Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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This case involves a dispute between a decedent's wife and the co-personal representatives of the decedent's estate over the ownership of $100,000 and a camper under the terms of a premarital agreement. The decedent's wife, Yvonne M. White, argued that she was entitled to these assets based on the premarital agreement she had with her late husband, Leonard P. White. The co-personal representatives of Leonard's estate, his sons Jamison Patrick White and Ryan Howard White, contested this claim.The District Court for Washington County, Nebraska, ruled in favor of Yvonne, awarding her the $100,000 and the camper. The co-personal representatives appealed this decision to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court's ruling. They then sought further review from the Nebraska Supreme Court.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court found that Yvonne's suit for the $100,000 and the camper did not constitute a "claim" against the estate, but rather, she was a beneficiary of the estate entitled to the assets she sought under a breach of contract theory according to the terms of the premarital agreement. Therefore, her suit was not subject to the nonclaim statute's requirements for the timely filing of a claim. The court also found that the camper was a joint asset under the premarital agreement, rejecting the co-personal representatives' argument that it was the decedent's separate property. View "White v. White" on Justia Law

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Joshua and Melissa Armitage were married in June 2019 and separated in February 2023. They have one child together, born in 2020. Melissa Armitage initiated a divorce action in February 2023. The district court held a bench trial in August 2023, and subsequently awarded Melissa Armitage primary residential responsibility of the minor child, subject to Joshua Armitage’s parenting time.Joshua Armitage appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the court erred in awarding Melissa Armitage primary residential responsibility of the minor child. He contended that many of the factors that the district court found favored neither party actually supported an award of equal residential responsibility.The Supreme Court of North Dakota reviewed the case under the clearly erroneous standard, which does not allow for reweighing of evidence or reassessment of witness credibility. The court considered the best interests and welfare of the child, as required by North Dakota law. The court noted that the district court had considered the evidence and made findings on the best interest factors, providing specific analysis on twelve of the factors. The court found factors (a) and (c) favored Melissa Armitage, while the remaining factors favored neither party.The Supreme Court of North Dakota concluded that the district court's findings of fact were not induced by an erroneous view of the law, were supported by the evidence, and did not leave the court with a definite and firm conviction a mistake had been made. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment, upholding the award of primary residential responsibility to Melissa Armitage. View "Armitage v. Armitage" on Justia Law

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The case involves a Ukrainian couple, Yasamin Karimi and Roman Tereshchenko, who divorced and disputed custody of their two children. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Tereshchenko agreed to Karimi removing the children from Ukraine for safety reasons, but requested that she bring them to him in Dubai. Instead, Karimi took the children to undisclosed locations, including the United States. Tereshchenko filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction for the return of the children. The District Court granted Tereshchenko’s petition and ordered the children returned to him in France, where he was currently residing.Karimi appealed the decision, challenging the District Court's jurisdiction and arguing that Tereshchenko had consented to the children's removal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's jurisdiction and rejected Karimi's argument that Tereshchenko had consented to the children's removal. The Court of Appeals also found that the District Court had erred in determining that the children would not be exposed to a grave risk of harm if they were returned to western Ukraine. However, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court was permitted to order the return of the children to Tereshchenko in a third country, France, as a temporary measure due to the grave risk of harm in Ukraine. The case was remanded to the District Court to modify the order to maintain the Ukrainian courts’ authority over an ultimate custody determination. View "Tereshchenko v. Karimi" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Jessica A. Williams, who was convicted for depraved indifference murder of her son, Maddox Williams. Maddox was born to Jessica and his father in 2018, and lived with Jessica after his father's arrest in 2020. From October to December 2020, Maddox occasionally had bruises on his body when he came from Jessica's care. In March 2021, Jessica assumed sole custody of Maddox. During her custody, Maddox had multiple injuries, which Jessica attributed to his clumsiness. In June 2021, Maddox was taken to the hospital where he lost consciousness and was pronounced dead. Jessica did not appear to react strongly to Maddox’s death and left the ER shortly after his death. She was later arrested by the police.The trial court had previously heard the case, where the State sought to introduce evidence of prior bad acts by Jessica. Over Jessica's objection, the court granted the motion. At the close of the evidence, Jessica moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the court denied. The jury subsequently returned a verdict of guilty and Jessica was sentenced to forty-seven years in the Department of Corrections.In the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Jessica appealed her conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in admitting evidence related to a prior bad act, admitting evidence regarding her lack of communication with police officers, and denying her motion for a judgment of acquittal. She also argued that the cumulative effect of all three issues constituted a violation of her due process rights. The court disagreed with her contentions and affirmed the judgment. View "State v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The case involves Lucia Guh-Siesel, who filed for divorce from Brian Allan Siesel in Wyoming. Guh-Siesel claimed that she had been a resident of Teton County, Wyoming, for more than 60 days prior to filing the complaint. She also stated that she and Siesel were the parents of a minor child who had resided in Wyoming for five consecutive months before the filing of the complaint. Siesel, however, argued that Wyoming was an inconvenient forum and that California was a better forum because he had not been in Wyoming since October 2022, all potential trial witnesses were in California, and he and Guh-Siesel had never resided together in Wyoming.The District Court of Teton County held a hearing on Siesel's motion to dismiss. The court found that the parties had decided to relocate to Wyoming in 2022, and they had signed a lease for a home in Wilson, Wyoming. However, Siesel returned to California for work in October 2022 and has remained there since. Guh-Siesel, who was battling cancer, arrived in Wyoming in October 2022 and took steps to become a Wyoming resident. After the hearing, the district court granted Siesel’s motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens.The Supreme Court of Wyoming reviewed the district court's decision and found that the lower court had abused its discretion when it dismissed the case. The Supreme Court noted that Guh-Siesel had been a Teton County, Wyoming, resident for more than 60 days immediately preceding her divorce filing, which satisfied the requirements for a Wyoming district court to acquire jurisdiction over a divorce action. The Supreme Court also found that the district court had not properly analyzed the factors for determining whether to dismiss a case for forum non conveniens. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Guh-Siesel v. Siesel" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over child support between Deborah Belleville and David Ayers, who were married in 2006 and had three children. In July 2019, Belleville filed for divorce. At the time, both parties were employed with comparable incomes. However, in February 2020, Ayers lost his job due to organizational changes at his company, CSX Transportation, and remained unemployed at the time of the final divorce hearing in late 2020. Ayers testified that he was seeking employment but that the job market was very small due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Belleville, on the other hand, believed that Ayers could get a new job.The trial court issued an order in December 2020, designating Belleville as the residential parent and legal custodian of the children and ordering Ayers to pay child support. The court calculated child support based on the "potential income" of Ayers, who was unemployed. The court imputed potential income to Ayers based on his previous earnings at CSX. Ayers appealed the trial court's judgment, arguing that the court had erred in imputing his potential income for child-support purposes.The Supreme Court of Ohio held that the domestic-relations court must expressly find that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed as a condition precedent to imputing potential income for child-support-calculation purposes. The court found that the trial court had failed to make an express determination of voluntary unemployment, which was a reversible error. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the Sixth District Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Ayers v. Ayers" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the death of Skyler A. Womack (Skyler) at Silverscreen Healthcare, Inc., a skilled nursing facility. Skyler's parents, Jonie A. Holland (Holland) and Wayne D. Womack (Wayne), filed a lawsuit against Silverscreen, alleging dependent adult abuse and negligence on behalf of Skyler, as well as their own claim for wrongful death. Silverscreen moved to compel arbitration of the entire complaint based on an arbitration agreement between Skyler and Silverscreen.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County granted Silverscreen’s motion to compel arbitration for the survivor claims but denied the motion for the wrongful death cause of action. The court reasoned that the parents did not have an enforceable arbitration agreement with Silverscreen. The court's decision was heavily influenced by the case Avila v. Southern California Specialty Care, Inc.Silverscreen appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District. The appellant argued that, according to Ruiz v. Podolsky, the parents are bound by the arbitration agreement signed by Skyler, and therefore, the parents’ wrongful death claim should be subject to arbitration. The appellate court agreed with Silverscreen, stating that Ruiz governs this matter. Consequently, under Ruiz and Code of Civil Procedure section 1295, the parents’ wrongful death claim must go to arbitration along with Skyler’s survivor claims. The court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case with directions. View "Holland v. Silverscreen Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves a mother and father who appealed an order that declared their daughter, M.M., a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). The State had filed a petition in April 2023, alleging that M.M., then eleven years old, was without proper parental care and that her parents were resisting recommended mental-health services. M.M. was placed in the emergency custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and then returned to her parents' care under a conditional custody order (CCO). In August 2023, a hearing concluded that M.M. was CHINS at the time the petition was filed. In October 2023, DCF recommended that custody be returned to the parents, and the court vacated the CCO, returned custody to the parents without conditions, and closed the case.The parents appealed the CHINS adjudication, arguing that the factual findings were insufficient to support the conclusion that M.M. was CHINS and that the family division referenced an inapplicable legal standard. The State argued that the appeal was moot because the family division’s jurisdiction terminated with the return of unconditional, unsupervised custody to the parents.The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the State, concluding that the case did not present a live controversy or fall within a recognized exception to the mootness doctrine. The court found that the CHINS adjudication had no current impact on the family division’s authority to make orders regarding M.M.’s legal custody. The court also found that the parents had not shown that the CHINS adjudication subjected them to negative collateral consequences or that the issues were capable of repetition but evading review. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal as moot. View "In re M.M." on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over a postnuptial modification of a premarital agreement. The parties, David and Elizabeth Roberts, entered into a premarital agreement before their marriage in 1993. The agreement stipulated that each spouse waived their statutory elective share, but agreed that each would take one-third of the other’s net real property interests at the time of death. Twenty-four years later, the parties executed a new agreement, a "partial revocation" of the premarital agreement, which maintained the waiver of elective share but relinquished their one-third share in each other’s real property investments at the time of death. Elizabeth received approximately $15,000 cash and $50,000 in debt repayment or forgiveness from David, plus a monthly living allowance for as long as the couple remained married. After David's death, Elizabeth contested the validity of this partial revocation.The district court rejected Elizabeth's challenge and enforced the partial revocation. Elizabeth appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the district court's decision. The court concluded that under Iowa law, specifically Iowa Code sections 596.7 and 597.2, a postmarital amendment to a premarital agreement relating to inchoate dower interests in property is not enforceable. The court found that the partial revocation was essentially an amendment, not a revocation, and that Iowa law does not permit married persons who previously entered into a premarital agreement to enter into a new agreement during their marriage relating to inchoate dower interests in each other’s property. The court remanded the case for further proceedings regarding counterclaims made by David's son, Eric, who asked that if the partial revocation agreement is invalidated, Elizabeth should be required to relinquish the benefits she received as a result thereof to avoid unjust enrichment. View "Roberts v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between ex-spouses Robert Bassi and Susan Bassi. After their divorce, Susan sent a series of e-mails to Robert, which he claimed were harassing and disturbed his peace. These e-mails were related to Susan's intent to file a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) action against Robert and others. In response, Robert filed a petition for a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against Susan. Susan then filed an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion, arguing that her e-mails were protected free speech and litigation correspondence. The trial court denied Susan's anti-SLAPP motion, finding that several of the e-mails were not privileged or protected speech, and that Robert had demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of his DVRO petition.The trial court's decision was based on the conclusion that several of Susan's e-mails were not protected activity as contemplated by the anti-SLAPP statute. The court also found that even if Susan did meet her burden at the first step, the motion would fail because Robert had met his burden of demonstrating a probability of success on the merits of his DVRO petition. The court noted that it had previously found, in granting the requested temporary personal conduct and stay-away order, that Robert’s petition was sufficient to establish a prima facie case for a permanent DVRO under the applicable Family Code provisions.On appeal, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District affirmed the trial court's order. The appellate court found that while some of Susan's e-mails were protected under the anti-SLAPP statute, others were not. The court also found that Robert had made a prima facie showing of facts sufficient to sustain a favorable result on his DVRO petition if the facts he alleges are substantiated. Therefore, Robert's claim under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act had at least the requisite minimal merit to avoid being stricken as a SLAPP. View "Bassi v. Bassi" on Justia Law