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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Montana district court temporarily suspending a previously imposed parenting plan for L.G.B., a minor child, holding that the district court did not erroneously grant and maintain a temporary emergency order pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-220(2)(a)(ii) without an adequate showing and finding of changed circumstances under Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-219(1) and -220(1). Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not erroneously modify the parties’ prior parenting plan without a sufficient finding of changed circumstances as required by section 40-4-219(1); (2) did not erroneously limit Mother to supervised visitation without making a sufficient finding under section 40-4-218(2); (3) did not erroneously fail to refer this matter to Family Court Services in violation of the then-governing local rule; and (4) did not abuse its discretion in precluding admission of a psychological evaluation report authored by a non-testifying mental health professional. View "In re Marriage of Bessette" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s rights to her three children, holding that the evidence clearly and convincingly established that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated. The district court found that the State presented clear and convincing evidence proving the statutory grounds for termination of Mother’s parental rights under both Wyo. Stat. Ann. 14-2-309(a)(iii) and (v). On appeal, Mother challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to establish the statutory requirements for termination of her parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record supported the district court’s finding that each of the requirements for termination was proven by clear and convincing evidence. View "Swenson v. State, Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that there was clear and convincing evidence to support the jury’s finding that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated. During the termination proceedings, Mother admitted that her children were in foster care for more than fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months. The Supreme Court held (1) the State presented clear and convincing evidence that, at the time of the trial in this case, Mother was not able to meet her children’s physical, mental, or emotional needs; and (2) the State met its burden of proving that Mother was unfit to have custody or control of the children. View "Gillen v. State, Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the probate court denying the petition filed by Michael Zani and Peter Zani to be appointed co-guardians of Patricia S., their mother and an incapacitated adult, and instead appointing Karin Beaster and Nancy Carter as co-guardians, holding that Beaster and Carter had not fulfilled the pretrial filing requirements of Me. Rev. Stat. 18-A, 5-303(a). The probate court appointed Beaster and Carter as co-guardians of Patricia even though Beaster and Carter had not filed petitions to be appointed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the superior court erred by appointing Beaster and Carter when they had not complied with the requirements applicable to a guardianship petition under section 5-303(a). View "In re Patricia S." on Justia Law