Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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Raymond Dapo was born in 1990. OCS took custody of him ten years later and, in April 2000, placed him in Taun Lucas’s foster home. Lucas and her husband David legally adopted Dapo in May 2002. According to Dapo, Lucas began sexually abusing him shortly thereafter; Lucas, however, alleged that she was sexually abused by Dapo, and Dapo, then 11 years old, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault. The charges were eventually dropped, and Dapo was returned to the custody of the State as a dependent child. When he was 24 years old (in 2015), Dapo filed a complaint against Lucas, alleging that she had sexually abused him while he was a minor. In September 2015, Lucas filed a third-party claim against OCS for apportionment of fault, contending that OCS “had a duty to protect” Dapo and “negligently failed to protect” him. The superior court granted OCS’s motion to dismiss the apportionment claim, holding that it was barred by the ten-year statute of repose, AS 09.10.055(a). Dapo appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the statute of repose applied to the apportionment claim and was not unconstitutional as applied. However, the Court determined there were issues of fact regarding the applicability of two exceptions to the statute of repose: claims for gross negligence and claims for breaches of fiduciary duty. Therefore the superior court’s order was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Dapo v. Alaska, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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Matthew and SummerLee Thomas were married in 2008. Matthew and SummerLee have two children, H.M.T., born in 2008, and C.M.T., born in 2009. In May 2018 Matthew initiated a divorce proceeding, citing irreconcilable differences. Following trial in February 2019, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment. A judgment was entered accordingly, granting an absolute decree of divorce, distributing assets, and giving SummerLee and Matthew joint residential responsibility of H.M.T. and C.M.T. Matthew appealed the judgment granting the parties joint residential responsibility of the children, arguing the district court erred when applying the best interest factors. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court did not make findings regarding the portions of a stipulated agreement that were not part of the divorce judgment and order. "The court is not bound to accept the stipulation, but if it does not, it must make findings that the stipulation is not in the best interests of the children. ... [t]he district court’s findings should be sufficiently detailed to allow [the Supreme] Court to understand the basis for its decision.” The matter was remanded with instructions to the district court to make specific findings. View "Thomas v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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After falling into arrears on his court-ordered child support obligation, the North Dakota suspended Joshua Rose's drivers license. In November 2018, Rose entered into a child support payment plan with the State which lifted his drivers license suspension. The payment plan required Rose to make a $1,000 down payment and pay $836 per month for his current child support obligation and $167.20 per month for his arrears. Rose stopped paying his child support obligation after December 31, 2018. Following Rose’s failure to comply with the payment plan, the State resuspended his drivers license. Rose requested a hearing in the district court and asked to appear telephonically to contest the license suspension. The court denied the motion on May 17, 2019, reasoning Rose “has failed to show any statutory, or procedural, basis for granting his requests.” The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court erred, reversed and remanded for a hearing as required by N.D.C.C. 50-09-08.6. View "North Dakota v. Rose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the order of the family court denying Father's motion for a new trial following an order that denied Father's motion to change custody and awarded sole custody of the parties' children to Mother, holding that the trial justice improperly determined that Plaintiff should be awarded sole custody. Following the entry of final judgment of divorce Father moved to modify placement, seeking an order awarding him placement of the children. The trial justice granted Mother's motion to dismiss, finding that Defendant had not met his burden of showing a substantial change in circumstances. The trial justice then found that the parents could not co-parent the children and granted sole custody to Mother. The Supreme Court vacated the order in part, holding that the trial justice (1) did not abuse her discretion when she denied Defendant's motion to modify custody; and (2) erred in awarding sole custody to Mother without determining that the change of placement was in the best interests of the children. View "Souza v. Souza" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Parents' parental rights to their child pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4055(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a), (B)(2)(b)(i)-(ii), (iv), holding that the district court did not err. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in finding by clear and convincing evidence that each parent was unfit; (2) Mother's argument that her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection were violated when the court terminated her parental rights based solely on her financial status was grounded on a faulty premise; (3) the court did not err in declining to allow a witness who testified at the hearing to testify as an expert; and (4) the court's factual finding that Father's unorthodox sleep pattern was a choice and not a disability was not clearly erroneous, and therefore, the court did not err in declining to accommodate the sleep pattern. View "In re Child of Rebecca R." on Justia Law

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In 2013 and 2014, mother Jordain Bradford was involved in relationships with both Shad Hamberlin and Matthew Edwards. She did not marry either man. On September 24, 2014, Bradford gave birth to a minor child, T.J.H. Bradford and Hamberlin discussed the timing of her pregnancy and decided that Hamberlin had to be T.J.H.’s father. Bradford did not discuss the pregnancy with Edwards, nor were any additional objective measures, such as a paternity test, taken at that time. When T.J.H. was over nine months old, Bradford and Hamberlin each signed and notarized a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit (“VAP”), in which they both acknowledged that Hamberlin was the biological father of T.J.H. The State of Idaho then issued a birth certificate listing Hamberlin as T.J.H.’s father. Bradford and Hamberlin lived with T.J.H., generally in Bradford’s parents’ home, until around September 2016, when they separated. Hamberlin filed suit to establish child custody and child support for T.J.H. Bradford initially answered the petition by admitting, among other things, that she and Hamberlin were the biological parents of T.J.H. and that “both parties should have legal custody and joint physical custody of T.J.H. . . .” Bradford reversed course less than one month later, amending her answer to disavow that Hamberlin was a biological parent of T.J.H., and positing that Hamberlin should not have custody. Bradford amended her answer again in January 2017. This pleading continued to deny that Hamberlin was a biological parent of T.J.H., and affirmatively asserted that Hamberlin “has [no] legal right to have any of the care, custody and control of the minor child. . . .” Bradford also asserted for the first time, as an affirmative defense, that Hamberlin “is not the biological father of the minor child at issue in this matter.” The magistrate court rejected the mother’s effort to rescind the VAP and the district court affirmed that ruling. Bradford appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hamberlin v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Jennifer Hansen's petition for dissolution of marriage on the basis that she failed to establish a common law marriage with Thomas Roffe, holding that the district court correctly ruled that the parties' relationship was not spousal. Specifically, the Court held that the record reflected the parties' mutual decision to remain as life partners throughout their ten-year relationship, not spouses, and that the district court was correct in finding that Roffe did not consent to the marriage and that the public did not view Roffe and Hansen as a married couple. Therefore, the Court held that Hansen failed to meet her burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a common law marriage existed with Roffe. View "In re Marriage of Hansen & Roffe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that a common law marriage existed between the parties in this case and awarding spousal maintenance and child support and equitably dividing the property. As a result of finding a valid common law marriage, the district court awarded spousal maintenance to be paid by Karen Nelson to Lora Adami, equitably divided the parties' estate, calculated Nelson's child and medical support, and awarded Adami attorney's fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that Adami established a common law marriage with Nelson; (2) did not commit procedural errors requiring reversal; (3) did not abuse its discretion in granting a variance from child support guidelines in its calculation of child support; and (4) did not err in awarding Adami attorney's fees. View "In re J.K.N.A." on Justia Law

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In this divorce case, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Karen Fox's motion to enforce the provision of the divorce judgment requiring Elwood Fox to pay towards his children's college expenses, holding that there was no error of law or abuse of discretion in the court's findings or judgment. In a separate motion, Karen requested sanctions for filing a frivolous or contumacious appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court both affirmed the judgment on the motion to enforce and awarded Karen attorney fees, holding that a sanction was warranted for this frivolous appeal and that Karen demonstrated that she was entitled to reasonable attorney fees. View "Fox v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the court had sufficient to justify terminating Mother's parental rights after finding that she was unfit within the meaning of 22 M.R.S. § 4055(1)(B)(2)(b)(i) and (ii); (2) the trial court properly determined that it was in the best interests of the child that Mother's parental rights be terminated; and (3) no violation of Mother's due process rights occurred. View "In re Child of Sherri Y." on Justia Law