Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal held that father's failure to reunify with D.N. was due solely to poverty, and terminating reunification services for father was not in D.N.'s best interests. The court also held that these errors caused the juvenile court to make a premature finding of detriment that could affect father in future dependency proceedings. Finally, the court rejected DCFS's assertion that an order returning D.N. to mother's physical custody issued after the filing of this appeal renders the instant appeal moot. Therefore, the court reversed the denial of father's request for a continuance of the Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.22 permanency review hearing, the juvenile court's finding of detriment, and the order terminating reunification services, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re D.N." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court granting Pat Doe a protection from abuse order against Appellant on behalf of Doe's two minor children, holding that the district court erred as a matter of fact and law by finding that Appellant committed abuse within the meaning of Me. Rev. Stat. 19-A, 4002.Doe filed a complaint for protection from abuse on behalf of his two minor children against Appellant, the children's maternal grandmother. The court issued a protection order prohibiting Appellant from having any contact with the children after determining that Appellant's actions in taking the children to Arizona and keeping them there after their mother's death constituted abuse within the meaning of the protection from abuse statute. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that, on this record, there was insufficient evidence to support the court's finding that Appellant knowingly restricted the children's movement without consent or lawful authority to do so. View "Doe v. Batie" on Justia Law

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In this dissolution of marriage action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's judgment of civil contempt rendered against Plaintiff, holding that the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the trial court properly found Plaintiff in contempt of court and properly denied the parties' joint motion to open and vacate the judgment of contempt. One year after Plaintiff commenced a dissolution action Defendant filed a motion for contempt, arguing that Plaintiff committed a willful violation of a court order when he withdrew approximately $70,000 from the parties' joint account and placed it into a separate, personal account. The court granted the motion after a hearing. Plaintiff filed a motion seeking reconsideration of the decision, which the trial court denied. Later, the parties filed a joint motion to open and vacate the judgment of contempt in part. The trial court denied the motion. The Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Appellate Court did not err in finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Plaintiff in contempt and failing to open and vacate the judgment of contempt. View "Hall v. Hall" on Justia Law

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In its initial custody decision, the superior court found that a father had a history of committing domestic violence, and therefore established benchmarks for him to meet before he could begin supervised visitation with his children. The father did not appeal that decision. He nonetheless sought to relitigate the domestic violence finding in subsequent proceedings, but the superior court ruled that relitigation of the issue was barred by collateral estoppel. Following an extended evidentiary hearing, the superior court found the father had met the benchmarks set by the earlier order and conditionally granted his request that he be allowed to begin supervised visitation. But the superior court also said that because of the “challenging” nature of the case it could not approve a visitation plan without more detail, such as the identity of individuals willing to act as counselors and visitation coordinators and how the parties would pay for their services. The father appealed the superior court’s order granting in part his motion for supervised visitation, including its application of collateral estoppel to the earlier finding of domestic violence. Because the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the superior court did not abuse its discretion or otherwise err, it affirmed its visitation order. View "Robert A. v. Tatiana D." on Justia Law

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The superior court awarded the husband the marital home and ordered him to make a corresponding equalization payment to the wife. About a year later the husband sought relief from judgment, arguing that newly discovered evidence showed the court had mis-valued the home. The court denied the requested relief and the husband appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the court’s decision. View "Schindler v. Schindler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the juvenile court terminating Mother's parental rights to her two children, holding that clear and convincing evidence supported termination of parental rights.After a termination hearing, the juvenile court entered an order terminating Mother's parental rights, finding that the State proved grounds for termination under Neb. Stat. 43-292(2), (4), and (6) as to both children and that termination of parental rights was in the children's best interests. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the juvenile court erred in determining that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the children's best interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the State adduced clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the children's best interests and that the State proved a statutory ground for termination. View "In re Interest of Leyton C." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order dismissing, for lack of jurisdiction, appellant's request for a civil harassment restraining order. The court held that appellant is not permitted to use the civil harassment order process to collaterally attack a confidential child dependency and adoption proceeding concerning her biological daughter.In this case, appellant's parental rights were terminated in a child dependency proceeding after appellant refused cancer treatment for her daughter and threatened the caregiver and case worker. The juvenile court then denied appellant's petition to reinstate service, freed the daughter for adoption, and placed her with a confidential caregiver. After the court affirmed the dependency order, appellant tried to intervene in the adoption proceeding by requesting a civil harassment restraining order. The court held that appellant may not use the civil harassment order process to mount a collateral attack on the Welfare & Institution Code section 366.26 order terminating parental rights, the selection of a confidential caregiver, or the adoptive placement. View "Leah B. v. Michael V." on Justia Law

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In 2018, a dependency petition was filed alleging that A.M.-S' father had physically abused the child. Although the father denied the allegations against him, he stipulated to a finding of dependency “given the nature of the allegations and the possibility of criminal charges.” The court ordered the father to engage in a “[p]sychological evaluation with a parenting component” and reserved ruling on other possible evaluations. The father asked the trial court to go beyond the RCW 26.44.053(2)'s requirements and prohibit not only the “use” of his statements during his court-ordered evaluation but also any “derivative use” of those statements in connection with a dependency hearing. The county prosecutor objected, and the trial court denied the father’s motion. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed in a published opinion. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: under these circumstances, the trial court was not required to grant derivative use immunity over the prosecutor’s objection. View "In re Dependency of A.M.-S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court awarding Tracey Martin her agreed-upon share of proceeds of John Wood's insurance policy after he committed suicide, holding that the circuit court did not err.During their divorce proceeding, Wood agreed to maintain a preexisting life insurance policy for the partial benefit of Tracey Martin. The circuit court incorporated the agreement (the agreement) into the final divorce decree. Six years later, in defiance of the court order, Wood removed Martin as a beneficiary and designated his brothers, his new wife, and a friend as beneficiaries on the policy. Wood committed suicide two days later. In a lawsuit initiated by Martin, the insurer interpleaded the policy proceeds. The circuit court awarded Martin her share of the proceeds consistent with the divorce decree. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Va. Code 38.2-3122(B) did not bar Martin's claim because the final divorce decree that ratified and incorporated the agreement created an equitable assignment; and (2) faced with competing equities, the circuit court did not err in finding Martin's beneficial interest in the interpleader proceeds to be superior to that of the new beneficiaries. View "Wood v. Martin" on Justia Law

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M.L.B. appealed a district court order denying her petition to terminate T.D.R.’s parental rights. M.L.B. and T.D.R. had one child together, C.A.R., born in 2015. In May 2018, M.L.B. petitioned for termination of T.D.R.’s parental rights, claiming T.D.R. had not seen C.A.R. since February 2017 and T.D.R. failed to pay child support except for one payment in January 2018. In a separate action, M.L.B.’s husband, A.G., petitioned to adopt C.A.R. After a September 2019 hearing, the district court found T.D.R. had not abandoned C.A.R. The court found T.D.R.’s lack of contact with C.A.R. was justified because T.D.R. relied on his counsel’s advice during the pendency of his criminal case. The court also found T.D.R.’s failure to financially support C.A.R. before a child support order was in place did not support an intent to abandon C.A.R. The court found a child support order was not in place until August 2017, after its entry T.D.R. maintained substantial compliance, and T.D.R. was current on his support payments at the time of the hearing. The court thus denied M.L.B.’s petition to terminate T.D.R.’s parental rights. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying M.L.B.’s petition to terminate T.D.R.’s parental rights. The court’s findings had support in the record, and it did not act in an arbitrary, unconscionable, or unreasonable manner in making its decision. View "Interest of C.A.R." on Justia Law