Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

by
Kate K. and Jaime S. were the de facto parents of L.M., who was placed in their foster care soon after birth. They challenged a juvenile court's order, made when L.M. was 10-months old, removing her from their care and placing her with Rita and John E. (the E.'s), who had previously adopted L.M.'s sister, V.E. The juvenile court had "an immensely difficult decision" to make in this case. As the court recognized, Kate and Jaime had provided L.M. excellent care for essentially her entire 10-month life. Yet, the E.'s are also "good people and excellent parents as well" and have adopted L.M.'s sister. L.M. thrives in both environments. The tipping point was the relationship between L.M. and V.E., who "hit it off immediately" and "simply love each other." The court found that it is in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from Kate and Jaime's care so that she may be placed with the E.'s. On appeal, Kate and Jaime claimed the juvenile court erred by applying the "wrong" legal standard: the court first had to determine if it was in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from their care, without regard to whether it was in L.M.'s best interest to be placed with the E.'s. Kate and Jaime further claimed that under this standard, focusing only on grounds for removal, the order had to be reversed because the juvenile court recognized that they provided excellent care and did nothing wrong. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming that Kate and Jaime were entitled to rights afforded to prospective adoptive parents, the juvenile court applied the correct legal standard, and it affirmed because the court's findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re L.M." on Justia Law

by
Brandi and Brandon Kelly were married and had a son. After about two years of marriage Brandon filed for divorce. Once the divorce was final the magistrate court awarded sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the child to Brandon. Brandi filed a permissive appeal, arguing the magistrate court erred by relying on an inadmissible parenting time evaluation and following the recommendations of a biased evaluator. The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the child custody judgment, finding the magistrate court abused its discretion in allowing Brandon's hired expert's opinion on parenting time. "The use of parenting time evaluations is unique to custody disputes;" the authority for and parameters guiding the use of such evaluations were governed by court rule IRFLP 719. "These evaluators are performing a 'judicial function,' entitling them to quasi-judicial immunity, because of the important, impartial work they perform as an extension of the court. ... The importance of an evaluator’s neutrality cannot be overemphasized." The Court affirmed certain evidentiary rulings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kelly v. Kelly" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the order of the district court modifying child support and spousal support, holding that there was no error except in the court's calculation of the child support obligation. After James Sulikowski and Sandra Sulikowski divorced Sandra filed a motion to modify child support, alleging that James's income and increased substantially since the divorce. Thereafter, James filed a motion to terminate spousal support, alleging that Sandra's income had increased substantially and that Sandra had been cohabiting in a relationship functionally equivalent to marriage. The court modified James's child support obligation and reduced James's spousal support obligation while ordering Sandra to repay James for his overpayment of spousal support. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the child support order but otherwise affirmed, holding that, among other things, the court erroneously calculated the weekly child support obligation using the amount listed in the child support table for two children instead of three children but as to the remainder of the order, the district court did not err. View "Sulikowski v. Sulikowski" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the county court declining to terminate the guardianship of Child or to grant Mother visitation, holding that the county court's findings were supported by competent evidence. In 2014, Mother's parents (Grandparents) were appointed as coguardians for Child. Thereafter, Mother was convicted of child abuse for failing to protect Child from sexual abuse while in Mother's care. In 2017, Mother filed a motion to terminate the guardianship and a motion to reinstate visitation. After a trial, the county court entered an order denying Mother's motions. The court of appeals affirmed, finding that it was in Child's best interests for the guardianship to remain in place and for there to be no visitation. The Supreme Court affirmed, although based on different reasoning than that of the court of appeals, holding that the county court's determination that, at the time of trial, Mother was unfit to parent Child was supported by competent evidence. View "In re Guardianship of K.R." on Justia Law

by
At issue in this case was a district court’s determination concerning the location of children’s habitual residence. Shane Watts was a dual citizen of Australia and the United States. Carrie Watts was a citizen of the United States. In 2005, Shane and Carrie married in Park City, Utah. From December 2006 to June 2016, the couple lived in North Carolina, where they reared their three children—also dual citizens of Australia and the United States. In March 2016, the couple learned that their middle child would need specialized medical attention possibly including expensive palate-extension surgery. The family decided to move to Australia to benefit from that country’s universal- healthcare system. The couple intended to live in Australia until completion of their son’s medical treatment. The move to Australia placed additional stress on Shane and Carrie’s already- strained marriage. Concerned that she would be unable to work if she and Shane later divorced, Carrie applied for a permanent visa to Australia. Shane notified the Australian immigration authorities that they had separated, and he withdrew his sponsorship of Carrie’s permanent-visa application. Carrie obtained an “intervention order” against Shane. About three days after learning that Shane had withdrawn his sponsorship of her permanent-visa application, Carrie took the children and flew to Utah. She did not tell Shane beforehand, and she lied to customs agents that she was traveling to the United States for a short visit. Carrie and the children have remained in Utah since. In total, the family lived in Australia for just over eleven months. Shane petitioned a federal court in Utah for the return of the children. In his petition, Shane claimed that Carrie had wrongfully removed the children from their “habitual residence”—i.e., Victoria, Australia. Finding that Shane failed to prove the children's habitual residence was Australia, it denied his request for relief under the Hague Convention as "wrongful." The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error, and affirmed the district court's dismissal of Shane's petition. View "Watts v. Watts" on Justia Law

by
Under the now-repealed 8 U.S.C. 1432(a)(2), a “child” born outside of the U.S. to noncitizen parents became a citizen upon the naturalization of her surviving parent if one of her parents was deceased. Section 1101(c)(1) defined “child” as including a child born out of wedlock only if the child was legitimated under the “law of the child’s residence or domicile” or “the law of the father’s residence or domicile . . . except as otherwise provided in” section 1432, which exempted mothers of born-out-of-wedlock children from the legitimation requirement. That affirmative steps to verify paternity, including legitimation, may be taken if a citizen-parent is an unwed father has withstood constitutional scrutiny, on the basis that the relation between a mother and a child “is verifiable from the birth.” Tineo was born in the Dominican Republic to noncitizen parents who never married. His father moved to the U.S. and naturalized. His noncitizen mother died. At the time, under the laws of either the Dominican Republic or New York, legitimation could only occur if his birth parents married. Tineo’s father was forever precluded from having his son derive citizenship through him, despite being a citizen and having cared for his son. Threatened with removal, Tineo brought a Fifth Amendment challenge on behalf of his now-deceased father. The Third Circuit held that, in this circumstance, the interplay of the statutory sections are inconsistent with the equal-protection mandate of the Due Process Clause. View "Tineo v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

by
Father appealed the denial of his motion to modify judgment because DCFS failed to give him adequate notice of dependency proceedings involving his children. The Court of Appeal held that the juvenile court erred by finding that notice through publication was adequate, because DCFS's efforts did not constitute reasonable due diligence. The court also held that the Hague Service Convention applied in this case because father is a resident of Mexico, and there was no compliance with the Convention as to notice for the jurisdictional and dispositional hearings. Accordingly, the court reversed all orders as to father and remanded with instructions to commence de novo with arraignment and adjudication after providing father with proper notice. View "In re D.R." on Justia Law

by
Mother, Anette H., appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son, who was found to be a child in need of aid based on a hair follicle test positive for controlled substances. She argued that without proof that her drug use caused the child’s exposure, there was no causal link between her conduct and any circumstances that may have endangered the child. She also argued the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) did not make reasonable efforts to reunify the family because it failed to adequately accommodate her mental health issues. Because the record supported the superior court’s finding that the child was in need of aid, and because OCS’s efforts were reasonable under the circumstances, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed termination of the mother’s parental rights. View "Annette H. v. Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

by
In this paternity action, the Supreme Court held that a blanket rule disfavoring joint physical custody is inconsistent with the Parenting Act, Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-2920 to 43-2943, which requires that all determinations of custody and parenting time be based on factors affecting the best interests of the child, thus disapproving of its prior rule disfavoring joint physical custody. The district court entered an ordering finding Father was Child's father. Two years later, the court awarded primary legal and physical custody of Child to Father and awarded Mother nearly equal parenting time. Father appealed, arguing that the award of nearly equal parenting time was effectively an award of joint physical custody and an abuse of discretion. Relying on Nebraska precedent holding that joint physical custody is disfavored, the court of appeals remanded with directions to modify Mother's parenting time so it was "consistent with an award of primary physical custody" to Father. The Supreme Court reexamined that precedent and held (1) Nebraska law does not favor or disfavor any particular custody arrangement and instead requires all such determinations be based on the best interests of the child; and (2) there was no abuse of discretion in the custody and parenting time in the instant case. View "State, ex rel. Kaaden S. v. Jeffery T." on Justia Law

by
The Mississippi Supreme Court remanded this case for further proceedings to determine child custody. On remand, the chancery court awarded custody of the children to the father. Aggrieved, the mother appealed, arguing that the instructions given by the Mississippi Supreme Court were simply to review the determination of the mother's fitness without the hearsay evidence, not to conduct a new trial on custody. Finding that the chancellor was not manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous in granting custody of the three minor children to the father, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ballard v. Ballard" on Justia Law