Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Jerry Vang was convicted by jury for multiple crimes against two different victims, including: kidnapping first degree felony murder with a special circumstance, infliction of corporal injury on a cohabitant, making criminal threats with firearm allegations, and firearms possession by a felon. Defendant had a long history of domestic violence, had an argument with his wife. After she fled in her car, defendant followed, eventually forced her to stop, and coerced her (through force or fear) into his vehicle. As defendant was driving away, his wife opened the door and jumped from the moving vehicle, resulting in her death. Defendant argued the trial court erred by permitting the prosecution to proceed on a legally inadequate theory of felony murder. He contends that under the current felony-murder rule, as amended by Senate Bill No. 1437 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), he could be liable for felony murder only if he was proven to be the “actual killer.” Because the evidence showed that his wife jumped from the vehicle of her own volition, defendant contends he was not the actual killer and therefore his conviction for first degree felony murder with a special circumstance rested on a legally invalid theory. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, and reversed that conviction as to first degree felony murder. The judgment and convictions were affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Vang" on Justia Law

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Appellant made deferred cash payments to his ex-wife, Appellee, pursuant to a marriage termination agreement (MTA) that Appellee “waives any right to . . . permanent spousal maintenance.” At issue is whether those payments were nonetheless “spousal maintenance” payments under Minn. Stat. Section 518.552.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the answer is clearly no and therefore affirm the decision of the United States Tax Court denying Appellant deductions under now-repealed alimony provisions of the Internal Revenue Code for $51M in cash payments he made to Appellee during his 2012 and 2013 federal income tax years.The court concluded that that Minnesota law unambiguously establishes that the MTA was not a spousal maintenance agreement. Rather, it was a contractual division of marital property. Contractual obligations under a divorce agreement fall under the general rule that causes of action survive their personal representatives. Minn. Stat. Section 573.01. That being so, Minnesota law unambiguously provides that the payments in question were not deductible because Appellant’s liability to make the payments would survive Appellee’s death. This is consistent with the stated purpose of Section 71(b)(1)(D). View "Andrew Redleaf v. CIR" on Justia Law

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In this dissolution action governed bay a premarital agreement the Supreme Court affirmed the decree in all respects with the exception of the court's itemization of a truck as part of the marital estate, which the court vacated, holding that there was largely no error in the proceedings below.The district court imposed a constructive trust over certain limited liability companies titled solely in Wife's name so that, under the agreement, they were considered additions to the marital estate. On appeal, Husband argued, among other things, the court abused its discretion in allowing Wife to amend her pleadings to include the issue of the constructive trust and that the evidence did not support the constructive trust. The Supreme Court largely affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the court's imposition of a constructive trust; (2) the truck owned at the time of filing should not have been calculated as part of the marital estate; and (3) Husband's remaining assignments of error were without merit. View "Simons v. Simons" on Justia Law

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Nicki Erickson appealed a judgment awarding her and Tim Faber equal residential responsibility of their three children. Erickson argued the district court clearly erred by awarding the parties equal residential responsibility of the children, and erred in determining the parties’ two youngest children were of sufficient age and maturity to testify about their preferences relating to residential responsibility. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err by allowing the children to testify on their preferences; however, the court erred by awarding Erickson and Faber equal residential responsibility of their oldest child. View "Ex rel. Erickson v. Faber" on Justia Law

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Tim Hamburger appealed an order denying his motions for relief from the divorce judgment and to amend his motion for relief. He argued the district court erred by finding there was no agreement or acquiescence to a change of residential responsibility, denying him an award of child support, denying him an evidentiary hearing, and failing to award him attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Hamburger v. Hamburger" on Justia Law

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Connie and Kevin Sailer are the paternal grandparents of E.D.S. and E.R.S. Justin and Natasha Sailer are the children’s parents. When the parents divorced, they stipulated that Natasha would have primary residential responsibility of the children, with Justin having parenting time until 2022. After 2022, the judgment provides the parties share residential responsibility if Justin has no alcohol-related incidents. In July 2020, an altercation occurred between the grandparents and the parents. While the parties differed in their accounts of what occurred, it was undisputed that the children witnessed the altercation. The children have not had contact with their grandparents since the altercation, apart from the grandparents having attended some of the children’s sporting events. The grandparents filed a petition for nonparent visitation, which was opposed by Natasha Sailer. The district court dismissed the grandparents’ petition for failure to plead a prima facie case, finding they did not plead sufficient facts to establish that they have a substantial relationship with the children or that denial of visitation would result in harm to the children. The grandparents appeal the court’s order dismissing their petition. Finding no reversible error in dismissing the petition, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Sailer, et al. v. Sailer, et al." on Justia Law

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B.C., by and through his parent Michelle Cox, appealed from a district court judgment affirming the Department of Human Services (“Department”) decision to deny autism voucher program funding for a gazebo. B.C. argued the Department’s rationale for rejecting the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) recommendation was insufficient, its interpretation of its regulation was unreasonable, and its conclusions of law were not supported by its findings of fact. After review of the agency and trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the agency unreasonably interpreted the regulation, and its conclusions of law were not supported by its findings of facts. The Supreme Court reversed the district court judgment affirming the Department’s denial of the autism voucher program funding for the gazebo. View "B.C. v. NDDHS" on Justia Law

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Wife Olivia Seels Smalls died during the pendency of her divorce from Husband Joe Truman Smalls. The couple accumulated significant assets, including the marital home; eighteen rental properties; and multiple retirement, checking, savings, and investment accounts. Both parties worked during the marriage and contributed to the acquisition of the marital assets. The parties separated in July 2014 when Wife left the marital home. On October 10, 2014, Wife filed the underlying action seeking an order that would, among other things: (1) allow her to live separate and apart from Husband pendente lite and permanently; (2) restrain Husband from harassing her or cancelling her health insurance; (3) permit her to enter the marital home to retrieve her personal belongings; (4) provide separate support and maintenance and/or alimony pendente lite and permanently; and (5) equitably apportion the marital property. Wife alleged she was in poor health and had been subjected to an extended pattern of abusive behavior from Husband, which escalated after she underwent surgery for lung cancer in 2013. Wife also alleged Husband committed adultery at various times during their marriage. Husband filed an answer denying the allegations and asserting counterclaims. He likewise sought a divorce and equitable apportionment of the marital assets. The parties engaged in mediation, but Wife suffered a recurrence of cancer and they never formally entered into a signed agreement resolving their dispute. The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether the family court properly retained jurisdiction to rule on the apportionment of the marital property of the parties when the Wife died. The Court ruled the appellate court did not err in determining the family court properly retained jurisdiction to rule. View "Seels v. Smalls" on Justia Law

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In this complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) relating to the custody of Plaintiffs' children, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this suit seeking damages for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights to familial integrity, free exercise of religion, and due process of law, holding that there was no error.Plaintiffs brought this action seeking money damages and equitable relief for actions Defendants took with respect to three of their daughters. On appeal, Plaintiffs challenged the dismissal of their claims for money damages regarding the custody of S.M. and D.M. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the judge properly dismissed as untimely all claims relating tot he custody of S.M.; and (2) as to the remaining claims, the trial judge properly concluded that the complaint failed to allege conduct plausibly exposing Defendants to liability and that other claims were foreclosed by absolute immunity. View "Milchtein v. Milwaukee County" on Justia Law

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John Doe (Father) appealed a magistrate court’s decision to terminate his parental rights to his three children: John Doe I (age 12), Jane Doe (age 11), and John Doe II (age 7). The children and their biological mother (Mother) lived in Idaho when the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department) petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother eventually voluntarily stipulated to the termination of her rights. Father resided in Tennessee during these proceedings and could not be located by the Department for several months. The Department amended its original petition in Idaho to establish jurisdiction over Father. The Department then moved to obtain authorization to serve the petition on Father by publication in the Tennessee city where Father resided. The magistrate court granted the Department’s request. Ultimately, Father was located in Tennessee and accepted personal service. The Department then filed petitioned to terminate his parental rights. Father participated in the termination trial via Zoom from Tennessee. Throughout the proceeding, Father’s internet connection proved to be unreliable, and he was repeatedly disconnected from the proceeding. Father rejoined the proceeding when the connection was reestablished. Father moved to continue the trial because of the connectivity issue, which the magistrate court denied, noting that it had given the parties the option of joining the proceedings remotely, but that they were required to ensure they had a reliable internet connection. Following the trial, the magistrate court terminated Father’s parental rights based on the grounds of abandonment, neglect, and the inability to discharge parental responsibilities. Father appealed. Finding no reversible error in the magistrate court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed it. View "IDHW v. John Doe" on Justia Law