Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The chancery court granted divorce to William Jack ("BJ") Kerr on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and its award of joint custody of the minor child, WHK. India Kerr argued the chancellor erred by granting her ex-husband's petition for divorce and not her own. She also sought an amendment to the custody award, arguing the chancellor's Albright analysis was incorrect. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's judgment. View "Kerr v. Kerr" on Justia Law

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In 2018, E.M. was a three-year-old boy who had lived with his grandmother since birth as a dependent child of the State. When his grandmother sought to return to work, E.M. suddenly found himself in a custodial tug-of-war between his biological parents, his grandmother, and the State. The Superior Court placed E.M. in foster care. E.M.’s grandmother quickly retained an attorney for E.M. for the purpose of asking the Superior Court to reconsider its decision. The attorney, however, was unable to meet with E.M. because the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) would not provide contact details or arrange a meeting with E.M. Ultimately, the court declined reconsidering E.M.’s placement in foster care because it ruled that the attorney was not appointed by the court to represent E.M. and because the representation raised numerous ethical issues. E.M.’s mother appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding that "circumstances may arise where an attorney must undertake a representation to protect a person’s interest in limited circumstances before the attorney has had a chance to meet with the person or obtain the court’s approval. Accordingly, before striking a representation, the court must first consider whether the circumstances may authorize such a limited representation. As the superior court failed to make this consideration before striking the notice of appearance, we reverse." View "In re Dependency of E.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part the divorce decree and orders of contempt of the circuit court in this divorce case, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) did not err in calculating Appellant's child-support obligation at $800 per month and imputing income to Appellant; (2) did not abuse its discretion in awarding alimony to Appellee; (3) did not clearly err in failing to consider a mediation agreement; and (4) did not clearly err in holding Appellant in contempt for failure to pay child support. Lastly, the Supreme Court held Appellant failed to preserve for appeal his remaining argument. View "Symanietz v. Symanietz" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Wendy was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and arranged for her boyfriend, Mirenda, to care for her six-year-old daughter, Br. Br. came to the attention of DCFS in 2013 based on pending allegations that Mirenda sexually abused a previous partner’s daughters. The court conducted a hearing. Wendy and Assistant State’s Attorney Filipiak were present. Assistant Public Defender Bembnister was appointed as counsel for Wendy, and Assistant Public Defender Drell was appointed as guardian ad litem (GAL) for Br. Proceedings concerning Br. continued for several years.At a 2018 status hearing, Wendy appeared with a new, privately retained attorney, Drell. Drell’s appearance as Br.’s GAL at three hearings on the 2013 neglect petition before the same judge was not mentioned. In 2019, Drell withdrew and the public defender represented Wendy. The trial court terminated Wendy’s parental rights. The appellate court reversed, holding that a per se conflict existed because Drell served as Br.’s GAL before she served as Wendy’s attorney. Wendy had not raised the conflict-of-interest issue.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. A “ ‘realistic appraisal’ ” of Drell’s professional relationship with Br. indicates that Drell was not associated with the victim for purposes of the per se conflict rule when she acted as Br.’s GAL. An allegedly neglected minor is not a victim but “the subject of the proceeding” under the Juvenile Court Act; such proceedings are not adversarial. Drell was never associated with the prosecution. Drell acted at the behest of the court, not the state. View "In re Br. M. & Bo. M." on Justia Law

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In this divorce case, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court holding that Appellant's claim for recoupment was barred by res judicata, holding that the district court did not err.Under the parties' stipulated divorce decree, Appellant was awarded the marital home and Appellee was ordered to execute a waiver of homestead. The cash payment provision required that Appellant pay Appellee $23,000. Appellant later filed an action seeking a declaration that the $23,000 judgment no longer operated as a lien against the marital home. The district court dismissed Appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim. Appellee subsequently filed a petition to revive the $23,000 judgment. In response, Appellant asserted a claim for recoupment. The court granted the Appellee's petition and ruled that res judicata barred Appellant's recoupment claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly found that Appellant's claim was barred by res judicata. View "Motylewski v. Motylewski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court awarding temporary guardianship of Carol Merideth's two stepchildren to their maternal grandparents, Diana and Kenneth Merideth, holding that the district court did not err.After the children's father died, Diana and Kenneth filed a petition for guardianship and requesting an emergency order for temporary guardianship. The district court appointed Diana and Kenneth temporary guardians. That same day, Carol filed a petition seeking temporary guardianship and conservatorship. The district court entered an order appointing temporary guardians and conservators, determining it was in the children's best interests to appoint Diana and Kenneth as their temporary guardians and conservators. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the children's mother consented to appointment of Diana and Kenneth and the district court found that the appointment was in the children's best interests the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "In re Guardianship of J.S.M." on Justia Law

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Wang initiated the dissolution of marriage proceedings against Zhou. The parties have a daughter, born in 2013 in China. Daughter lived primarily in China with Zhou but made frequent, extended trips to the U.S. to visit Wang, who worked in California. The court assumed emergency jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA, Fam. Code 3400): Daughter would return to China with Zhou, and then return to California for extended periods. The parties agreed they would either register the California order or create an identical order in China "so that there will be a fully enforceable order in both jurisdictions.”In 2018, Zhou sought to register a Chinese judgment. Zhou had alleged to the Chinese court that Wang “tricked” her; that court denied Wang’s request to implement the California judgment and determined that Zhou should have sole custody. Wang opposed the registration of the order and asked the court to order Zhou to return Daughter to the U.S. for visitation. Wang had participated in the Chinese proceedings and was appealing the Chinese judgment. The court ordered Zhou to comply with the 2016 order and denied Zhou’s request to register the Chinese judgment.The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court did not explicitly rule that it had UCCJEA jurisdiction, nor did Wang argue that the court had superior jurisdiction over the Chinese court regarding child custody. The court properly denied registration because Wang established that the Chinese court, as a court with jurisdiction, stayed the judgment. View "Marriage of Wang & Zhou" on Justia Law

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Father appealed the dismissal of his motion to vacate the family court’s order terminating his parental rights to son C.L.S. In his motion, father argued the termination order had to be set aside under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The family court determined that it lacked jurisdiction under 33 V.S.A. 5103(d) because father filed the motion after C.L.S. was adopted, and dismissed the motion. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the family court correctly interpreted section 5103(d), and that its application of the statute did not deprive father of his rights to due process or equal protection. View "In re C.L.S., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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Thomas Kaspari appealed when the district court ordered him to pay spousal support in his divorce from Jean Kaspari until her death or remarriage. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred as a matter of law because its award of spousal support was for an unlimited period of time. The Court vacated the spousal support portion of the judgment and remanded for the district court to reconsider the issue in light of the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Kaspari v. Kaspari" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal vacated the juvenile court's jurisdictional finding as to Father and reversed the dispositional order removing J.N. from Father's custody. The court agreed with father that the jurisdictional finding and removal order were solely based on Father's incarceration and criminal record and that such evidence is insufficient to support either jurisdiction or removal. In this case, substantial evidence does not support an actual nexus between this criminal history and any specifically identified, substantial, current risk of serious physical harm to J.N. Furthermore, the record does not contain substantial evidence to support removal of J.N. from father.Father also challenges the trial court's denial of reunification services based on a detrimental finding under Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5, subdivision (e). The court concluded that section 361.5 is inapplicable and that Father was not entitled to reunification services, regardless of any potential detriment to J.N. therefrom. The court nevertheless vacated the trial court's detrimental finding because it could prejudice Father in future dependency proceedings. View "In re J.N." on Justia Law