill mother had taken him from Washington state to California in violation of Washington family court orders. The court detained A.T., placed him temporarily with his father in Washington, and initiated contact with the Washington family court to address which state had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In the meantime, the Wiyot Tribe intervened and, with A.T.’s mother asserted Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required the court to retain jurisdiction in California.The juvenile court determined ICWA was inapplicable and that the Washington family court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and dismissed the dependency action in favor of the family court proceedings in Washington. The court of appeal affirmed. The juvenile court properly applied the UCCJEA and dismissed the dependency action in favor of family court proceedings in Washington state after finding ICWA inapplicable because the child had been placed with his non-offending parent. ICWA and the related California statutory scheme expressly focus on the removal of Indian children from their homes and parents and placement in foster or adoptive homes. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law
Interest of J.O.
K.M.E. appealed an order extending a guardianship over her biological child J.O. L.O. and S.O. were granted guardianship of J.O. and his stepsister, I.E. L.O. and S.O. were J.O.’s maternal grandparents. K.M.E. was J.O.’s biological mother, and her husband, K.R.E., was J.O.’s stepfather and I.E.’s biological father. Before the petition for guardianship was filed, K.M.E. and K.R.E. left J.O. in the care of L.O. and S.O. “for an indefinite period of time” and did not make plans to resume physical custody. The juvenile court noted K.M.E. and K.R.E. “failed to provide food, shelter, and medical attention to adequately provide for the minor child’s needs since June 1, 2017.” The court took judicial notice of four pending criminal matters with pending bench warrants against K.M.E. and four more against her husband. The court suspended K.M.E.’s rights of custody over J.O. “due to her lack of stability, pending criminal charges, and inability to properly care for and nurture the minor child and to provide a stable living environment.” The court appointed L.O. and S.O. as guardians over J.O. for an unlimited duration under N.D.C.C. 27-20-36. At the same time, L.O. and S.O. sought guardianship and were appointed guardians of I.E. I.E. later returned to K.M.E. and K.R.E.’s home. After K.R.E. petitioned the juvenile court and L.O. and S.O. did not object in the related case, the guardianship over I.E. was terminated. However, with regard to the petition to terminate the guardianship for J.O., at a hearing, J.O. stated he did not want contact with his mother, and wanted to continue living with L.O. and S.O. The court ultimately found K.M.E. did not meet her burden of presenting evidence the circumstances that lead to the guardianship no longer existed. Accordingly, the petition to terminate was denied. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in extending J.O.'s guardianship; judgment was affirmed. View "Interest of J.O." on Justia Law
In the Matter of Jonathan & Lea Merrill
Petitioner Jonathan Merrill appealed a circuit court's final divorce decree, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) including the assets of a spendthrift trust in the marital estate; (2) excluding from the marital estate assets owned by respondent Lea Merrill, and her mother as joint tenants; and (3) incorporating parts of the temporary order into the final decree. After review of the circuit court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded: (1) the circuit court erred in including certain trust assets which erroneously increased the value of the marital estate; (2) respondent’s mother’s condominium was not marital property; and (3) because of the error including certain assets in the martial estate, the incorporation of the temporary order into the final decree had to be vacated: "because the trial court did not consider these expenses in isolation, but rather considered these figures in its equitable division of the marital estate." View "In the Matter of Jonathan & Lea Merrill" on Justia Law
In re Rashad D.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Mother's appeal of the juvenile court's declaration that her son is a dependent child of the court after sustaining an amended petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1). The court concluded that Mother is correct that termination of dependency jurisdiction does not necessarily moot an appeal from a jurisdiction finding that directly results in an adverse juvenile custody order. However, the court explained that in most cases, including the one at bar, for the court to be able to provide effective relief, the parent must appeal not only from the jurisdiction finding and disposition order but also from the orders terminating jurisdiction and modifying the parent's prior custody status. Therefore, without the second appeal, the court cannot correct the continuing adverse consequences of the allegedly erroneous jurisdiction finding. In regard to Mother's alternative contention, the court concluded that this case does not present an issue of broad public interest. View "In re Rashad D." on Justia Law
In re E.F.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) in this juvenile case, holding that where the prosecutor has not given advance notice and has not made an adequate showing to justify the lack of notice, the court must give sufficient time for counsel and the minor to prepare and respond to the application before any order is issued.At issue was whether a juvenile court may, when a minor is the subject of a juvenile wardship petition, issue a TRO notice under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 213.5, subdivision (b) without advance notice to the minor. The Supreme Court held (1) section 213.5, subdivision (b) incorporates the notice requirements set forth in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 527, subdivision (c); and (2) because no notice was provided before the hearing in this case, the juvenile court's issuance of the TRO exceeded its authority under section 213.5. View "In re E.F." on Justia Law
Coffield v. Robinson
The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court in favor of Plaintiff in this case alleging that Defendant fraudulently and intentionally concealed for more than a decade the fact that Plaintiff was the father of Defendant's child, holding that summary judgment should have been granted in favor of Defendant.In her motion for summary judgment, Defendant argued that Plaintiff's claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The circuit court concluded that Plaintiff had waived her statute of limitations defense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred in concluding that Defendant had waived her defense based on the statute of limitations; and (2) Plaintiff's claims were barred by the relevant statute of limitations. View "Coffield v. Robinson" on Justia Law
In re G.B.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to their two minor children and Mother's parental rights to a daughter from a previous relationship, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in terminating the parents' parental rights.After a hearing, the trial court found the existence of three grounds to terminate the parental rights of the parents and that termination of both parents' parental rights was in the best interests of the children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court (1) properly adjudicated at least one ground for termination; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination of the parents' parental rights was in the best interests of the children. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law
Kerr v. Kerr
The chancery court granted divorce to William Jack ("BJ") Kerr on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and its award of joint custody of the minor child, WHK. India Kerr argued the chancellor erred by granting her ex-husband's petition for divorce and not her own. She also sought an amendment to the custody award, arguing the chancellor's Albright analysis was incorrect. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's judgment. View "Kerr v. Kerr" on Justia Law