Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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In this appeal following the termination of parental rights, the mother contended only that the social services agency failed to comply with the duty of initial inquiry imposed by state statutory provisions implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The social services agency concedes error but argues that it was harmless. The Court of Appeal determined the agency failed to investigate readily obtainable information tending to shed meaningful light on whether a child was an Indian child, found the error prejudicial and conditionally reversed. "If, after completing the initial inquiry, neither CFS nor the court has reason to believe or to know that Benjamin is an Indian child, the order terminating parental rights to Benjamin shall be reinstated. If CFS or the court has reason to believe that Benjamin is an Indian child, the court shall proceed accordingly." View "In re Benjamin M." on Justia Law

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S.L.C. is the now-six-year-old, U.S.-citizen daughter of Lazaro, who resides near Seattle, and Colchester, who resides in Spain. Colchester was given sole custody of S.L.C. by a Spanish court. Lazaro was visiting Colchester and S.L.C. when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. According to Lazaro, during that visit, Colchester often “screamed at and acted aggressively.” Lazaro testified about several specific instances of abuse. Lazaro absconded with S.L.C.and, unable to stay in Spain because of the lockdown, fled to Seattle with S.L.C.Colchester filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Spanish court issued a warrant, with an order declaring that Spain was S.L.C.’s habitual residence. In Washington state, Lazaro filed petitions for domestic violence orders of protection. Colchester filed a Hague Convention petition in Washington. After dismissing Lazaro’s petitions, the state court issued a warrant, authorizing law enforcement to seize S.L.C. Lazaro responded by temporarily hiding with S.L.C.The district court granted the Hague Convention petition. The Ninth Circuit vacated. Neither the Hague Convention nor its implementing legislation, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, provides for the appointment of a psychologist as of right but the district court erred in refusing the mother’s request for such an appointment to provide an expert opinion regarding her allegations of abuse and psychological harm to the child. The district court also erred by failing to make findings of fact adequate to support its order. View "Colchester v. Lazaro" on Justia Law

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Respondent Dustin Morris (Father) appealed a circuit court decision to award “custody and school placement” of his biological child to petitioner Alli Morris, Father’s ex-wife and Child’s stepmother (Stepmother). Stepmother did not file a brief or memorandum of law in this appeal; the New Hampshire Supreme Court proceeded on Father’s brief only. Because the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in applying solely a best-interests-of-the-child standard to determine the parental rights and responsibilities between Father and Stepmother with respect to Child, judgment was reversed and remanded. View "In the Matter of Alli Morris and Dustin Morris" on Justia Law

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A New Hampshire circuit court issued an adjudicatory order finding that G.B., a minor, had been neglected, but that respondents, G/B/'s adoptive parents, were not at fault for the neglect. Subsequently, the court issued a dispositional order awarding legal custody of G.B. to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and requiring DCYF to seek placement for G.B. in a residential treatment facility. DCYF appealed both orders, and G.B.’s guardian ad litem (GAL), Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA), joined in appealing the dispositional order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it ruled that the respondents did not neglect G.B. The Court further concluded that, although the circuit court did not err by ruling G.B. a neglected child and ordering G.B.’s placement in a residential treatment facility, it failed to identify legally permissible primary and concurrent case plans in its dispositional order. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law

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Harm is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, currently residing in Ireland. Lake-Harm is a U.S. citizen, currently living in New Orleans. The couple was married in the U.S.; their daughter, SLH, was born in the U.S. in 2017. Lake-Harm was a musician and traveled extensively. Harm alleged that SLH was abducted by Lake-Harm from Ireland in 2019. The three had been living in Ireland to obtain European Union residency for Lake-Harm and SLH. Harm initiated a custody suit in the U.S.Under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the country in which a child maintains her “habitual residence” almost always has jurisdiction to decide a custody dispute between the parents. If a child moves to a new country but her presence there is deemed “transitory,” the country in which the child habitually resided before the move remains the child’s habitual residence. The district court applied the “totality-of-the-circumstances” analysis in determining that SLH’s habitual residence was in the U.S. and that her residence in Ireland was transitory. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Despite “the increase of SLH’s parents’ center of gravity in Ireland,” the district court followed the Supreme Court’s precedent in Hague Convention cases and did not commit clear error in determining and weighing the operative facts. View "Harm v. Lake-Harm" on Justia Law

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A father appealed a Family Court order denying a Petition for Parental Visitation. Father Bryce Wilcox had been imprisoned since his son (“C.R.”) was two. C.R.’s mother, Marissa LaClaire (“Mother”) did not permit telephone contact between Father and C.R., and has withheld all letters Father has sent C.R. In denying Father’s Visitation Petition, the Family Court declined to order any change in this status quo, and ordered Mother to keep letters Father sent to C.R. should C.R. ever desire to read them. The Family Court justified the rejection of his petition based on the lack of relationship between Father and C.R. and Mother’s testimony that Father’s contact with C.R. would impair C.R.’s emotional development. On appeal, father argued: (1) the Family Court erred when it denied his request for contact with his son by telephone and mail because there was insufficient evidence that such contact would significantly impair C.R.’s emotional development; and (2) the Family Court erred when it justified that denial based upon a lack of relationship between Father and C.R. when that lack of relationship was a result of Mother and the Family Court not permitting Father to have contact with his son since August 2015. The Delaware Supreme Court determined Father's arguments had merit: (1) Mother did not argue Father’s requested contact by telephone and mail would place C.R. in any physical danger, and the only support in the record for impairment to C.R.’s emotional development was Mother’s speculative lay opinion; and (2) the Family Court’s decision overlooked the Supreme Court's prior opinion involving these same parties wherein the Court addressed Mother’s successful effort to block contact with Father. As a result, the Family Court’s decision lacked substantial evidence in the record to support it, was not the product of an orderly and logical process, and was thus reversed. View "Wilcox v. LaClaire" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court in this divorce case awarding Husband all of the interest in his business and ordering him to pay Wife $100,000 to equalize the property distribution and allowing Wife to take the parties' child to church during Husband's visitation, holding that the judgment against the business was in error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion by assigning a value to Husband's business; (2) did not abuse its discretion by requiring Husband to make the equalization payment to Wife within 120 days of the divorce; (3) erred by awarding a judgment against Husband's business, a nonparty to the divorce proceeding; and (4) did not violate Husband's constitutional rights to parent or to freedom of religion by allowing Wife to take the child to church during Husband's visitation time. View "Snyder v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)), alleging Deshawn’s and Clairessa’s history of substance abuse and current use of marijuana placed one-year-old Y.W., and one-month-old Y.G., at risk of serious physical harm. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and declared the children. dependents of the court, removed them from parental custody, and ordered the parents to complete substance abuse and domestic violence programs and to have monitored visitation with the children. At a hearing to select a permanent plan, the juvenile court terminated their parental rights, finding that returning the children to the parents would be detrimental, that the parents had not maintained regular and consistent visitation and contact, and that the children were adoptable.Based on the parents’ allegation that the Department failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901, the court of appeal conditionally affirm the orders terminating parental rights, with directions to ensure the Department complies with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law. Deshawn and Clairessa had each completed Judicial Council form ICWA-020, Parental Notification of Indian Status. Clairessa checked: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Deshawn checked: “I am or may be a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe. View "In re Y.W." on Justia Law

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In March 2020 LAPD officers responded to a call reporting “screaming, yelling, banging and slamming” at the family home. No one answered their initial requests to enter the residence. Ashley ultimately opened the door. The home was in disarray. The officers observed evidence of a domestic violence altercation. Two children in the home who were under age five were taken to the hospital. Blood and urine tests for both children were negative. Neither child had any marks or bruises that would indicate abuse or neglect. Ashley and Wesley were arrested for suspicion of injuring a child (Pen. Code 273a(a)), a charge that was not pursued. No domestic violence charges were filed.The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a dependency petition (Welfare and Institutions Code section 300(a) (serious physical harm inflicted non-accidentally) and (b)(1) (failure to protect). At the jurisdiction hearing nine months later, the juvenile court sustained both counts, finding “there is a long history of these parents having some domestic violence issues.” The court declared the children dependents of the juvenile court and ordered continued supervision by the Department while the children remained in Ashley’s home. The court of appeal reversed. There was insufficient evidence to support a finding the children were at substantial risk of serious physical harm by the time of the jurisdiction hearing. View "In re Cole L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the juvenile court's permanency order transferring sole legal custody of the child in this case to Father, holding that there was convincing evidence to show that the child could safely be transitioned to Mother's care at the time of the permanency hearing.The State initiated a child-in-need-of-assistance proceeding due to the parents' inability to coparent. At the time, Mother was the primary custodial parent. Mother participated in services to reunify with the child and showed progress, but the juvenile court determined it was not safe to return the child to Mother's home and entered a permanency order transferring sole legal custody of the child to Father. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was convincing evidence to show the child could safely be transitioned to Mother's care at the time of the permanency hearing. View "In re D.M." on Justia Law