Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

by
A mother sought to modify visitation between her child and the child’s father due to allegations of domestic violence between the father and his new romantic partner. On the day of the hearing, the father’s attorney withdrew, and a new attorney took over. The court allowed the substitution but denied the father’s request for a continuance. The hearing proceeded and continued six days later. The court found the father had committed five acts of domestic violence and was not engaged in a previously ordered domestic violence intervention program. Initially, the court declined to modify visitation but later temporarily suspended the father’s visitation pending his engagement with the intervention program.The Superior Court of Alaska, First Judicial District, Sitka, initially found both parents had a history of domestic violence but awarded the mother sole legal and primary physical custody. The father was granted supervised visitation, contingent on completing a domestic violence intervention program. The mother later moved to suspend the father’s visitation, citing new acts of domestic violence and his disengagement from the intervention program. The hearing was delayed due to the father’s noncompliance with discovery, and his attorney’s conflict of interest led to a last-minute substitution of counsel.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reviewed the case. It affirmed the lower court’s decisions, finding no clear error or abuse of discretion. The court held that the denial of the continuance was justified given the previous delays and the new attorney’s familiarity with related proceedings. The findings of domestic violence were supported by credible testimony, and the temporary suspension of visitation was warranted due to the father’s continued violent behavior and failure to engage in the intervention program. The court emphasized the best interests of the child and provided clear steps for the father to resume visitation. View "Adam F. v. Caitlin B." on Justia Law

by
Charles Joseph Burkard sued Tami Jo Burkard for divorce in 2012, and they agreed to share joint legal and physical custody of their two children, with Charles paying $1,000 per month in child support. In 2022, their daughter began living full-time with Tami, prompting Tami to seek a modification of child support. The child support referee calculated Charles's new obligation using a hybrid formula, resulting in a monthly payment of $1,465.58. Tami objected, arguing for a different calculation method.The Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Lincoln County, South Dakota, held a hearing and admitted new testimony from a child support referee, Tom Keller, over Tami's objections. The court ultimately adopted the referee's hybrid formula for calculating child support, despite Tami's argument that it did not align with statutory guidelines and inflated Charles's obligation.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota reviewed the case. It found that the circuit court erred in admitting Keller's testimony, as it violated SDCL 25-7A-22, which confines evidence to the record established before the referee. However, this error was deemed non-prejudicial because the circuit court's decision was based on the referee's initial report and recommendation.The Supreme Court held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in adopting the referee's child support calculation, as it was within a reasonable range of potential awards. However, due to discrepancies in the parties' stated income and health insurance amounts, the case was remanded for further calculations. The main holding affirmed the child support amount but required recalculations to address income discrepancies. View "Burkard v. Burkard" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a dispute over child support payments. Jeffery Williams, a former OB/GYN physician, was ordered by the District Court to pay $944 per child per month after it found him to be voluntarily underemployed. Williams had been earning a substantial income as a physician but was terminated from his position following a conviction for Partner/Family Member Assault. Instead of seeking further employment in the medical field, Williams decided to leave medicine and invested over $1,000,000 in two business ventures, one of which failed and the other was barely profitable. Williams appealed the District Court's decision, arguing that it was unfair to impute his previous income as a physician when determining his child support obligations.The District Court had initially ordered Williams to pay $1,110 per month in child support. However, after Williams was convicted of Partner/Family Member Assault and lost his job, the court increased the child support to $2,262 per month. Williams then requested a review of his child support obligations, and the Child Support Services Division proposed two alternative amounts based on different scenarios. The Administrative Law Judge found Williams to be voluntarily underemployed and proposed a reduction of his monthly child support obligation to $944.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that Williams was voluntarily underemployed and had made a personal choice to leave a highly-skilled field to start a business that would potentially earn him less than one-third of his prior salary. The court held that it was appropriate to impute Williams' prior income when determining his child support obligations, as he had not provided any reasonable alternative that would provide for his child's current needs. The court also rejected Williams' argument that the District Court had erred in applying relevant statutory and legal authority. View "In re Parenting of S.J.W." on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute between Amber Elizabeth McCay and David William McCay, who were married in 2016 and divorced in 2018. They have one minor child, for whom David was initially awarded primary residential responsibility. In 2019, Amber filed a motion for an ex parte interim order, alleging that David had a history of alcohol abuse and had been charged with child neglect. The court denied her motion, stating that David was "innocent until proven guilty." Later, David entered an Alford plea to a charge of reckless endangerment. In 2023, Amber moved to modify primary residential responsibility and requested to relocate the child from North Dakota to Nevada. The district court granted her motion, awarding her primary residential responsibility and permission to relocate the child to Nevada.The District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, found that Amber had established a prima facie case justifying modification and ordered an evidentiary hearing. Following the hearing, the court granted Amber's motion, awarding her primary residential responsibility and permission to relocate the child to Nevada. The court entered an amended judgment and parenting plan.David appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of North Dakota, challenging the court's findings on a material change in circumstances, best interest factors, the findings supporting relocation, and the findings related to the new parenting schedule. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, concluding that the findings supporting the material change in circumstances, best interest factors, relocation, and the modified parenting schedule were not clearly erroneous. The court found that David's conduct constituted a significant change of circumstances that required a change in custody. The court also found that the changes in circumstances adversely affected the child, requiring a change in custody to foster the child's best interests. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the district court's findings regarding the best interest factors and that the court's findings on the Stout-Hawkinson factors, which consider the potential negative impact of relocation on the child, were not clearly erroneous. The court denied Amber's request for attorney’s fees for defending against the appeal, concluding that David's appeal was neither flagrantly groundless nor devoid of merit. View "McCay v. McCay" on Justia Law

by
This case involves a mother, D.R., who appealed jurisdiction and disposition orders related to her six children, all of whom were adjudged dependents of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300. D.R. argued that the dependency petitions were deficient, some of the sustained jurisdictional allegations lacked substantial evidence, and her constitutional rights were violated by depriving her of her right to present additional evidence at the continued jurisdiction and disposition hearing for two of the children, and by what she characterized as a violation of her due process right to a speedy contested jurisdictional hearing.The children's fathers were not parties in this appeal. The children were born to three different fathers, referred to as father M., father V., and father H. The mother had been married to father H., but they separated after an incident of domestic violence. Father H. had a history of alcohol abuse and criminal offenses, mostly related to driving under the influence. The mother had sole legal and physical custody of the two children she had with father H., G.H. and B.H.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Two found that some of the juvenile court’s jurisdictional findings lacked the support of substantial evidence, requiring reversal of the jurisdictional and dispositional orders for four of the children. The court otherwise affirmed and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute over the Estate of Donelson C. Glassie. The plaintiff, Marcia Sallum Glassie, was married to Donelson C. Glassie, and they divorced in 1993. According to their property-settlement agreement, the testator was to execute a will that would treat his obligations under the agreement as a claim against his estate and bequest to the plaintiff an amount equal to said obligations. A dispute arose over what the agreement required of the testator’s will. In 1997, a Family Court justice determined that the plaintiff was entitled to a bequest of a sum equal to the testator’s obligations. The testator died in 2011, and the plaintiff filed a claim for $2,000,000 against the testator’s estate a year later, which the defendant disallowed.The case was previously reviewed by the Superior Court, which awarded the plaintiff $2,000,000, less the proceeds of a life insurance policy that she received upon the testator’s death and attorneys’ fees. However, this judgment was vacated by the Supreme Court on multiple grounds, including that the disputed provision in the will was ambiguous and required factfinding and conclusions of law with respect to the testator’s intent.In the current review by the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, the plaintiff argued that the trial justice made numerous prejudicial evidentiary rulings that prevented her from presenting her case. After reviewing the record and considering the parties’ arguments, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court found no error in the trial justice’s decisions to prevent the plaintiff from presenting evidence regarding a trust, to allow the defendant to withdraw certain admissions, to admit evidence of a life insurance policy, and to allow evidence of the defendant’s post-death conduct. The court also found that the plaintiff had not preserved her argument regarding the trial justice’s decision to prevent her from examining the defendant about his counterclaim. View "Glassie v. Doucette" on Justia Law

by
In this case, a couple, Joseph R. and his wife, sought to adopt the wife's two minor children and terminate the parental rights of the children's biological father. The mother had been granted sole parental rights and responsibilities in a 2016 divorce judgment, and the biological father, who resides in Scotland, had not had contact with the children or the mother since the divorce. The couple married in 2017 and filed their petitions for adoption, change of name, and termination of parental rights in the York County Probate Court in April 2023.The York County Probate Court dismissed the couple's petitions, concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to recent legislative changes. Specifically, the court cited the enactment of 19-A M.R.S. § 1658(1-A) in 2021, which it interpreted as giving exclusive jurisdiction to the District Court in cases involving one parent's attempt to terminate another parent's parental rights to a minor child. The couple appealed this decision.The Maine Supreme Judicial Court disagreed with the lower court's interpretation of the statute. The court noted that the Probate Court has exclusive jurisdiction over petitions for adoption and termination of parental rights proceedings brought pursuant to section 9-204. The court found that the language in section 1658(1-A) does not divest the Probate Court of subject matter jurisdiction in this matter. The court further examined the legislative history of section 1658 and concluded that section 1658(1-A) applies only to termination petitions brought pursuant to 19-A M.R.S. § 1658 and does not divest the Probate Court of its subject matter jurisdiction over termination petitions filed in conjunction with adoption proceedings under 18-C M.R.S. § 9-103. Therefore, the court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Adoption by Joseph R." on Justia Law

by
The case involves a mother, Brittany B., who appealed from juvenile court orders that found her two children, B.D. and C.D., to be persons described by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b), and placed them under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The juvenile court sustained a petition based on allegations that C.D. was born with a positive toxicology screen for opiates, and that the mother’s substance abuse placed both children at substantial risk of serious physical harm. The mother contended that the evidence was insufficient to support the court’s jurisdictional findings.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County had previously reversed the orders. The mother had tested positive for opiates during her pregnancy and at the time of C.D.'s birth. However, C.D. did not display any symptoms of withdrawal, and the mother was attentive to both children. The DCFS did not seek to detain the children, but it did open a case and seek court supervision.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Three agreed with the mother's contention and reversed the juvenile court's orders. The court found that while the mother had used prescription drugs during her pregnancy, there was no substantial evidence that the children had suffered or were at risk of suffering serious physical harm or illness as a result of the mother's substance abuse. The court also found that the mother's refusal to voluntarily submit to drug testing did not provide sufficient evidence of a substantial risk of harm to the children. The court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court's jurisdictional findings under section 300, subdivision (b). View "In re B.D." on Justia Law

by
Ian Simpson purchased a life insurance policy from Transamerica Life Insurance Company and named his then-fiancée, Holly Moore, as the primary beneficiary and his father, Jeffrey Simpson, as the contingent beneficiary. After Ian and Holly married and subsequently divorced, Ian died without changing the policy beneficiaries. The divorce decree stipulated that Holly was divested of all rights to Ian's life insurance policies. After Ian's death, both Holly and Jeffrey claimed the policy proceeds, leading Transamerica to file an interpleader action in federal court.The district court ruled in favor of Holly, holding that Texas Family Code § 9.301, which generally strips an ex-spouse of beneficiary interests in insurance policies after a divorce, only applies if the insured and the beneficiary were married when the insurance policy was purchased. The court reasoned that since the policy was purchased before Ian and Holly's marriage, Holly was not considered "the insured's spouse" at the time of the policy's inception, and therefore, the divorce decree did not divest her of the insurance proceeds.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment. The appellate court interpreted § 9.301 to focus on the marital relationship at the time of the divorce decree's rendition, regardless of when the insurance policy was purchased. The court held that since Holly was Ian's spouse at the time of the divorce decree, § 9.301 divested her of her beneficiary interest in the policy. Therefore, the court ruled in favor of Jeffrey Simpson, the contingent beneficiary. View "Simpson v. Moore" on Justia Law

by
The case involves a dispute over visitation rights between a mother and her three children, Anna, Chris, and Margaret. The Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had investigated the mother and the father of Anna for maintaining an injurious environment and neglecting the children through improper discipline. The parents admitted to forcing Margaret to stand in a corner for many hours, whipping her with a belt, and making her sleep on a bare floor. The trial court adjudicated Margaret as abused and neglected, and Anna and Chris as neglected. The mother had not entered a case plan with DHHS for reunification with any of her children by the time of the November 2019 disposition order.The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order, stating that the trial court improperly admitted some hearsay evidence. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court's reasoning was so heavily reliant on the hearsay evidence that the proper remedy was to vacate the trial court's order and remand for a new hearing with respect to Margaret. The Court of Appeals also ordered the trial court to dismiss the petitions directed at Margaret's younger siblings.The Supreme Court of North Carolina disagreed with the Court of Appeals' decision. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals had made numerous errors, including misstating the standard of review, requiring the trial court to make specific findings for each parent regarding unfitness or conduct inconsistent with their parental rights, and addressing the constitutional rights of respondents without any briefing or argument from the parties. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded the case directly to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re A.J.L.H., C.A.L.W., M.J.L.H." on Justia Law