Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the order of the district court modifying child support and spousal support, holding that there was no error except in the court's calculation of the child support obligation. After James Sulikowski and Sandra Sulikowski divorced Sandra filed a motion to modify child support, alleging that James's income and increased substantially since the divorce. Thereafter, James filed a motion to terminate spousal support, alleging that Sandra's income had increased substantially and that Sandra had been cohabiting in a relationship functionally equivalent to marriage. The court modified James's child support obligation and reduced James's spousal support obligation while ordering Sandra to repay James for his overpayment of spousal support. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the child support order but otherwise affirmed, holding that, among other things, the court erroneously calculated the weekly child support obligation using the amount listed in the child support table for two children instead of three children but as to the remainder of the order, the district court did not err. View "Sulikowski v. Sulikowski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the county court declining to terminate the guardianship of Child or to grant Mother visitation, holding that the county court's findings were supported by competent evidence. In 2014, Mother's parents (Grandparents) were appointed as coguardians for Child. Thereafter, Mother was convicted of child abuse for failing to protect Child from sexual abuse while in Mother's care. In 2017, Mother filed a motion to terminate the guardianship and a motion to reinstate visitation. After a trial, the county court entered an order denying Mother's motions. The court of appeals affirmed, finding that it was in Child's best interests for the guardianship to remain in place and for there to be no visitation. The Supreme Court affirmed, although based on different reasoning than that of the court of appeals, holding that the county court's determination that, at the time of trial, Mother was unfit to parent Child was supported by competent evidence. View "In re Guardianship of K.R." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a district court’s determination concerning the location of children’s habitual residence. Shane Watts was a dual citizen of Australia and the United States. Carrie Watts was a citizen of the United States. In 2005, Shane and Carrie married in Park City, Utah. From December 2006 to June 2016, the couple lived in North Carolina, where they reared their three children—also dual citizens of Australia and the United States. In March 2016, the couple learned that their middle child would need specialized medical attention possibly including expensive palate-extension surgery. The family decided to move to Australia to benefit from that country’s universal- healthcare system. The couple intended to live in Australia until completion of their son’s medical treatment. The move to Australia placed additional stress on Shane and Carrie’s already- strained marriage. Concerned that she would be unable to work if she and Shane later divorced, Carrie applied for a permanent visa to Australia. Shane notified the Australian immigration authorities that they had separated, and he withdrew his sponsorship of Carrie’s permanent-visa application. Carrie obtained an “intervention order” against Shane. About three days after learning that Shane had withdrawn his sponsorship of her permanent-visa application, Carrie took the children and flew to Utah. She did not tell Shane beforehand, and she lied to customs agents that she was traveling to the United States for a short visit. Carrie and the children have remained in Utah since. In total, the family lived in Australia for just over eleven months. Shane petitioned a federal court in Utah for the return of the children. In his petition, Shane claimed that Carrie had wrongfully removed the children from their “habitual residence”—i.e., Victoria, Australia. Finding that Shane failed to prove the children's habitual residence was Australia, it denied his request for relief under the Hague Convention as "wrongful." The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Shane's petition. View "Watts v. Watts" on Justia Law

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Under the now-repealed 8 U.S.C. 1432(a)(2), a “child” born outside of the U.S. to noncitizen parents became a citizen upon the naturalization of her surviving parent if one of her parents was deceased. Section 1101(c)(1) defined “child” as including a child born out of wedlock only if the child was legitimated under the “law of the child’s residence or domicile” or “the law of the father’s residence or domicile . . . except as otherwise provided in” section 1432, which exempted mothers of born-out-of-wedlock children from the legitimation requirement. That affirmative steps to verify paternity, including legitimation, may be taken if a citizen-parent is an unwed father has withstood constitutional scrutiny, on the basis that the relation between a mother and a child “is verifiable from the birth.” Tineo was born in the Dominican Republic to noncitizen parents who never married. His father moved to the U.S. and naturalized. His noncitizen mother died. At the time, under the laws of either the Dominican Republic or New York, legitimation could only occur if his birth parents married. Tineo’s father was forever precluded from having his son derive citizenship through him, despite being a citizen and having cared for his son. Threatened with removal, Tineo brought a Fifth Amendment challenge on behalf of his now-deceased father. The Third Circuit held that, in this circumstance, the interplay of the statutory sections are inconsistent with the equal-protection mandate of the Due Process Clause. View "Tineo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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Father appealed the denial of his motion to modify judgment because DCFS failed to give him adequate notice of dependency proceedings involving his children. The Court of Appeal held that the juvenile court erred by finding that notice through publication was adequate, because DCFS's efforts did not constitute reasonable due diligence. The court also held that the Hague Service Convention applied in this case because father is a resident of Mexico, and there was no compliance with the Convention as to notice for the jurisdictional and dispositional hearings. Accordingly, the court reversed all orders as to father and remanded with instructions to commence de novo with arraignment and adjudication after providing father with proper notice. View "In re D.R." on Justia Law