Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction the appeal from a dependency-neglect case in which the circuit court entered an order awarding permanent custody, holding that the appeal was timely filed. The circuit court entered an order awarding permanent custody of four minor children to the children's foster parents and closed the dependency-neglect case that the Arkansas Department of Human Services had brought against the children's parents. After the four minor children unsuccessfully filed a motion for relief from judgment they filed a notice of appeal. The court of appeals dismissed the matter for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and remanded the case for further action, holding that the appeal from the order awarding permanent custody was timely filed. View "Minor Children v. Arkansas Department of Human Services" on Justia Law

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B.A. (Mother) and D.V. (Father) were the parents of six-year-old I.A.-V. (I.) and eight-year-old Is.A.-V. (Is.). Mother and Father had a history with child protective services due to ongoing domestic violence and neglect issues, resulting in the removal of their children from their care. I. and Is. were first removed from Mother in 2015. At the close of the first dependency, Mother’s reunification services were terminated, and Father received legal and physical custody. In 2017, I. and Is. were removed from Father’s custody and placed with Mother as a previously noncustodial parent. The second dependency resulted in Mother receiving legal and physical custody of the children and termination of Father’s reunification services. The third and current dependency commenced in 2018 after I., Is., and A.A. were removed from Mother’s care for the same reasons as previously. At the dispositional hearing, the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) recommended to bypass reunification services pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5 (b)(10) as to all three children. The juvenile court agreed to bypass Mother’s services as to A.A. However, the court interpreted I. and Is. to be “the same child” under the statute and granted Mother reunification services as to I. and Is. Counsel for I. and Is. subsequently appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in ordering reunification services for the parents in I. and Is.’s case after it found the bypass provision under section 361.5(b)(10) did not apply. The Court of Appeal agreed: the juvenile court’s finding that section 361.5(b)(10) did not apply to this case was reversed and the matter remanded to the juvenile court to enter an order denying reunification services to the parents in I. and Is.’s case, and to set a permanency planning hearing pursuant to section 366.26. View "In re I.A." on Justia Law

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Over the past eight years, the Hudson County family court has required Malhan to pay $300,000 in child and spousal support to his putative ex-wife, Myronova. Malhan claims that New Jersey officials violated his federal rights when they failed to reduce his support obligations after he was awarded custody of their two children and Myronova obtained a job that pays more than his own. The district court dismissed Malhan’s second amended complaint, holding that it lacked jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that to the extent it had jurisdiction, it declined to exercise it under Younger v. Harris. The Third Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. Malhan does not complain of injuries caused by a state court judgment; none of the interlocutory orders in Malhan’s state case are “judgments.” Rooker-Feldman does not apply when state proceedings have neither ended nor led to orders reviewable by the U.S. Supreme Court. With respect to “Younger abstention,” the court noted that Malhan’s wife, not the state, began the family court case. The case has not sought to sanction Malhan for wrongdoing, enforce a parallel criminal statute, or impose a quasi-criminal investigation. Malhan is not trying to “annul the results” of a past garnishment. View "Malhan v. Secretary United States Department of State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment approving the decision of the magistrate granting Sandra Walsh's motion for relief from judgment under Civ.R. 60(B)(4) and (5), holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to modify the length of the marriage stated in the divorce decree. Todd and Sandra Walsh memorialized their agreement in a consent judgment of divorce, which the trial court adopted as a final decree of divorce. Later, the magistrate granted Sandra's Civ.R. 60(B) motion and altered the divorce decree by changing the marriage term and ordering that Sandra was to receive fifteen percent of Todd's retirement pay per month. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court lacked authority to modify the divorce decree. View "Walsh v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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When M.P. was born, mother was married to husband. At the time of M.P.’s birth, the family lived in Alabama. In the spring of 2016, the family moved to Vermont. Mother was subsequently arrested on an Alabama warrant and extradited to Alabama. M.P. and her brothers remained in Vermont in husband’s care. In August 2016, husband requested assistance in caring for the children, and M.P. and her brothers were placed in DCF custody. The State filed a petition alleging M.P. and her brothers were CHINS. Mother and father appealed the eventual termination of their parental rights to M.P. On appeal, father argued: (1) Vermont lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate M.P. as a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) and to terminate his parental rights under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA); (2) the family court erred in finding that his progress had stagnated and that termination was in M.P.’s best interests; and (3) the evidence did not support the court’s finding that the Department for Children and Families (DCF) made reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency plan. Mother joins father’s arguments and argues that the CHINS order is invalid because mother did not join the stipulation on which the order was based. The Vermont Supreme Court rejected the parents’ jurisdictional challenges to the CHINS merits order and reversed termination of father’s parental rights. The Court concluded husband had authority as the children’s custodian and presumed legal parent to enter the stipulation upon which the CHINS decision was based. Further, the family court had temporary emergency jurisdiction over the CHINS petition under the UCCJEA and that jurisdiction became permanent when no case concerning M.P. was filed or commenced in another state. The Court affirmed termination of mother’s parental rights, but that the family court erred in finding that father’s progress had stagnated. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court held there was a change of circumstances warranting modification of the case plan in this case given the identification of father, who had previously been involved as M.P.’s caretaker, as M.P.’s legal parent. View "In re M.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two youngest children, holding that Father's due process rights were not violated during the termination proceedings and that the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that termination of Father's parental rights was in the children's best interests. On appeal, Father argued, among other things, that the district court erred in denying his motion to continue when he was absent during the second day of the termination hearing because he had been arrested shortly before the proceedings began. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the resumption of the termination hearing when Father was not present did not deprive him of his right to due process; and (2) the court's best interest determination was well within its discretion. View "In re Children of Benjamin W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the court did not err by finding that Mother was parentally unfit and that termination was in the child's best interest. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) competent evidence supported the court's determination that Mother was parentally unfit; and (2) given the court's proper findings of the child's need for safety, security, and permanency, and Mother's failure to have met those needs, the court did not err in concluding that termination was in the best interest of the child. View "In re Child of Katherine C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to their child, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of the parents' parental rights would be in the child's best interest. On appeal, Father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence regarding the court's determination that he was unfit, and both parents argued that the court erred in concluding that termination of their parental rights was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court did not clearly err by finding that Father was unlikely to become fit within a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination was in the child's best interest where the permanency plan for the child was adoption or a permanency guardianship with the child's grandmother. View "In re Child of Kimberly K." on Justia Law

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Kate K. and Jaime S. were the de facto parents of L.M., who was placed in their foster care soon after birth. They challenged a juvenile court's order, made when L.M. was 10-months old, removing her from their care and placing her with Rita and John E. (the E.'s), who had previously adopted L.M.'s sister, V.E. The juvenile court had "an immensely difficult decision" to make in this case. As the court recognized, Kate and Jaime had provided L.M. excellent care for essentially her entire 10-month life. Yet, the E.'s are also "good people and excellent parents as well" and have adopted L.M.'s sister. L.M. thrives in both environments. The tipping point was the relationship between L.M. and V.E., who "hit it off immediately" and "simply love each other." The court found that it is in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from Kate and Jaime's care so that she may be placed with the E.'s. On appeal, Kate and Jaime claimed the juvenile court erred by applying the "wrong" legal standard: the court first had to determine if it was in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from their care, without regard to whether it was in L.M.'s best interest to be placed with the E.'s. Kate and Jaime further claimed that under this standard, focusing only on grounds for removal, the order had to be reversed because the juvenile court recognized that they provided excellent care and did nothing wrong. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming that Kate and Jaime were entitled to rights afforded to prospective adoptive parents, the juvenile court applied the correct legal standard, and it affirmed because the court's findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re L.M." on Justia Law

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Brandi and Brandon Kelly were married and had a son. After about two years of marriage Brandon filed for divorce. Once the divorce was final the magistrate court awarded sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the child to Brandon. Brandi filed a permissive appeal, arguing the magistrate court erred by relying on an inadmissible parenting time evaluation and following the recommendations of a biased evaluator. The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the child custody judgment, finding the magistrate court abused its discretion in allowing Brandon's hired expert's opinion on parenting time. "The use of parenting time evaluations is unique to custody disputes;" the authority for and parameters guiding the use of such evaluations were governed by court rule IRFLP 719. "These evaluators are performing a 'judicial function,' entitling them to quasi-judicial immunity, because of the important, impartial work they perform as an extension of the court. ... The importance of an evaluator’s neutrality cannot be overemphasized." The Court affirmed certain evidentiary rulings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kelly v. Kelly" on Justia Law