Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries
In re J.W.
This case began when, in December 2016, plaintiff-respondent San Bernardino Children and Family Services (CFS) learned that Mother threatened to physically abuse J.W., the youngest of her two daughters, then one year old. Mother had called 911 and threatened to stab herself and J.W. Police officers detained Mother and temporarily committed her pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150. CFS’s detention reports stated that, a few weeks prior, Mother had moved to California from Louisiana, where she had been living with A.W., J.W.'s father. According to a family friend, Mother was spiraling into depression in Louisiana and had mentioned relinquishing her children to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. The family friend urged Mother to come live with her in California, which she did. The family friend also informed CFS that in 2010 Mother had suffered traumatic brain injuries requiring dozens of surgeries, from a car accident that killed Mother’s mother and sister. Since the accident, Mother had suffered from grand mal seizures and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. CFS petitioned for J.W. and her older half-sister L.M. After the detention hearing, the juvenile court found a prima facie case and detained the children. Although the detention reports noted Mother’s recent move from Louisiana, CFS did not address whether there was jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and the juvenile court made no finding concerning the UCCJEA. Ultimately Mother's rights to the children were terminated. A.W. challenged the termination, contending the juvenile court failed to comply with the UCCJEA, such that Louisiana should have been the forum for the case. Mother contended the juvenile court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming the juvenile court lacked UCCJEA jurisdiction, A.W. forfeited the ability to raise his argument on appeal. "Forfeiture would not apply if the UCCJEA provisions governing jurisdiction implicated the courts’ fundamental jurisdiction, but...they do not." The Court determined there was no failure to apply the ICWA, “ICWA does not obligate the court or [child protective agencies] ‘to cast about’ for investigative leads.” View "In re J.W." on Justia Law
In re I.B.
The trial court granted A.B.’s (Mother) Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petition to return her three-year-old son (I.B.) to her care. The court ordered that I.B.’s older brother A.B. (five-years-old) would remain with foster parents who had been interested in adopting both boys. I.B.’s counsel filed this appeal, arguing the siblings should not have been separated. In addition, I.B.’s counsel and the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA), agreed the juvenile court erred because Mother did not demonstrate a change in circumstances, or that changing I.B.’s custody was in his best interests. Mother and A.M. (Father) filed briefs asserting the trial court’s ruling should not be disturbed. Mother also filed a request asking the Court of Appeal to take judicial notice of a recent order showing the attorney representing both I.B. and A.B. declared a conflict of interest and now only represented A.B. After carefully reviewing the record, "while it is a close case," the Court of Appeal could not say the trial court abused its discretion. The Court therefore affirmed the order granting Mother’s section 388 petition. The Court granted her request for judicial notice of the juvenile court’s order dated April 3, 2020. View "In re I.B." on Justia Law
Golden v. Worthington
Father, Joe Golden, challenged a family division magistrate’s order requiring him to continue paying child support past his son S.W.’s eighteenth birthday while S.W. was enrolled in a home-study program. Father argued that the magistrate erred in finding that S.W.’s home-study program qualified as high school under the 2002 child-support order and in ordering him to continue paying child support on that basis. Resolving this dispute required review of the evidentiary record, as well as a review of the magistrate’s findings, analysis, and conclusions. The Vermont Supreme Court found father, appearing pro se, did not provide any record of the trial court's proceedings. "Because we lack a sufficient record to review the magistrate’s order, we have no basis on which to disturb it." View "Golden v. Worthington" on Justia Law
In re S.P.
A juvenile court has the authority to order vaccinations for dependent children under its jurisdiction. Recently enacted Health and Safety Code section 120372, subdivision (d)(3)(C) provides that a state public health officer (SPHO) or a doctor designated by a SPHO "may revoke the medical exemption." The Court of Appeal held that section 120372, subdivision (d)(3)(C) does not deprive the juvenile court of that authority.After determining that this case was not moot, the court rejected father's contention that the juvenile court had no legal authority to revoke the vaccination exemptions from a past treating physician and to order that the children be vaccinated. The court held that evidence in the record supported the juvenile court's finding that the children needed vaccinations. The court also held that there is no statutory bar to preclude the juvenile court from ordering dependent children to receive medically necessary vaccinations. Finally, the court held that the juvenile court could reasonably find that the past treating physician did not know the children's current need for vaccinations and father's remaining contentions do not show grounds for reversal. View "In re S.P." on Justia Law
Lopez v. Serbellon Portillo
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court refusing to find that a minor child's reunification with Father was not viable for purposes of Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) findings, holding that the court correctly awarded Mother custody but did not properly construe the controlling statute in determining whether reunification was not viable.After the child relocated to the United States to live with Mother, Mother filed the underlying custody action seeking primary physical and legal custody of the child and requesting that the district court make the necessary findings for the child to seek SIJ status. The district court awarded Mother custody but refused to find that reunification was not viable due to abandonment. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) in addressing whether reunification is not viable for the purpose of SIJ findings, a court should consider the conditions in the child's foreign country, the history of the parent-child relationship, and whether returning the child to the parent in the foreign country would be workable or practicable due to abandonment, abuse, or neglect; and (2) the district court did not apply the proper legal framework in concluding that it could not find that reunification was not viable. View "Lopez v. Serbellon Portillo" on Justia Law
Goswick v. Goswick
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Wife a divorce after she defaulted on Husband's counterclaim that he was the aggrieved party, holding that, under the circumstances, the court did not abuse its discretion.After Wife filed a complaint for divorce Husband answered the complaint and counterclaimed that he was the aggrieved party entitled to divorce. After Wife failed to timely answer Husband applied for entry of default on his counterclaim. The district court entered default on the same day it entered its decree granting Wife's complaint for divorce. Husband appealed, claiming that he was the aggrieved party entitled to divorce. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, viewing the record in the light most favorable to Wife, the court did not abuse its discretion in determining that she was the aggrieved party entitled to divorce. View "Goswick v. Goswick" on Justia Law
Griffiths v. Griffiths
This appeal arose from Stan and Donna Griffiths' divorce. Donna appealed the trial court's decisions: (1) denying her motion to dismiss Stan’s appeal; and (2) reversing in part and affirming in part the magistrate court’s division of the marital estate. On appeal, Donna argued the district court erred in denying her motion to dismiss Stan’s intermediate appeal pursuant to the acceptance of the benefits doctrine. Donna further argued the district court erred in reversing several of the magistrate court’s rulings, including its valuation of hospital ownership shares, its award of an equalization payment to Donna, and its award of spousal maintenance to Donna. Stan cross-appealed, arguing that the district court erred in affirming the magistrate court’s admission of expert testimony and unequal division of marital property. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in denying Donna’s motion to dismiss the appeal pursuant to the acceptance of the benefits doctrine, and did not err in affirming the magistrate court's admission of expert testimony. However, the district court erred in reversing the magistrate court’s valuation of the MVH Class A units, and erred in concluding that the magistrate court failed to consider Stan’s tax consequences. Further, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in reversing Donna's equalization payment award, and in remanding her spousal maintenance award. Judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Griffiths v. Griffiths" on Justia Law
D.P. v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County
After the juvenile court declared the children dependents of the court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 and before the juvenile court's review hearing, Governor Newsom declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. In this appeal, father, mother, the children, and the Department contend that the juvenile court erred in continuing the review hearing six months beyond the time period allowed by statute as modified by emergency order.The Court of Appeal granted a peremptory writ of mandate vacating the juvenile court's April 29, 2020, order continuing the section 364 review hearing pursuant to Judge Greenberg's memoranda. The court stated that Judge Greenberg's memoranda require a continuance beyond not only section 364's six-month deadline but also beyond the additional 60-day continuance Emergency rule 6 permits. Therefore, they are contrary to state law. Although the juvenile court stated that "good cause" supported the continuance from May 14, 2020, to January 28, 2021, there is no indication the juvenile court relied on section 352, which permits the continuance upon a showing of good cause, in continuing the hearing. The court held that the juvenile court's order does not reflect that the juvenile court granted the continuance based upon consideration of the children's best interests. Rather, the court held that the juvenile court continued the hearing in accordance with Judge Greenberg's prioritization schedule, which precludes an individual bench officer from advancing a hearing in a manner contrary to the schedule without approval from a supervising judge. View "D.P. v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law
Porcello v. Estates of Porcello
In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law
In re S.P.
Father appealed from the juvenile court's order terminating his parental rights to his child, challenging the denial of his Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petition. Father sought to vacate all relevant jurisdiction and disposition findings for which he received no notice.The Court of Appeal held that DCFS's efforts to locate and notice father were deficient where DCFS conducted no additional due diligence between January 14th (when the juvenile court found diligence inadequate) and February 13th (where the juvenile court found it sufficient), and DCFS never asked the parental relatives for father's whereabouts. However, the court applied the Watson standard and held that it is not reasonably probable that absent the notice error, father would have been granted reunification services or his parental rights would not have been terminated. Therefore, the error was harmless. View "In re S.P." on Justia Law