Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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Brennan Grubb was convicted of sexually abusing a minor, which resulted in severe emotional trauma for the young boy. The boy's mother, a teacher, resigned from her job to care for her son. Grubb pleaded guilty to the charges and was ordered by the superior court to pay restitution, including compensation for the mother's future lost wages and benefits. Grubb appealed the restitution order, arguing that his criminal conduct was not the proximate cause of the mother's future lost wages and benefits. The court of appeals agreed with Grubb and vacated the restitution order.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the decision of the court of appeals. The court held that the mother's resignation from her teaching position was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Grubb's criminal conduct. The court remanded the case to the court of appeals for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The court emphasized that the legislature has steadily expanded the rights of crime victims to obtain restitution and that the statutory right to restitution must factor into the proximate cause analysis. The court also noted that the statutory definition of "victim" necessarily affects the proximate cause analysis. The court concluded that it was error to hold as a matter of law that Grubb's conduct could not be the proximate cause of the mother's future lost wages and benefits. View "State v. Grubb" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Sabrina Dunn, who was charged with murder after shooting her ex-husband, Bill Dunn, in her home. The couple had a history of domestic disputes, with Bill exhibiting erratic and abusive behavior, leading Sabrina to obtain multiple protective orders against him. Despite these orders, Bill continued to harass Sabrina, often breaking into her home. On the day of the incident, Bill entered Sabrina's home uninvited, carrying knives. Fearing for her life, Sabrina shot and killed him.The trial court instructed the jury that the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sabrina did not act in self-defense “and/or” in defense of her dwelling. Sabrina was found guilty of murder and sentenced to a maximum term of sixty-five years. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction but revised the sentence to fifty-five years with five years suspended.The Indiana Supreme Court, however, found that the use of “and/or” in the jury instructions was ambiguous and potentially misleading. The court noted that the jury needed to understand that the State had to prove that Sabrina did not act in either self-defense or in defense of her dwelling. The ambiguous instructions, the court concluded, could have led the jury to believe that the State only needed to disprove one of these defenses, not both. Given the strength of Sabrina's defense-of-dwelling claim, the court found a serious risk that she was wrongly convicted. As a result, the court vacated Sabrina's murder conviction and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Dunn v. State" on Justia Law

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The case involves a divorce proceeding initiated by Jolene K. Makuch against John Makuch III in the Geauga County Common Pleas Court. Jolene represented herself, stating she could not afford representation. After the trial, the magistrate noted that Jolene had failed to provide evidence regarding the division of marital property, spousal or child support, or attorney fees. The magistrate ordered a hearing for the parties to present additional evidence on these matters. John objected to the magistrate's decision, challenging the order for a hearing to present additional evidence.The Common Pleas Court, presided over by Judge Carolyn J. Paschke, overruled John's objections and adopted the magistrate's decision. The court noted that the parties had failed to present sufficient evidence at trial regarding the nature, extent, and value of the marital property, their income, and debts. The court set a future hearing date for the parties to present complete evidence on these matters. John appealed this decision to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals.The Court of Appeals dismissed John's appeal for lack of jurisdiction, determining that Judge Paschke's entry was not a final order under R.C. 2505.02(B). The court explained that in a divorce action, no final appealable order exists until all issues relating to property division, support, and parental rights and responsibilities have been addressed. John then appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio.The Supreme Court of Ohio declined to accept jurisdiction in this discretionary appeal filed on behalf of John. The court found the appeal to be frivolous, as it was neither warranted by existing law nor supported by a good-faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law. The court denied John's motions for clarification and for leave to file a supplemental brief. The court also declined to impose sanctions on John's counsel, who had previously been declared to be vexatious litigators. View "Makuch v. Makuch" on Justia Law

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The case involves T.S. (Mother) and A.A. (Father) who appealed the termination of their parental rights to their minor children (D.A., L.A., and F.A.) by the Montana Second Judicial District Court. The Child and Family Services Division of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (Department) became involved with the family in August 2019 when two of the children were found wandering the streets unsupervised. The Department had previously been involved with the family due to allegations of child abuse or neglect. In August 2019, the Department removed the children from the parents' care and placed them in a protective kinship placement. The parents were given treatment plans to follow for potential reunification with their children.Despite multiple extensions to complete their treatment plans, neither parent had successfully completed all requirements by January 2022. As a result, the Department transitioned to court-ordered guardianships as the new permanency plan for the children. In March 2022, the Department petitioned for termination of parental rights due to the parents' failure to complete their treatment plans and their inability to provide adequate parental care. The District Court issued judgments terminating the parents' respective parental rights.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the District Court's findings of fact were supported by substantial evidence and that the parents had failed to demonstrate that any material District Court finding of fact was clearly erroneous. The court also held that the District Court did not terminate the parents' respective parental rights without clear and convincing evidence that the Department made reasonable family preservation and reunification efforts. The court concluded that the District Court correctly terminated the parents' respective parental rights under § 41-3-609(1)(f), MCA. View "In re F.A." on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Keisha Kemmet and Lindell Kemmet, who were married in September 2016 and separated in June 2021. The main issues in the case revolve around the distribution of marital property following their divorce. Keisha Kemmet argues that the district court's distribution of marital property was not equitable, the court's valuation of land was clearly erroneous, and the court's computations contain errors. Lindell Kemmet cross-appeals, arguing that the court's valuations of his remainder interest in his family's homestead, personal property items, and his dental practice were clearly erroneous. He also argues that the distribution of marital property is not equitable, the provision regarding health insurance is ambiguous, and the court abused its discretion by failing to allow for cross-examination of Keisha Kemmet’s expert witness.The district court had valued the parties' property and debts and made an equitable distribution. Both parties presented testimony regarding the valuation of the land and the dental practice. The district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment and judgment. Both parties appealed.The Supreme Court of North Dakota found that the district court's valuation of the Kidder County property and the dental practice was not clearly erroneous. The court's valuations of these items were within the range of the evidence presented. However, the court's execution of the distribution created confusion and required clarification. The Supreme Court remanded the issue for proper accounting of the distribution of the marital estate. The court also found that the district court's finding of an equitable distribution of 40% to Keisha Kemmet in a short-term marriage was not clearly erroneous. The court's findings and distributions were supported by the record. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in all other respects, except for the court's findings regarding the valuation and distribution of the Kidder County property, which must be clarified and its distributions reconsidered. View "Kemmet v. Kemmet" on Justia Law

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The case involves Laura Cote and Adam Cote, who were divorced in November 2022. The divorce agreement prohibited exposing their children to felons and known sex offenders. However, Laura Cote began dating Steven Alexander, a convicted sex offender, in August 2022. In April 2023, Adam Cote filed a motion to modify residential responsibility and sought a contempt sanction against Laura Cote for violating the terms of the judgment by allowing Alexander to be around the children. He also filed a motion to compel discovery seeking communications between Laura Cote and Alexander and Laura Cote’s bank statements.The District Court of Ward County found Laura Cote in contempt of court for allowing and encouraging contact between the children and Alexander. However, the court denied Adam Cote’s motion for primary residential responsibility, deeming it an "extreme remedy." Instead, the court ordered that the children have no contact with Alexander and warned Laura Cote of significant consequences for non-compliance. The court also denied Adam Cote’s motion to compel discovery.In the Supreme Court of North Dakota, Adam Cote appealed the district court's orders denying his motion to modify residential responsibility and motion to compel discovery. Laura Cote cross-appealed the order finding her in contempt of court. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision in part, agreeing that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Adam Cote’s motion to compel discovery or in finding Laura Cote in contempt of court. However, the Supreme Court found that the district court failed to make necessary findings regarding the best interest factors for the Supreme Court to provide a meaningful review of the district court’s denial of a modification of primary residential responsibility. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case with instructions to provide findings on the best interests of the children. View "Cote v. Cote" on Justia Law

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The parties, Nancy M. Steward and Joseph H. Steward, were married in 2006 and divorced in 2020, with two minor children. The court adopted their Stipulated Parenting Plan (SPP), which included a child support arrangement. After the court adopted the SPP, Joseph requested a modification of child support from the Montana Child Support Services Division (CSSD). CSSD issued a modified order determining Joseph's child support obligation to be less than initially stipulated. Nancy contested the date of commencement of the modified child support, asserting it should not have commenced until the month after she received notification from CSSD of the modified amount.The issue on appeal was whether the District Court abused its discretion in commencing modified child support prior to Nancy receiving actual notification of the modified child support order and amount from CSSD. Nancy argued that under § 40-4-208, MCA, and Healy, child support may only be modified subsequent to her receipt of actual notice of the CSSD modification notice and order. Joseph argued that the statute supported modification of the court’s original child support order for any installments accruing subsequent to when he served Nancy notice of his request for hearing on child support modification with CSSD.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the District Court's decision. The Supreme Court ruled that the District Court correctly interpreted the law and appropriately determined the commencement of the modified child support after notice to Nancy of Joseph’s request to modify child support, as permitted by § 40-4-208(1), MCA. The Supreme Court also overruled any interpretation of Healy that limits a district court’s authority to modify child support installments accruing after a party’s receipt of actual notice of the CSSD modification notice and order when that party was appropriately put on notice of the other party’s pursuit of modification of child support well before CSSD’s notice and order. View "In re Marriage of Steward" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to deny absolute and qualified immunity to two social workers, Gloria Vazquez and Mirta Johnson, in a case brought against them by Sydney Rieman and her child, K.B. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by (1) failing to provide them with notice of a juvenile detention hearing where the County’s Child and Family Services sought custody of K.B., and (2) providing false information to the Juvenile Court about why Ms. Rieman was not noticed for the hearing.The court rejected the defendants' claim that they were entitled to absolute immunity for actions taken in their quasi-prosecutorial role as social workers. The court determined that the failure to provide notice of the hearing and the provision of false information to the Juvenile Court were not similar to discretionary decisions about whether to prosecute. Therefore, absolute immunity did not apply.The court also held that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity from suit for failing to provide notice of the hearing and for providing false information to the Juvenile Court. The court affirmed that Ms. Rieman had a due process right to such notice and that this right was clearly established. It was also clear that providing false information to the court constituted judicial deception. The court concluded that a reasonable social worker in the defendants' position would have understood that their actions were violating the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. View "RIEMAN V. VAZQUEZ" on Justia Law

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The case in question concerns the termination of parental rights and involves Chelsey Marie Smith (the Mother) who appealed the decision of the district court granting the Wyoming Department of Family Services’ (the Department) petition to terminate her parental rights to her children, under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(iii) and (v) (2023). The children were initially removed from the Mother's care due to neglect, and despite the Department's efforts to rehabilitate the family, the Mother was unable to consistently abide by the objectives set out in the Department’s case plan.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the district court's decision, concluding that clear and convincing evidence supported that the Department made reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to rehabilitate the Mother and reunify her with the children under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(iii). The court noted that while the Mother had a fundamental right to raise her children, the children also had a right to stability and permanency in their family relationships. View "In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights To: Pml and Egl, Minor Children v. State of Wyoming, Ex Rel. Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

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The case involves a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) issued in favor of a child's father (Jacob G.) against the child's mother (Savanah F.) following an incident of custodial interference that involved the mother taking the child from Alaska to Texas without the father's knowledge and in violation of a custody order. The father had sought attorney's fees, which were denied by the Superior Court without explanation.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the Superior Court's decision, holding that a person who successfully petitions for a DVPO is entitled to seek attorney’s fees from the respondent, and these can only be denied in exceptional circumstances. The Court held that neither of the arguments made by the mother in opposition to the fees - that her act of custodial interference was justified by the father’s substance abuse, and that she could not afford to pay the fees - constituted exceptional circumstances. The Court noted that the mother's argument fails to recognize the harm caused by custodial interference, and that her financial circumstances did not justify denial of the fees, given she had paid her own legal fees and had the ability to earn income. View "Jacob G. v. Savanah F." on Justia Law