Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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Under Ind. Code 31-14-7-1(1), a husband is presumed to be a child’s biological father; both spouses are listed as parents on the birth certificate and the child is deemed to be born in wedlock. There is no similar presumption with respect to a same-sex couple. The district court issued an injunction requiring Indiana to treat children born into female-female marriages as having two female parents, who must be listed on the birth certificate. Because Indiana lists only two parents on a birth certificate, this prevents the state from treating as a parent the man who provided the sperm but requires that one spouse, who provided neither sperm nor egg, be identified as a parent. The court reasoned that Indiana lists a husband as a biological parent (when a child is born during marriage) even if he did not provide sperm, and must treat a wife as a parent even if she did not provide an egg. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding, Pavan v. Smith, that same-sex and opposite-sex couples must have the same rights with respect to the identification of children’s parentage on birth certificates. Indiana’s statutory presumption violates the Constitution. The court rejected the state’s arguments that the statutory presumption is rebuttable. View "Henderson v. Box" on Justia Law

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Parents appealed the termination of their rights in M.L., born in 2014, and H.T., born in 2015, following a long-delayed initial disposition hearing. They argued the trial court: (1) committed plain error in accepting their stipulation that the children were in need of care or supervision (CHINS); (2) violated their due process rights by delays in the proceedings; and (3) erred in concluding that they would not be able to parent the children within a reasonable time. While the delay in the initial disposition hearing meant the court did not have to find stagnation in order to terminate the parents’ residual parental rights, the court made findings that supported termination. Contrary to parents’ assertion, the Vermont Supreme Court found the trial court did not “ignore[] the injustices that were apparent to service providers, expert witnesses and the GALs.” Instead, the Supreme Court determined the trial court applied the law and evaluated, based on the evidence, whether terminating parents’ rights would be in the children’s best interests. “While parents disagree with the court’s conclusion, they fail to show error.” View "In re H.T. & M.L." on Justia Law

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Following protracted postjudgment litigation over the transfer of title of real property from Natache Menezes (Wife) to Tim McDaniel (Husband), the trial court issued $200,000 in sanctions against Wife, pursuant to Family Code section 271. Wife challenged the sanctions, contending they improperly included anticipated attorney fees and costs, and the amount was not supported by substantial evidence showing they were tethered to attorney fees and costs. The Court of Appeal concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion by awarding the sanctions, including the anticipated fees and costs. However, the matter was remanded for the trial court to ensure that the bases for the $200,000 award included only expenses tethered to attorney fees and costs. View "Menezes v. McDaniel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of counsel's ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced and his parental rights were terminated. In arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel as it related to placement of the children and his stipulation to a treatment plan, Father pointed out that he was the non-offending, non-custodial parent and that there were no allegations of abuse or neglect ever brought in this case against him. Father asserted that but forms counsel's failure to correct legal misunderstandings, failure to object to an unnecessary treatment plan, and failure to request a placement hearing, his parental rights would not have been terminated. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division did not prove the existence of good cause to deny immediate placement with Father; and (2) Father's fundamental rights were prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

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Mother, Kimberly Nanke, filed a petition requesting an allocation of parenting responsibilities to her child, W.C. The trial court ultimately entered permanent parenting responsibility orders, granting Mother sole decision-making responsibility and making her the primary residential parent. Father, Winston Conkling, appealed. While his appeal was still pending, however, Father filed motions to modify the orders in the trial court, alleging changed circumstances. This raised the question of whether the trial court had jurisdiction to modify the very orders that were on appeal. The trial court believed that it did not have such jurisdiction; a division of the court of appeals disagreed. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court held that, because Father’s motions to modify were material to his appeal and sections 14-10-129(1)(a)(I), C.R.S. (2019), and 14-10-131(2), C.R.S. (2019), did not specifically grant trial courts jurisdiction to modify parenting responsibility orders while an appeal of the orders is still pending, the trial court here did not have jurisdiction to rule on Father’s motions to modify while those orders were on appeal. The Supreme Court concluded the court of appeals therefore erred in concluding the trial court retained jurisdiction to modify the orders during the pendency of Father’s appeal. View "Parental Responsibilities Concerning W.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's finding that Father's consent to the adoption of his child was irrevocably implied in this contested adoption proceeding, holding that a parent's implied consent to the adoption of a child may not be based solely on the parent's failure to appear at a single hearing. Grandparents filed a petition to adopt Child, claiming that Father's consent to the adoption was unnecessary. Father contested the adoption. But when Father failed to appear the morning of the final hearing in the adoption case, the trial court entered a decree of adoption, finding that Father's consent was not necessary. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that where Father appeared at the initial final hearing before it was rescheduled, responded to pleadings, and maintained communication with his attorney throughout the proceedings, the trial court erred in finding that Father's consent was irrevocably implied because of his failure to attend the final hearing. View "In re Adoption of C.A.H. v. R.S.E." on Justia Law

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Parents appeal the termination of their parental rights to son C.L.S. C.L.S. was born in February 2018. During mother’s last trimester of pregnancy, hospital staff reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that mother had repeatedly tested positive for illicit unprescribed substances. She missed numerous prenatal and medication-assisted-treatment appointments during her pregnancy. She declined inpatient treatment or a referral to a substance-abuse clinic. Parents were unmarried but lived together prior to C.L.S.’s birth. At birth, C.L.S. weighed less than five pounds, had an underdeveloped esophagus, and was in withdrawal from having illegal drugs in his system. He initially required a feeding tube. Mother tested positive for numerous unprescribed illegal drugs. DCF took C.L.S into custody on an emergency basis on the day he was born and filed a petition alleging that C.L.S. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). A temporary care hearing began the following day. The parents denied that C.L.S. was CHINS, sought a conditional order giving custody to father, and requested a contested temporary care hearing. The court continued custody with DCF but permitted parents to have unsupervised contact with C.L.S. while he remained in the hospital. C.L.S. was subsequently discharged to a foster home and father filed a motion requesting parent-child contact and unsupervised visitation. In September 2018, after a contested hearing, the court issued a disposition order continuing DCF custody and adopted a case plan calling for concurrent goals of reunification with either parent or adoption. Neither party appealed the disposition order. In January 2019, the State filed petitions to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights. On appeal, neither parent challenged the court’s findings or conclusions in the termination order. Rather, they asserted the court committed various errors at the temporary care hearings that required reversal of the merits determination and subsequent disposition orders. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "In re C.L.S." on Justia Law

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In this postdissolution matter the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the decision of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for sanctions and for contempt, holding that there was no basis to support the award of attorney's fees and costs. This matter stemmed from the parties' oral stipulation following a motion for modification of alimony and the trial court's adoption of that stipulation as a court order. Subsequent litigation efforts saw Defendant attempting to carry the order into effect and Plaintiff challenging the order. At issue was the court's decision to grant Defendant's postjudgment motion for sanctions and for contempt and awarding Defendant the litigation expenses he had incurred following the entry of the order adopting the stipulation. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment of contempt. The Supreme Court affirmed and further concluded that the sanction for litigation misconduct must be reversed, holding that, insofar as the award was based on contempt, it could not stand on any of the grounds articulated by the trial court, and insofar as the award was based on litigation misconduct, it lacked the requisite findings. View "Puff v. Puff" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgments of the probate court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children in anticipation of adoptions, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the court's findings that Father was an unfit parent and that termination of his parental rights was in the children's best interests. Mother and Stepfather of the children filed petitions to adopt the children. Thereafter, Mother filed petitions to terminate Father's parental rights, thereby freeing the children for adoption. The probate court subsequently entered judgments terminating Father's parental rights pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 18-A, 9-204(b) and Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4055(1)(A)(2), (B)(2)(a), and (B)(2)(b)(ii). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence supported the court's findings of unfitness and that termination of Father's parental rights would be in the children's best interests; (2) any mistake by the court in arranging its findings within the termination orders was not obvious error; and (3) the court did not err by failing to consider open adoptions that would have left Father's parental rights intact. View "Adoption by Stefan S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court modifying custody, support and visitation awarding primary physical custody of the minor child to Father, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a continuance of trial. After Mother's attorney was suspended from the practice of law the district court denied three separate pro se motions for continuance of trial. Following a trial, the district court found a material change of circumstances and awarded Father primary physical custody of the child, subject to visitation by Mother. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Mother's motion for continuance. View "Bacus v. Coon" on Justia Law