Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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This appeal involved the investigation into a claim that a mother, S.C., abused her seven-year-old son by corporal punishment. The New Jersey Department of Children and Families (Department) concluded, after its investigation, that the claim of abuse was “not established.” Because the abuse allegation was deemed “not established” rather than “unfounded,” it was not eligible to be expunged. S.C. appealed the Department’s action, claiming: (1) a deprivation of her due process rights because she was not afforded a hearing; and (2) that the Department’s “not established” finding was arbitrary and capricious because the record was insufficient to support a finding that her son was harmed. S.C. did not raise a direct challenge to the validity of having a “not established” finding category in the Department’s regulations, although amici urged that the category be declared illegitimate and eliminated. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and remanded: (1) for the Department to provide improved notice of the basis on which its investigation has found credible evidence to support the allegation of harm; and (2) for S.C. to have an informal opportunity before the Department to rebut and/or supplement the record before the Department finalizes its finding. The Supreme Court rejected that due process considerations required the Department to conduct an adjudicative contested case proceeding either internally or at the Office of Administrative Law for a “not established” finding. That said, on the basis of the present record, the Supreme Court could not assess whether the “not established” finding in this instance was arbitrary or capricious. "It would be well worth the effort of the Department to revisit its regulatory language concerning the standard for making a 'not established' finding as well as its processes related to such findings. Our review of this matter brings to light shortcomings in fairness for parents and guardians involved in investigations that lead to such findings and which may require appellate review." View "S.C. v. New Jersey Department of Children and Families" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's order selecting adoption as the permanent plan for mother's daughter. The court held that mother's challenge to the juvenile court's order of adoption is waived; the trial court was under no obligation sua sponte to inquire whether M.W. (the mother of Samantha's godmother) had been advised of and rejected the option of guardianship in favor of adoption; and where, as here, all statutory requirements to terminate parental rights have been met, the non-relative prospective adoptive parent has been clear and consistent in her willingness and desire to adopt the child, and the court has found the adoptive parent suitable and the child thriving in the adoptive parent's care and custody, the court saw no reason whatsoever to derail this adoption. View "In re Samantha H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court awarding primary custody of the parties' children to Father and granting Mother visitation, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by prohibiting Mother from using alcohol during visitation. When the parties divorced, the district court awarded primary custody of the children to Mother and visitation to Father. The original decree incorporated an order prohibiting the parties from engaging in any excessive drinking or use of illegal substances. Father later filed a petition to modify custody to award him primary use of the children based on Mother's improper of alcohol and controlled substances. On remand, the district court awarded Father primary custody. The court then entered a written order granting Mother visitation and ordering Mother to refrain from using alcohol and to subject herself to chemical testing during the visitation periods. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered Mother to refrain from using any alcohol during visitation with the children. View "Kidd v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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K.L. (mother) and J.P. (father) had three young children together as well as an infant son named E. Mother tested positive for amphetamine at a prenatal visit for E., and when the child was born a few months later, he tested positive for amphetamine and marijuana. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court declared all four children dependents and removed them from the parents’ care. Mother appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence used to support the removal order. She argued there was insufficient evidence E.’s siblings were at risk of harm, as well as insufficient evidence all of the children could not live safely with father, with her out of the home. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence supported the challenged findings and orders, and therefore affirmed. View "In re E.E." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court granting Pamela Dobbins's motion to enforce the terms of a divorce judgment and a later court order acceptable for processing (COAP) federal retirement benefits, holding that the court lacked the authority to order Mark Dobbins to retire. In the COAP, the court stated that Mark was required to retire at age sixty-two. When Mark turned sixty-two years old, Pamela filed a motion to enforce the divorce judgment and COAP. Mark filed a motion for relief from judgment, arguing that the divorce judgment and COAP were ambiguous and that the court was not authorized to require him to retire at a specific age. The district court denied relief, finding that the divorce judgment and the COAP were enforceable as written. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the court lacked the authority to order Mark to retire at a certain age. View "Dobbins v. Dobbins" on Justia Law

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"Although seemingly a simple question of statutory interpretation, at its essence this case concerns a profound family tragedy that has left three young girls caught in the middle of a legal battle between four people who love them." The Nelsons were the grandparents of three girls, ages thirteen, eleven, and eight. The Nelsons’ daughter, Stephanie Evans, and their son-in-law, Brian Evans, are the girls’ parents. The Nelsons petitioned a magistrate court seeking to establish visitation rights, but the court dismissed the petition, ruling: (1) the Nelsons lacked standing to file a petition under Idaho’s grandparent visitation statute); and (2) even if the Nelsons had standing, it would still grant summary judgment in favor of the girls’ parents because the Nelsons would be unable to overcome the presumption that fit parents make decisions in their children’s best interests. On intermediate appeal, the district court affirmed the magistrate court’s rulings. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the visitation statute, Code section 32-719, did not restrict when a grandparent could petition for visitation rights. Further, the district court erred in affirming the magistrate court's grant of summary judgment to the Evanses because the Supreme Court found genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Evanses’ decision to terminate all contact between the Nelsons and their children was in their children’s best interests. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the magistrate court for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the Nelsons' petition. View "Nelson v. Evans" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the termination of Mother's parental rights to her child, D.D., holding that D.D. was not an abused or neglected child as provided in Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-102(2)(a), (7)(a)(i)-(iii) and (21)(a)(i)-(vi), and therefore, the district court erred in terminating Mother's parental rights to D.D. D.D. was residing with his father and had not been in Mother's care for nearly eight years when the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division filed is petition for termination of Mother's parental rights. At the close of a hearing, the district court implicitly determined D.D. was an abused or neglected child, found the Department need not make reasonable efforts to provide preservation or reunification services, and terminated Mother's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because D.D. was not residing with mother at the time of her alleged neglectful conduct and was not at risk of doing so, D.D. was not an abused or neglected child. View "In re D.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the family court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, C.S., holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in the proceedings below. After a hearing, the district court implicitly determined C.S. was an abused or neglected child, found the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division, need not make reasonable efforts to provide preservation or reunification services due to Mother's chronic, severe neglect of C.S., and terminated Mother's parental rights to C.S. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) C.S. was properly determined to be an abused or neglected child; and (2) Mother was not denied due process in determining reunification efforts were not necessary and terminating Mother's parental rights to C.S. due to chronic and severe neglect. View "In re C.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing, for lack of standing, Appellant's petition to establish de facto parentage of his stepson, holding that Appellant was entitled to a hearing to determine his standing. Appellant filed a petition to be adjudicated the child's de facto parent after the mother died unexpectedly. With the petition, Appellant included an affidavit alleging facts to support the existence of a de facto parent relationship with the child. The court dismissed the petition for lack of standing, concluding that Appellant could not establish a necessary element of standing even if the facts in his affidavit were true. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Appellant's assertions, if believed, could have led to a find that he had standing; (2) Respondent's affidavit generated disputed material facts that must be resolved to determine Appellant's standing; and (3) the court abused its discretion in refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve those factual disputes. View "Libby v. Estabrook" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, his three children, and Stop Child Protection Services from Legally Kidnapping filed suit against the county, DCSS, nine county officials, and three officials. Plaintiffs' constitutional, federal, and state law claims stemmed from a Child in Need of Protection of Services (CHIPS) proceeding by DCSS. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the facial constitutionality of three Minnesota child welfare statutes; plaintiff was not entitled to monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, because he failed to establish a due process violation, an equal protection claim, and municipal liability and conspiracy; and the children are also not entitled to damages under section 1983. The court also held that, even if the complaint was sufficiently pled and established a constitutional violation, defendants would be entitled to qualified immunity. Furthermore, the court held that no conduct by the individual defendants, as alleged in the amended complaint, rose to the level of maliciousness required to deny official immunity under Minnesota law. Finally, plaintiffs are not entitled to declaratory relief. View "Mitchell v. Dakota County Social Services" on Justia Law