Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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Mother filed suit under the Hague Convention, seeking the return of her daughter from Florida back to Chile. The district court found that mother made a prima facie case that father hand wrongfully retained daughter, but that mother had consented to the retention and thus was not entitled to the daughter's return. The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the district court made critical errors of fact and law in its order. The court held that none of the testimony that father did give could be interpreted as constituting a denial that he threatened mother. The court also held that the district court improperly, but expressly, shifted the burden back to mother on the consent issue. Therefore, the district court erroneously treated her allegation that she signed the consent letter as a result of father's threat as a formal allegation of "duress" that she had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence. View "Berenguela-Alvarado v. Castanos" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court establishing paternity, custody, visitation and child support, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in any aspects of its child support apportionment. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing to make the support obligation retroactive; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to impute Father's income at the amount he earned in a previous, higher-paying position; and (3) Mother's arguments regarding allocation of responsibility for the child's medical insurance and medical costs were not ripe for review. View "Shipley v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 22 U.S.C. 9001, provides that a child wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence” ordinarily must be returned to that country. Monasky, a U. S. citizen, asserts that her Italian husband, Taglieri, became abusive after the couple moved to Italy. Two months after the birth of their daughter, in Italy, Monasky fled with the infant to Ohio. Taglieri sought the child’s return to Italy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a finding that the parents’ shared intent was for their daughter to live in Italy, rejecting Monasky’s arguments in favor of an actual-agreement requirement. The two-year-old was returned to Italy. The Supreme Court affirmed. A child’s habitual residence depends on the totality of the specific circumstances, not on categorical requirements such as an actual agreement between the parents. While an infant’s “mere physical presence” is not dispositive, a wide range of facts other than an actual agreement, including those indicating that the parents have made their home in a particular place, can facilitate a determination of whether an infant’s residence is “habitual.” Imposing a categorical actual-agreement requirement is unlikely to address the serious problem of protecting children born into domestic violence and would leave many infants without a habitual residence. Domestic violence should be fully explored in the custody adjudication upon the child’s return. The Convention allows a court to refrain from ordering a child’s return to her habitual residence if there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or place the child in an intolerable situation. A first-instance habitual-residence determination is subject to deferential appellate review for clear error. View "Monasky v. Taglieri" on Justia Law

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Patricia petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage to Thomas in 2001. A dissolution judgment entered in 2002; a judgment on reserved issues entered in 2008. In 2005, trial court Commissioner Oleon determined, based Thomas’s conduct in the dissolution proceedings and two separate civil actions, that Thomas was a vexatious litigant, and issued an order, prohibiting him from filing any new litigation or motion in propria persona without obtaining leave of the presiding judge. Thomas was also ordered to cover Patricia's attorney fees. In 2006, Thomas unsuccessfully moved (Code of Civil Procedure 170.1) to have Oleon disqualified. Weeks later, Thomas filed another section 170.1 challenge; the court failed to timely respond. Months later, notwithstanding his disqualification, Oleon reentered his previous vexatious litigant orders, effective from 7/29/05 because, when entering his original orders, he neglected to file a mandatory form. In 2018, Thomas complained to the presiding judge regarding Oleon’s post-disqualification involvement. The court issued an order to show cause, then reaffirmed that Thomas qualifies as a vexatious litigant and reimposed the pre-filing order. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that “Thomas appears to have used the opportunity ... to make implicit threats against various members of the California judiciary and State Bar.” The court upheld the 2018 orders as supported by substantial evidence and rejected an argument that a nonplaintiff litigant cannot be designated a vexatious litigant. View "Marriage of Deal" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming the family court's order denying Michael Campbell's motion to modify his spousal support obligation to his former wife, Joanna Campbell, holding that the family court erred by denying Michael's petition to modify his spousal support award and that the circuit court erred by affirming the family court's ruling. On appeal, Michael argued that he was entitled to modification of his alimony obligation because his current monthly spousal support obligation was greater than his currently monthly retirement income and that the lower courts erred by refusing to modify his spousal support obligation to an amount commensurate with his ability to pay. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the lower courts erred by refusing to grant Michael's modification petition. View "Campbell v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court modifying visitation and child support after Mother moved to Idaho, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. After Mother moved to Idaho from Wyoming Father petitioned to modify custody, visitation and support, requesting physical and residential custody of the parties' daughter. Mother counterclaimed to maintain primary physical custody of the child. The district court then issued a final order concluding that Mother's move constituted a material change in circumstances and that it was in the child's best interest for Father to have primary physical and residential custody of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it (1) determined that it was in the child's best interest for Father to have primary physical and residential custody of the child after she enters kindergarten; and (2) established the visitation plan. View "Walsh v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the denial of defendant Mary Ann Theberge’s post-judgment motion to enforce the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to a spousal-maintenance award made in her favor in the parties’ divorce action. The trial court found that the parties agreed to a modification of the maintenance award eliminating the yearly COLA and that, consequently, plaintiff Gerald Theberge’s maintenance payments - which continued after the alleged agreement, absent the COLA - were not in arrears. Accordingly, the court denied the enforcement motion. The Vermont Supreme Court held that a tuition agreement between the parties was a valid contract such that, if plaintiff agreed to waive defendant’s obligation thereunder in connection with a second agreement, he would have given up a legal right he was otherwise free to exercise. As a result, remand was necessary for the trial court to determine whether the parties entered an agreement with corrected factual findings. In connection with this remand, the Court noted that the trial court considered defendant’s receipt of ten years of maintenance payments without COLA to constitute “waiver by performance.” However, it was unclear whether the trial court was referring to waiver in the context of evidence that defendant made an oral agreement to waive the COLA, or whether it was referring to waiver as the relinquishment of a known right through defendant’s failure to seek enforcement of the COLA sooner than she did. Upon remand, the trial court was asked to clarify its conclusion regarding defendant’s “waiver by performance.” View "Theberge v. Theberge" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court denying Mother's motion to dismiss the petition filed by the Department of Child Services (DCS) alleging M.S. was a child in need of services (CHINS), holding that the 120-day deadline contemplated by Ind. Code 31-34-11-1(b) may be enlarged only if a party shows good cause for a continuance, and Mother showed good cause for a continuance in this case. Under section 31-34-11-1(d) a trial court must dismiss a CHINS petition if the court does not conclude a fact-finding hearing within 120 days of the State's filing of the petition. At issue int his case was whether the 120-day deadline may be enlarged under Ind. Trial Rule 53.5 if a party to the proceeding moves for a good faith continuance that results in the conclusion of fact-finding beyond the codified 120-day limit. In the instant case, Mother moved for a good faith continuance of the CHINS proceeding. The final order adjudicating M.S. a CHINS was not issued until after the 120-day deadline expired. Mother filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court denied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the 120-day time period may be extended for good cause, and because Mother showed good cause for a continuance, the trial court correctly denied Mother's motion to dismiss. View "In re M.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying a petition filed by Father and Stepmother for adoption of Father and Mother's two minor children pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. 1-22-110(a)(ix), holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Mother's failure to pay seventy percent or more of court-ordered child support for a two-year period was not willful. Father and Stepmother petitioned the district court to allow Stepmother to adopt Father and Mother's two minor children based on Mother's willful failure to pay at least seventy percent of court-ordered support for a two-year period. The district court denied the petition, determining that Mother's failure to pay was not willful. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the district court's finding that Mother's failure to meet her child support obligation was not willful. View "CML v. ADBL" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Appellant a divorce, dividing the parties' marital property, and awarding alimony to Appellee, holding that the circuit court's rulings were not clearly erroneous. The parties in this case entered into an arranged marriage in India. Approximately one year later, Appellant filed a complaint for divorce. After the divorce decree was entered Appellant appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err by equally dividing the funds that Appellant spent during the parties' separation; (2) did not err in deciding to divide equally the marital assets; and (3) did not err by awarding Appellee rehabilitative alimony. View "Chekuri v. Nekkalapudi" on Justia Law