Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries
D.P. v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County
After the juvenile court declared the children dependents of the court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 and before the juvenile court's review hearing, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. In this appeal, father, mother, the children, and the Department contend that the juvenile court erred in continuing the review hearing six months beyond the time period allowed by statute as modified by emergency order. The Court of Appeal granted a peremptory writ of mandate vacating the juvenile court's April 29, 2020, order continuing the section 364 review hearing pursuant to Judge Greenberg's memoranda. The court stated that Judge Greenberg's memoranda require a continuance beyond not only section 364's six-month deadline but also beyond the additional 60-day continuance Emergency rule 6 permits. Therefore, they are contrary to state law. Although the juvenile court stated that "good cause" supported the continuance from May 14, 2020, to January 28, 2021, there is no indication the juvenile court relied on section 352, which permits the continuance upon a showing of good cause, in continuing the hearing. The court held that the juvenile court's order does not reflect that the juvenile court granted the continuance based upon consideration of the children's best interests. Rather, the court held that the juvenile court continued the hearing in accordance with Judge Greenberg's prioritization schedule, which precludes an individual bench officer from advancing a hearing in a manner contrary to the schedule without approval from a supervising judge. View "D.P. v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law
Porcello v. Estates of Porcello
In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law
In re S.P.
Father appealed from the juvenile court's order terminating his parental rights to his child, challenging the denial of his Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petition. Father sought to vacate all relevant jurisdiction and disposition findings for which he received no notice. The Court of Appeal held that DCFS's efforts to locate and notice father were deficient where DCFS conducted no additional due diligence between January 14th (when the juvenile court found diligence inadequate) and February 13th (where the juvenile court found it sufficient), and DCFS never asked the parental relatives for father's whereabouts. However, the court applied the Watson standard and held that it is not reasonably probable that absent the notice error, father would have been granted reunification services or his parental rights would not have been terminated. Therefore, the error was harmless. View "In re S.P." on Justia Law
In re J.P.
Respondents, the mother and stepfather of J.P., a minor child, appealed Probate Court orders: (1) vacating the stepfather’s adoption of J.P. due to lack of notice of the adoption proceeding to the petitioner, J.P.’s biological father; and (2) awarding attorneys’ fees and costs, including the cost of a genetic paternity test, to petitioner. Because the record supported the trial court’s determination that petitioner was entitled to notice of the adoption proceeding under RSA 170-B:6, I(d) (2014), the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the decision to vacate the adoption. The Supreme Court also affirmed its award of attorneys’ fees and costs relating to the petition to vacate the adoption, but vacated and remanded the award of attorneys’ fees and costs relating to genetic testing. View "In re J.P." on Justia Law
Scott v. Scott
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment granting Bradley Scott's motion to terminate alimony, holding that the court correctly terminated alimony under the couple's divorce decree, which provided that Jillian Scott's alimony would terminate "upon" her "cohabitation." After Jillian and Bradley divorced, Jillian began dating James Okland. When Jillian and Okland broke up, Bradley filed a petition to terminate his alimony payments on the grounds that Jillian had cohabited with Okland. The district court terminated alimony pursuant to Utah Code 30-3-5(10). The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 30-3-5(10) requires the paying spouse to establish that the former spouse is cohabiting at the time the paying spouse moves to terminate alimony. On remand, Bradley moved to terminate alimony under the divorce decree. The district court granted Bradley's motion and denied Jillian's motion for an award of costs in the Scott I appeal. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not violate the mandate rule in addressing Bradley's motion under the divorce decree; (2) the court correctly determined that Jillian cohabited with Oakland under the terms of the decree; and (3) Jillian was entitled to an award of her costs on appeal in Scott I. View "Scott v. Scott" on Justia Law
Wald v. Wald
Donna Wald appealed an amended divorce judgment valuing and distributing hers and Gerard Wald’s marital property. She also appealed a postjudgment order denying her motion for contempt or redistribution of property. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not clearly err in valuing and distributing the parties’ marital property. View "Wald v. Wald" on Justia Law
Neustadt v. Colafranceschi
This appeal involved the enforceability of a premarital agreement between Julie Neustadt and Mark Colafranceschi. Before the two were married, they entered into a premarital agreement that required Neustadt to obtain a two-million-dollar life insurance policy naming Colafranceschi as the beneficiary. The agreement required Neustadt to keep the policy in force after termination of the marriage. During the divorce proceedings, Neustadt challenged the enforceability of this provision, arguing that the insurance clause was void as against public policy to the extent it applied after divorce. The magistrate court agreed that the contractual provision was void as against public policy. However, on appeal, the district court reversed, concluding the insurance clause did not violate any public policy in Idaho. Neustadt appealrf, arguing that the district court erred in finding the insurance clause valid and enforceable because, following the parties’ divorce, Colafranceschi had no insurable interest in Neustadt’s life. Colafranceschi also filed a cross-appeal, arguing: (1) the magistrate court erred in denying certain discovery requests; (2) the lower court erred by failing to address his objection to Neustadt’s motion in limine; and (3) the lower courts’ erred in their findings that Colafranceschi failed to prove he was fraudulently induced to sign the premarital agreement to get him to return to the couple’s marital home. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court decision in its entirety: (1) the Insurance Clause was not void as against public policy; (2) any error regarding discovery was forfeited; (3) there was no evidence that the magistrate court coerced Colafranceschi into withdrawing his extreme cruelty claim; and (4) substantial and competent evidence supported the magistrate court’s conclusions that Colafranceschi was not fraudulently induced regarding equity in the Osprey home. View "Neustadt v. Colafranceschi" on Justia Law
In re Adoption of B.B.
In this adoption proceeding involving a child, B.B., whose biological parents were members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (the Tribe), the Supreme Court reversed the district court's judgment transferring this case to the tribal court under 25 U.S.C. 1911(a) of the Indian Child Welfare Act on the ground that B.B. was "domiciled within the reservation," holding that the Tribe did not have exclusive jurisdiction over this case. B.B. was born in Utah to Father and Mother, who were unmarried, and placed for adoption in a proceeding filed in the Third District Court. Father and the Tribe moved to transfer the case to the tribal court under section 1911(a), which provides that an "Indian tribe" has exclusive jurisdiction "over any child custody proceeding involving an Indian child who resides or is domiciled within the reservation of such tribe...." The district court granted the motion on the grounds that B.B. was domiciled within the reservation at the time this action was filed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court had jurisdiction because (1) Mother was domiciled in Utah at the time of B.B.'s birth, and (2) Mother's initiation of formal adoption proceedings did not constitute an abandonment that shifted B.B.'s domicile to that of Father, who was domiciled on the reservation. View "In re Adoption of B.B." on Justia Law
In re Conservatorship of O.B.
The Supreme Court held that when reviewing a finding that a fact has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must view the record in light most favorable to the prevailing party below and give due deference to how the trier of fact may have evaluated the credibility of witnesses, resolved conflicts in the evidence, and drawn reasonable inferences from the evidence. A probate court appointed limited coconservators for O.B., a young woman with autism. O.B. challenged the order, arguing that the proof did not clearly and convincingly establish that a limited conservatorship was warranted. The court of appeal rejected O.B.'s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, concluding that the clear and convincing standard of proof "disappears" on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when reviewing a finding of fact that has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could have found it highly probable that the fact was true. View "In re Conservatorship of O.B." on Justia Law
Serena M. v. Superior Court of Fresno County
The Court of Appeal granted mother's petition for an extraordinary writ from the juvenile court's orders terminating reunification services and setting a Welfare and Institution Code section 366.26 hearing as to her daughter. The court held that, while the evidence supported the juvenile court's decision forbidding in-person contact for an initial period, it does not support depriving mother of visitation for an entire 18-month period. Therefore, the court held that the juvenile court's no-contact visitation order was not reasonable sometime around February 2019 and afterward. The court instructed the juvenile court that it shall set a continued 18-month review hearing at the earliest convenient time and direct the department to file an amended case plan incorporating family therapy and therapeutic supervised visits and any other services that would enhance mother's relationship with daughter. Furthermore, at the continued 18-month review hearing, the juvenile court shall provide mother an additional period of reunification services. View "Serena M. v. Superior Court of Fresno County" on Justia Law