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A mother wanted to relocate with her daughter from Alaska to New York. She sought primary custody, alleging that the father’s drinking and busy schedule made him an improper guardian for their two-year-old. The superior court concluded that it was in the child’s best interests to remain in Alaska in her father’s custody. The mother appealed, arguing the superior court erred in its analysis. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court did not properly consider the effect of separating the child from her mother, vacated the custody order and remanded for further analysis. However, the Court affirmed the superior court's decision not to order protective measures to ensure the father's sobriety while caring for the child. View "Saffir v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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Kathleen Varty appeals from an amended divorce judgment, arguing the district court erred in reducing Thomas Varty's spousal support obligation. "The evidence supports the facts recited by the district court. The court did not misapply the law. Therefore, the court's findings are not clearly erroneous," and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment reducing Thomas Varty's spousal support obligation. View "Varty v. Varty" on Justia Law

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Trina Iverson appealed a district court order finding a prima facie case for modification of primary residential responsibility had not been established with regard to the parties' two youngest children, G.I.H. and G.O.H. Iverson also claimed the district court erred when it denied her motion to amend the findings and order. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded a prima facie case was been established for G.I.H. and G.O.H., it was unnecessary to determine if the district court erred when it denied Iverson's motion to amend the findings and order. The Court concluded Iverson established a prima facie case for modification of primary residential responsibility of G.I.H. and G.O.H. and was entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Therefore, it reversed the district court's order and remanded for further proceedings to determine if modification of primary residential responsibility for G.I.H. and G.O.H. was appropriate. View "Heidt v. Heidt" on Justia Law

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Dustin Erman appealed a district court judgment awarding Trista Dick primary residential responsibility of the parties' minor child. A district court's award of primary residential responsibility is a finding of fact, which will not be reversed on appeal unless it is clearly erroneous. Absent a reason for denying it, some form of extended visitation with a fit non-custodial parent is routinely awarded. A district court's ruling on decision-making responsibility is a finding of fact, reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment as to primary residential responsibility and decision-making responsibility, but reversed with regard to extended parenting time and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dick v. Erman" on Justia Law

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Charlotte Horst appealed a judgment establishing primary residential responsibility, child support and parenting time of two children. Horst claimed she was denied due process when the district court issued an emergency ex parte custody order and refused to appoint counsel. She also claimed imposing child support was unconstitutional, the district court erred in awarding Hagen primary residential responsibility, and the district court erred in ordering supervised parenting time until Horst completed parenting and anger management classes and establishes residential stability. The North Dakota Supreme Court summarily affirmed the judgment, finding the district court's findings on the best interest factors contained sufficient specificity to show the factual basis for its award of primary residential responsibility to Hagen and was not clearly erroneous. Further, the district court decision to condition parenting time on completion of classes and residential stability was supported by evidence of Horst's parenting deficiencies and was not clearly erroneous. View "Hagen v. Horst" on Justia Law

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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