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Mother appealed an order concluding that her children were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to educational neglect. In April 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that B.C., born in January 2007, Bo.B., born in May 2012, and Br.B., born in April 2013, were CHINS for lack of proper education necessary for their well-being. B.C. had been referred to an educational support team because she was not meeting certain achievement levels in her educational program. In prior years, there had been three educational neglect/truancy assessments involving B.C. In January 2018, the assistant principal reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that B.C. had missed twenty-two days and Bo.B. had missed thirty-two days of school and all absences were unexcused. By March 2018, B.C. and Bo.B. had missed thirty-eight and fifty days of school, respectively. DCF contacted mother, who asserted that the absences were occurring because she was not receiving sufficient support from the school, the children were often absent due to illness, and transportation was a barrier. When asked, mother did not appear to understand the details of Bo.B.’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). DCF set up a plan to implement services through NCSS in March, however, mother cancelled the meeting. The court found that the three children were CHINS due to the parents’ inability to provide for the children’s educational needs. The court found that the children’s absences resulted in missed educational opportunities that put them at risk of harm, especially in light of their needs. On appeal, mother argued: (1) the court erred in not requiring the State to demonstrate that the children’s absences were without justification; (2) the evidence did not support the court’s finding that missing school caused the children harm; (3) the existence of IEPs for the two young children, who were not legally required to attend school, did not support a finding of educational neglect; and (4) the court erred in admitting the school attendance records. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to B.C. and reversed and remanded the CHINS determinations as to Bo.B. and Br.B. "[T]he evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Bo.B. and Br.B. were at risk of harm for educational neglect given that they were not required to attend school and mother could discontinue the services related to their IEPs without any presumption of neglect." View "In re B.B., B.C., and B.B., Juveniles" on Justia Law

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The parties’ daughter was born in July 2002. In November 2012, the family division of the superior court entered a final order awarding primary legal rights and responsibilities for daughter to mother, subject to an obligation to consult with father prior to making any major decisions. The court ordered the parties to share physical rights and responsibilities. The schedule set forth in the order called for daughter to spend approximately half of her time with each parent. The parties were required to attempt to resolve any disputes about parenting issues through mediation before returning to court. In August 2017, father filed a motion to enforce parent-child contact. He claimed that mother had consistently interfered with his contact with daughter and recently had prevented him from seeing daughter at all. Mother denied father’s allegations that she had interfered with his contact with daughter. She asserted that daughter, who was now fifteen years old, felt uncomfortable and anxious around father and no longer wanted to have contact with him. After an unsuccessful attempt at mediation, the parties renewed their motions. Father appealed the superior court’s decision granting mother’s motion to modify parental rights and responsibilities and permitting father to have contact with the parties’ minor child only if the child agreed. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the modification of parental rights and responsibilities, but reversed and remanded the parent-child contact order. The Court determined the family court should consider contact for consistent with the child's best interests. View "Wright v. Kemp" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two minor children for failure to comply with a reunification-oriented treatment plan, holding that the district court’s failure to properly determine whether the children were Indian children before terminating Mother’s parental rights was harmless. On appeal, Mother asserted that the district court abused its discretion by failing properly to confirm or dispel a reason to know that the children were Indian children as defined by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, 25. U.S.C. 1901, et seq. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, in light of a subsequently and conclusive tribal determination that neither child was eligible for tribal enrollment, the district court’s abuse of discretion in failing to comply with 25 U.S.C. 1912(a) and 25 C.F.R. 23.107(b) and 23.108 was harmless. View "In re S.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the decision of the South Dakota Retirement System (SDRS) denying Debra Lee Anderson’s application for survivor spouse benefits under Deborah Cady’s retirement plan with the SDRS, holding that Anderson was not entitled to receive survivor benefits. Anderson and Cady both worked for the Rapid City Police Department. In 2012, Cady retired from the department. In 2015, Anderson and Cady married. In 2017, Cady died. Anderson applied for survivor spouse benefits, but the SDRS denied the application because Anderson and Cady were not married at the time of Cady’s retirement and because Anderson did not meet the definition of a “spouse” under S.D. Codified Laws 3-12-47(80). The South Dakota Officer of Hearing Examiners and circuit court both affirmed the SDRS. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the relevant statutes, Anderson could not meet the definition of “spouse” and therefore was not entitled to Cady’s survivor benefits under South Dakota law; and (2) there was no discrimination on the basis of Anderson’s gender or sexual orientation. View "Anderson v. South Dakota Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the termination of Father’s parental rights and remanded this case to the circuit court to conduct a new trial, holding that denying a defendant an opportunity to present his case-in-chief is a structural error, one that is so intrinsically harmful as to require automatic reversal. After the State petitioned the circuit court to terminate Father’s parental rights, the case went to trial. Immediately after the State rested and before giving Father an opportunity to present his case the circuit court decided that Father was an unfit parent. On appeal, the State admitted error but argued that the circuit court’s decision was subject to a harmless-error review. The court of appeals agreed with the State and concluded that the circuit court’s error was harmless. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred when it decided Father was an unfit parent before he had an opportunity to present his case; and (2) the error was structural, and the case must be remanded for a new trial. View "State v. C.L.K." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the judgments of the trial court denying the petitions filed by the maternal grandmother (Petitioner) for termination of Father's parental rights with respect to his three minor children, holding that the trial court applied an incorrect legal test to determine that Petitioner had failed to prove the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court erred in concluding that, under the facts of this case, it was required to depart from the usual test to determine whether a petitioner has established a lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship; and (2) the trial court’s finding that Petitioner failed to prove that allowing further time to develop a parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the best interests of the children was clearly erroneous. View "In re Jacob W." on Justia Law

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Assuming fraudulent intent, the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act, formerly known as the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA), can apply to a premarital agreement in which the prospective spouses agree that upon marriage each spouse's earnings, income, and other property acquired during marriage will be that spouse's separate property. In this case, plaintiff obtained a judgment in bankruptcy court against defendant. Plaintiff alleged a single cause of action under UFTA to set aside the alleged transfer of defendant's community property interest in the wife's earnings and income. The trial court sustained defendant's demurrer and found that defendants were entitled to alter the presumptions under Family Code 760 and Family Code 910 that property acquired during the marriage is community property and that the community estate would be liable to satisfy any judgments against defendant. The Court of Appeal reversed in light of the legislative language, history, and the strong policy of protecting the creditors from fraudulent transfers. Therefore, the court held that the Legislature must have intended that UFTA can apply to premarital agreements in which the prospective spouses agree that each spouse’s earnings, income, and property acquired during marriage will be that spouse's separate property. View "Sturm v. Moyer" on Justia Law

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Bill and Clara are the parents of Noah and Olwen, ages 12 and 5 at the time of the termination trial. Noah and Olwen were Indian children within the meaning of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) based on their affiliation with the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (theTribe). Bill and Clara had a lengthy history of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Noah and Olwen suffered primarily through neglect and mental injury from exposure to their parents’ conduct. While Bill’s and Clara’s violence was typically directed at each other or other family members, there were reports of alleged physical abuse of Noah. The superior court terminated the parents' rights to their children. The parents appealed, arguing the superior court erred in finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that OCS made active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family. Because the Alaska Supreme Court determined there was insufficient evidence to support an active efforts finding under a clear and convincing evidence standard, it reversed the superior court’s active efforts finding, vacated the termination order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bill S. v. State, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed two separate judgments of the probate court granting the petitions of half-sisters’ maternal grandmother to terminate the fathers’ parental rights as part of the proceeding through which the grandmother sought to adopt the children, holding that the fathers were not deprived of due process and equal protection of the law when the court denied the fathers’ motions for an order requiring the provision of rehabilitation and reunification services. The judicial termination proceedings in these consolidated cases did not involve the Department of Health and Human Services. The fathers argued that they were constitutionally entitled to the services that are ordinarily provided in a title 22 child protection action after a court has found abuse or neglect or has placed a child in foster care under the supervision of the Department. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the probate court (1) did not violate the fathers’ constitutional rights by denying the fathers’ motions for orders of rehabilitation and reunification services; and (2) did not err in determining that each father’s parental rights should be terminated. View "In re Adoption of Riahleigh M." on Justia Law

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N.L. was born in August 2014. In January 2016, she was taken into state custody because both parents were using illicit substances, father was facing jail time on a charge alleging domestic abuse against mother, and mother was unable to care for the child due to her drug addiction and homelessness. N.L. spent several months in foster care. A conditional custody order (CCO) returned N.L. to mother’s care after mother completed a substance-abuse program, and they resided for several months in a residential treatment program at Lund Family Center. The CCO remained in effect until February 27, 2017, when the Department for Children and Families (DCF) closed the case. The underlying case was initiated based on an incident that occurred in August 2017, at which time DCF was investigating reports of drug use and domestic violence in the home. The family division of the superior court granted a petition to terminate mother’s parental rights to her child, N.L., but denied the petition concerning father. Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights, and N.L. appealed the court’s decision not to terminate father’s parental rights. After careful review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed termination of mother’s parental rights and reversed the court’s order declining to terminate father’s parental rights. The matter was remanded for the limited purpose of directing the family division to grant the petition to terminate father’s parental rights. View "In re N.L." on Justia Law