Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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A court errs when it dismisses a petition for lack of sufficient evidence of current risk when the reason why such evidence is lacking is because a parent, as in this case, absconded with her children and wrongfully prevented the Department from monitoring their welfare. After mother eventually surrendered the minors to a maternal relative, the juvenile court held a jurisdiction hearing and erroneously concluded that it must dismiss the petition because there was, by then, a lack of evidence of current risk of harm to the minors. The Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court's order and remanded to the juvenile court with directions to vacate its order dismissing the petition, to make a new and different order assuming jurisdiction over the minors under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1), and to hold a hearing pursuant to section 358 at which it may consider the minors' then-current circumstances when deciding what disposition is appropriate. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law

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April Garner appealed a chancellor’s custody modification, awarding custody of her minor child to the child’s uncle, awarding grandparent visitation to the child’s step-grandfather, finding of contempt, and assessing various fees and costs. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancellor properly modified custody and found April in contempt, but lacked the authority to award grandparent visitation to a step-grandparent, it affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Garner v. Garner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's distribution of community property upon the divorce of Richard Kilgore and Eleni Kilgore, holding that a district court has significant discretion when determining whether to grant or deny a non-employee spouse's request for pension payments before the employee spouse has retired. On appeal, Richard argued that the district court (1) abused its discretion in concluding that Eleni was entitled to her community property share of his pension benefits even though he had not yet retired, reduced the amount to a judgment, and ordered him to pay Eleni a monthly amount it deemed fair, and (2) erred when it concluded that his vacation and sick pay were omitted from the divorce decree and thereafter divided them equally between the parties. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in granting Eleni's request for pension payments before Richard retired; and (2) did not err in considering the omitted assets and dividing them equally between the parties. View "Kilgore v. Kilgore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the district court's decision awarding Mother and Father joint physical custody and equal parenting time, holding that the district court did not misapply the domestic-abuse presumption or the friendly-parent factor and appropriately exercised its discretion in analyzing the best interests factors. After a trial, the family court referee found that Mother had committed domestic abuse against Father. However, the referee found that best interest of the parties' child required that the parties be awarded joint physical custody and equal parenting time and that the statutory presumption against joint legal custody was not rebutted, thus awarding sole legal custody to Mother. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not misapply the rebuttable presumption against awarding joint custody when domestic violence has occurred between parents; (2) did not misapply the friendly-parent factor in its best-interests analysis; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the child was best served by a joint physical custodial arrangement. View "Thornton v. Bosquez" 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 in finding abandonment and did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest. On appeal, Mother argued that the court erred as a matter of law in concluding that her failure to appear on the second day of the termination hearing constituted abandonment, in finding that she had the "intent to forego parental duties," and went beyond the scope of a termination proceeding by speculating about who would adopt the child post-termination. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court did not err in finding that Mother had the intent to forego her parental duties and had therefore abandoned the child; and (2) the court acted with in the scope of its authority in speculating that the child would be placed with the great-grandmother. View "In re Child of Olivia F." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that in case a case involving the termination of parental rights where an indigent parent has a constitutional right to appellate counsel, appointed counsel may not be permitted to withdraw without first demonstrating that the record has been thoroughly reviewed for potential meritorious issues and taking steps to facilitate review of the case for the purpose of determining whether the attorney accurately concluded that any appeal would be meritless. After Mother's parental rights were terminated, counsel was appointed for Mother, who was indigent, to review the matter for a possible appeal. Counsel filed motions to withdraw his appearances for lack of any nonfrivolous issue on which to proceed. The trial court granted counsel's motion to withdraw without requiring the filing of an Anders brief or conducting its own independent review to determine whether any appeal would be frivolous. The Appellate Court then dismissed the appeal, finding that the procedure set forth in Anders is not applicable to the withdrawal of an appellate review attorney in child protection proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the precise procedures discussed in Anders are not constitutionally mandated, but minimal procedural protections are required; and (2) the minimal procedural protections set forth in this opinion were not afforded to Mother. View "In re Taijha H.-B." on Justia Law

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Adam and Kyoko Perry married in November 2005 and had two minor children. For the latter part of their marriage, Kyoko handled the couple’s finances. Kyoko continued her education while married, obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and incurring approximately $84,000 in debt. AKyoko testified that she obtained a master’s degree so she could defer her loan payments while Adam was temporarily unemployed. She stated that she feared they could not afford the loan payments while Adam was out of work. Adam decided to leave his job and was temporarily unemployed for a period of 34 days in early 2015, around the same time that Kyoko’s student loan payments began. Adam filed for divorce in March 2017. Kyoko objected when the divorce decree classified a portion of her student loan debt as non-marital. She also argued the court improperly calculated the parties’ income for child support purposes. Because the superior court applied the wrong legal standards to determine whether the student loan debt was marital and to calculate the parties’ incomes for child support purposes, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s final property distribution and child support orders and remanded for the court to conduct the proper legal analysis. View "Perry v. Perry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court declining to terminate Father's parental rights to his children based on its determination that termination would not be in the best interests of the children, holding that the trial court's ruling was within its discretion. Bethany Christian Services filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights to his two children on the grounds of neglect, failure too legitimate, and dependency. The court subsequently entered an order declaring Father to be the children's father. Thereafter, the trial court entered an order concluding that although a ground existed to terminate Father's parental rights, termination was not in the best interests of the children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court's conclusion that termination of Father's parental rights was not in the children's best interests was neither arbitrary nor manifestly unsupported by reason. View "In re A.U.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights in her daughter C.M.C., holding that the trial court did not err by entering the set of termination orders which Mother sought to challenge before this Court. After a hearing, the trial court announced that the parental rights of Mother should be terminated. Adjudication and disposition orders signed by Judge Monica Leslie, rather than the trial court, were filed. Judge Leslie subsequently vacated the adjudication and dispositional orders that she had signed, and the trial court entered a separate dispositional order in which it determined that the termination of Mother's rights was in the child's best interests. Mother appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by entering the challenged termination orders on the grounds that Judge Leslie lacked the authority to vacate the earlier termination orders. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Judge Leslie did not err by vacating the initial set of termination orders that she signed in this case, and the trial court did not err by entering the set of termination orders that Mother sought to challenge before the Supreme Court. View "In re C.M.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order terminating Father's parental rights to his minor child, C.B.C., on the grounds of neglect and willful abandonment, holding that the trial court's conclusion that grounds existed pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(7) was sufficient in and of itself to support termination of Father's parental rights. After Father was convicted of multiple felonies and began serving his sentence Petitioners filed a second petition to terminate Father's parental rights. After a hearing, the trial court terminated Father's parental rights, finding that grounds existed to terminate Father's parental rights based on neglect and willful abandonment and that termination was in C.B.C.'s best interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in terminating Father's parental rights pursuant to section 7B-1111(a)(7). View "In re C.B.C." on Justia Law