Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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In a divorce case, the superior court divided the marital estate equally. The estate included the marital home and an adjoining lot, which the spouses agreed should be sold. The husband remained in the home after the wife moved out, and he paid the mortgage until the properties sold nearly two years after the divorce was final. Once the properties sold, the parties requested a hearing on the allocation of the sale proceeds. The husband argued that he should be reimbursed for his post-divorce mortgage payments. The wife countered that the husband’s use of the home as his residence offset any claim he otherwise had to reimbursement. The superior court denied reimbursement to the husband, and the husband appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the findings in the court’s order allocating the sale proceeds were insufficient, so it remanded the case for additional findings. View "Hall v. Hall" on Justia Law

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D.C., a minor foster child, alleged that Jason Case, his foster parent, sexually abused him. The Mississippi Department of Human Services ("DHS") removed D.C. from Case’s home and a subsequent investigation substantiated the alleged abuse. DHS did not contest that Case abused D.C. In his complaint, D.C. alleged negligence and gross negligence on behalf of DHS and the Department's executive director, Richard Berry, in the licensing of the foster home and the lack of care and treatment to D.C., both during his placement and after DHS removed D.C. from the foster home. After a period of discovery, DHS filed a motion for summary judgment. It maintained that it was entitled to immunity under Mississippi Code Section 43-15-125 (Rev. 2015) and Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9(1)(d) (Rev. 2012). Without any noted reference to Section 43-15-125, the circuit court denied DHS’s motion for summary judgement. DHS filed a petition for interlocutory appeal, which a panel of the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. After review of the record, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court’s denial of summary judgment: the circuit court erred in denying DHS summary judgment for D.C.’s claims that stemmed from DHS’s licensing of the foster home, given the immunity DHS and its officers have under Section 43- 15-125. The circuit court, though, did not err in denying DHS summary judgment under Section 11-46-9(d)(1) of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, because DHS did not meet its burden to show that no genuine issue as to any material fact existed. View "Mississippi Department of Human Services v. D.C." on Justia Law

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Before the Oregon Supreme Court in this case was a child custody dispute arising out of father’s motion to modify a custody determination made at the time of the dissolution of the parties’ marriage, which awarded mother sole legal custody of child. At the conclusion of the modification proceeding, the trial court found that there had been a material change in circumstances concerning mother’s ability to parent child and that a change of custody from mother to father was in child’s best interest, and it awarded sole legal custody of child to father. On mother’s appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court on the ground that, as a matter of law, there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s finding of a change in circumstances and, thus, that custody modification was not warranted. The Supreme Court found sufficient evidence in the record supported the trial court’s ruling that father had proved a change of circumstances. The Court also addressed an issue that the Court of Appeals did not reach: whether the trial court erred in concluding that a change in custody was in child’s best interest. The Court held the trial court did not err in so concluding. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Botofan-Miller and Miller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a parent must provide evidence of a "meritorious defense" to succeed on a Rule 46(E) motion to set aside a severance judgment following a Rule 64(C) acceleration of a final adjudication as a result of a missed initial hearing, pretrial conference, or status conference. Mother received a notice of the parental termination proceedings but failed to appear for a status hearing and pretrial conference (January hearing). The court proceeded to an accelerated severance hearing under Rule 64(C), after which the court found grounds for severance and that termination was in the children's best interests. The juvenile court subsequently granted Mother's motion to set aside the severance judgment. The court reinstated its January severance order, finding Mother failed to establish good cause for her absence at the hearing. The court of appeals vacated the severance order, holding that requiring a meritorious defense to set aside the accelerated hearing judgment violated Mother's right to due process. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) requiring a meritorious defense in a Rule 46(E) motion to set aside a severance judgment following a Rule 64(C) accelerated hearing does not violate due process; and (2) the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by finding that Mother failed to show good cause for her nonappearance at the January hearing. View "Trisha v. Department of Child Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding by clear and convincing evidence that the four children of Mother and Father were in circumstances of jeopardy as to each parent and that continued custody of the children by either parent was likely to cause them serious emotional or physical damage, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in relying on out-of-court statements made by the children; (2) under state and federal law, the evidence was sufficient to support the court's required factual findings by clear and convincing evidence that the children were in circumstances of jeopardy and that returning the children home would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage; and (3) the parents' argument that the evidence did not support the court's dispositional order was interlocutory and not cognizable here. View "In re Children of Danielle H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel resulting in his parental rights being inappropriately terminated. On appeal, Father argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his court-appointed counsel failed assiduously to advocate for him throughout her representation. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Father's initial appointed counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of that ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced, and his parental rights were terminated. The Court remanded this case for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to conduct initial preliminary assessment of Father as the first placement option for the child consistent with its policies and this opinion. View "In re E.Y.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Nancy Bergin a divorce from Daniel Bergin, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion in setting parental rights and responsibilities between the parties as to their three minor children and by denying Nancy's request for an order for protection from abuse. Specifically, the Court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in (1) granting Daniel primary residence of the children and final decision-making authority in regard to the children; (2) allowing an expert on parental alienation to testify; (3) declining to award Nancy continuing spousal support; and (4) denying Nancy's request for an order for protection from abuse. View "Bergin v. Bergin" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that evidence of a legal guardian's occasional methamphetamine use outside the legal guardian's home and while the child was in the care of another adult in the home does not support dependency jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b). The panel also held that there was no substantial evidence showing that the legal guardian abused methamphetamine, and no substantial evidence showed that the child was at risk of serious physical harm. Therefore, the court reversed the juvenile court's jurisdictional order. View "In re L.C." on Justia Law

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Mother C.W. and father J.C. appealed a juvenile court’s orders terminating parental rights and freeing the minor for adoption. The parents contended the juvenile court erred in failing to find the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption applied, and that the county and juvenile court failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After review of the specific facts of this case, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the parents’ first contention, but conditionally reversed and remanded the matter for further ICWA compliance. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law

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Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana, and seven individuals seeking to adopt Indian children filed suit against the United States, several federal agencies and officials, and five intervening Tribes, raising facial constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the 2016 administrative rule (the Final Rule) that was promulgated by the Department of the Interior to clarify provisions of ICWA. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims; the ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress's unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. The court also held that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency's interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. View "Brackeen v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law