Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

by
By petition for writ of mandate A.M. (Mother) challenged the family court’s ruling subjecting her and her child (Minor) to its continued jurisdiction to adjudicate the paternal grandparents’ petition for visitation. Mother’s husband and father of her child died tragically in October 2018 while performing his job trimming trees. In 2019, father’s parents, R.M. and E.M. (Grandparents), filed a petition requesting visitation with Minor under Family Code section 3103. Concurrently with the petition, Grandparents filed a jurisdictional declaration in accordance with the UCCJEA stating Minor had lived in San Diego since birth in November 2015. Before any action on the petition, on January 31, 2019, Mother filed an ex parte application for an order allowing her and her child to move from San Diego to Washington state to be near Mother’s parents and other close family members. The family court denied the application on the ground it was “not an emergency.” The Court of Appeal agreed with mother that writ relief was warranted in this case, and issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the court to vacate its October 22, 2020 order and enter a new order dismissing the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (1997). View "A.M. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

by
The juvenile court asserted emergency jurisdiction over seven-year-old A.T., whose mentally ill mother had taken him from Washington state to California in violation of Washington family court orders. The court detained A.T., placed him temporarily with his father in Washington, and initiated contact with the Washington family court to address which state had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In the meantime, the Wiyot Tribe intervened and, with A.T.’s mother asserted Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required the court to retain jurisdiction in California.The juvenile court determined ICWA was inapplicable and that the Washington family court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and dismissed the dependency action in favor of the family court proceedings in Washington. The court of appeal affirmed. The juvenile court properly applied the UCCJEA and dismissed the dependency action in favor of family court proceedings in Washington state after finding ICWA inapplicable because the child had been placed with his non-offending parent. ICWA and the related California statutory scheme expressly focus on the removal of Indian children from their homes and parents and placement in foster or adoptive homes. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law

by
K.M.E. appealed an order extending a guardianship over her biological child J.O. L.O. and S.O. were granted guardianship of J.O. and his stepsister, I.E. L.O. and S.O. were J.O.’s maternal grandparents. K.M.E. was J.O.’s biological mother, and her husband, K.R.E., was J.O.’s stepfather and I.E.’s biological father. Before the petition for guardianship was filed, K.M.E. and K.R.E. left J.O. in the care of L.O. and S.O. “for an indefinite period of time” and did not make plans to resume physical custody. The juvenile court noted K.M.E. and K.R.E. “failed to provide food, shelter, and medical attention to adequately provide for the minor child’s needs since June 1, 2017.” The court took judicial notice of four pending criminal matters with pending bench warrants against K.M.E. and four more against her husband. The court suspended K.M.E.’s rights of custody over J.O. “due to her lack of stability, pending criminal charges, and inability to properly care for and nurture the minor child and to provide a stable living environment.” The court appointed L.O. and S.O. as guardians over J.O. for an unlimited duration under N.D.C.C. 27-20-36. At the same time, L.O. and S.O. sought guardianship and were appointed guardians of I.E. I.E. later returned to K.M.E. and K.R.E.’s home. After K.R.E. petitioned the juvenile court and L.O. and S.O. did not object in the related case, the guardianship over I.E. was terminated. However, with regard to the petition to terminate the guardianship for J.O., at a hearing, J.O. stated he did not want contact with his mother, and wanted to continue living with L.O. and S.O. The court ultimately found K.M.E. did not meet her burden of presenting evidence the circumstances that lead to the guardianship no longer existed. Accordingly, the petition to terminate was denied. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in extending J.O.'s guardianship; judgment was affirmed. View "Interest of J.O." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Jonathan Merrill appealed a circuit court's final divorce decree, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) including the assets of a spendthrift trust in the marital estate; (2) excluding from the marital estate assets owned by respondent Lea Merrill, and her mother as joint tenants; and (3) incorporating parts of the temporary order into the final decree. After review of the circuit court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded: (1) the circuit court erred in including certain trust assets which erroneously increased the value of the marital estate; (2) respondent’s mother’s condominium was not marital property; and (3) because of the error including certain assets in the martial estate, the incorporation of the temporary order into the final decree had to be vacated: "because the trial court did not consider these expenses in isolation, but rather considered these figures in its equitable division of the marital estate." View "In the Matter of Jonathan & Lea Merrill" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal dismissed Mother's appeal of the juvenile court's declaration that her son is a dependent child of the court after sustaining an amended petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1). The court concluded that Mother is correct that termination of dependency jurisdiction does not necessarily moot an appeal from a jurisdiction finding that directly results in an adverse juvenile custody order. However, the court explained that in most cases, including the one at bar, for the court to be able to provide effective relief, the parent must appeal not only from the jurisdiction finding and disposition order but also from the orders terminating jurisdiction and modifying the parent's prior custody status. Therefore, without the second appeal, the court cannot correct the continuing adverse consequences of the allegedly erroneous jurisdiction finding. In regard to Mother's alternative contention, the court concluded that this case does not present an issue of broad public interest. View "In re Rashad D." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court in favor of Plaintiff in this case alleging that Defendant fraudulently and intentionally concealed for more than a decade the fact that Plaintiff was the father of Defendant's child, holding that summary judgment should have been granted in favor of Defendant.In her motion for summary judgment, Defendant argued that Plaintiff's claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The circuit court concluded that Plaintiff had waived her statute of limitations defense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred in concluding that Defendant had waived her defense based on the statute of limitations; and (2) Plaintiff's claims were barred by the relevant statute of limitations. View "Coffield v. Robinson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to their two minor children and Mother's parental rights to a daughter from a previous relationship, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in terminating the parents' parental rights.After a hearing, the trial court found the existence of three grounds to terminate the parental rights of the parents and that termination of both parents' parental rights was in the best interests of the children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court (1) properly adjudicated at least one ground for termination; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination of the parents' parental rights was in the best interests of the children. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law

by
The chancery court granted divorce to William Jack ("BJ") Kerr on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and its award of joint custody of the minor child, WHK. India Kerr argued the chancellor erred by granting her ex-husband's petition for divorce and not her own. She also sought an amendment to the custody award, arguing the chancellor's Albright analysis was incorrect. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's judgment. View "Kerr v. Kerr" on Justia Law

by
In 2018, E.M. was a three-year-old boy who had lived with his grandmother since birth as a dependent child of the State. When his grandmother sought to return to work, E.M. suddenly found himself in a custodial tug-of-war between his biological parents, his grandmother, and the State. The Superior Court placed E.M. in foster care. E.M.’s grandmother quickly retained an attorney for E.M. for the purpose of asking the Superior Court to reconsider its decision. The attorney, however, was unable to meet with E.M. because the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) would not provide contact details or arrange a meeting with E.M. Ultimately, the court declined reconsidering E.M.’s placement in foster care because it ruled that the attorney was not appointed by the court to represent E.M. and because the representation raised numerous ethical issues. E.M.’s mother appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding that "circumstances may arise where an attorney must undertake a representation to protect a person’s interest in limited circumstances before the attorney has had a chance to meet with the person or obtain the court’s approval. Accordingly, before striking a representation, the court must first consider whether the circumstances may authorize such a limited representation. As the superior court failed to make this consideration before striking the notice of appearance, we reverse." View "In re Dependency of E.M." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part the divorce decree and orders of contempt of the circuit court in this divorce case, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) did not err in calculating Appellant's child-support obligation at $800 per month and imputing income to Appellant; (2) did not abuse its discretion in awarding alimony to Appellee; (3) did not clearly err in failing to consider a mediation agreement; and (4) did not clearly err in holding Appellant in contempt for failure to pay child support. Lastly, the Supreme Court held Appellant failed to preserve for appeal his remaining argument. View "Symanietz v. Symanietz" on Justia Law