Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court in this parental rights termination case, holding that the juvenile court applied the incorrect definition of "normal home" in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 8-533(B) in terminating the parental interest of Father to his child.The juvenile court found H.B. and her half-siblings dependent as to Mother and their respective fathers. As to Father, the court found that DCS had proved termination pursuant to the length-of-sentence ground listed 8-533(B)(4) and that termination was in H.B.'s best interests. Specifically, the court concluded that Father's incarceration had and would continue to deprive H.B. of a normal home for a period of years, thus demonstrating the legnth-of-sentence ground for termination. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the juvenile court erred by not considering whether a permanent guardianship could provide H.B. with a "normal home" while Father maintained his parental rights; and (2) remand was necessary for consideration of Father's past and ongoing efforts to parent H.B. from prison and their impact on H.B.'s interest in a stable home life in the court's best interests analysis. View "Timothy B. v. Department of Child Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the juvenile court terminating the parent-child relationship of Father to his four children, holding that while the juvenile court misapplied two factors set forth in Michael J. v. Arizona Department of Economic Security, 196 Ariz. 246 (2000), substantial evidence existed to support the termination.After a hearing, the juvenile court found that Father's incarcerative sentence was of sufficient length to deprive the children of a normal home for a period of years and that termination of Father's parental rights was in the children's best interests. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in evaluating the Michael J. factors. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the juvenile court misapplied the first two Michael J. factors; (2) the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Father's sentence was of sufficient length to deprive the children of a normal home for a period of years; and (3) reasonable evidence supported the juvenile court's best-interests finding. View "Jessie D. v. Department of Child Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court dismissing Father's paternity action, holding that an untimely filed paternity action is barred as a matter of law.Shortly after Child was born, Mother served Father with notice of her intention to place the child for adoption pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 8-106(G). Father's attorney accepted service. Sixteen days after the applicable deadline, Father filed a paternity action. The trial court dismissed the action. Father appealed, asserting that he was entitled to equitable relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the principles of equity did not apply to provide Father relief from the statutory requirement that he timely file and serve Mother with his paternity action. View "Cox v. Honorable Ponce" on Justia Law

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In this termination of parental rights case the Supreme Court held that when a juvenile court finds a parent unfit for neglecting or willfully abusing a child the court may also find the parent unfit as to that parent's non-abused children but must first determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence of a risk of harm to the children.After then six-week-old J.M. was diagnosed with a large subdural hemorrhage on her brain the juvenile court terminated Mother's rights to J.M., F.M., and M.R., and terminated Father's rights to J.M. and F.M. The court found that J.M.'s injuries were the result of willful abuse and that both parents demonstrated their lack of protective capacities for all the children. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that when a juvenile court determines whether to terminate parental rights to non-abused children, the risk of harm to such children should be considered under a totality of the circumstances analysis during the best-interests inquiry. The Supreme Court affirmed the severance order but vacated the court of appeals' opinion in part, holding that a juvenile court's extrapolation of parental unfitness will not pass constitutional muster unless the risk of harm to non-abused children is proven by clear and convincing evidence. View "Sandra R. v. Department of Child Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court directing the donation of cryopreserved embryos to another couple following the parties' divorce, holding that the parties' agreement directing the disposition of the embryos did not grant the family court discretion in awarding the embryos but, rather, directed donation of the embryos.After Husband petitioned for divorce he asked that the couple's seven viable cryogenically preserved embryos be donated to another couple. The family court found that the "Embryo Cryopreservation & Embryo Disposition" agreement entered into by the parties did not resolve whether either party should get the embryos or whether they should be donated. The court balanced the parties' interests and concluded that Husband's right not to be compelled to be a parent outweighed Wife's right to procreate and directed that the embryos be donated to another couple. The Supreme Court affirmed but on different grounds, holding that the agreement required donation of the embryos and did not grant the family court discretion to make either a unilateral award or direct donation. View "Terrell v. Torres" 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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In this divorce case, the Supreme Court vacated a portion of the divorce decree providing for an order under Koelsch v. Koelsch, 148 Ariz. 176 (1986), holding that federal law does not permit a state court to order a military spouse to pay the equivalent of military retirement benefits to a former spouse if the military spouse continues to work past an eligible retirement date.When the parties divorced, Husband was still an active duty service member. The trial judge ordered Husband, if he chose to work beyond his retirement eligibility date, to begin making payments to Wife equivalent to what she would have received as her share of Husband's military retirement pay (MRP) had Husband retired. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that federal law precluded such indemnification. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that state courts cannot order service members to make MRP-based payments to former spouses before retirement. View "Barron v. Barron" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the family court's orders to the extent those orders appointed and granted authority to specific treatment professionals for the child in this case and otherwise limited Father's sole legal decision-making authority, holding that the family court exceeded its authority.Under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 25-410(A), when a family court designates one parent as the sole legal decision-maker for a child, the court may limit the decision-maker's authority only to prevent endangering the child's physical health or significantly impairing the child's emotional development. Upon the parties' divorce in this case, the family court awarded Father final legal decision-making authority concerning their child's education and medical and dental care. The current dispute arose over the parties' handling of the child's gender identification. Eventually, the family court appointed a specific treating therapist for the child and a consulting expert for the court and parties, with attendant restraints on Father's authority. The Supreme Court vacated the family court's orders, holding (1) section 25-410(A) did not authorize the court's appointment orders; and (2) neither Ariz. Rev. Stat. 25-405(B) nor Arizona Rule of Family Law Procedure 95(A) authorized the family court to appoint the professionals as "consulting experts." View "Paul E. v. Courtney F." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this case to the superior court to grant Defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis that issue preclusion prevented the State from relitigating whether Defendant had abused his infant child, holding that issue preclusion may apply in a criminal proceeding when an issue of fact was previously adjudicated in a dependency proceeding and the other elements of preclusion are met.The Department of Child Safety (DCS) filed a dependency petition alleging that C.C. was dependent as to Defendant because he abusively shook her to the point of causing bleeding in her eyes and brain. While the dependency hearing was ongoing, the State charged Defendant with one count of child abuse. The juvenile court subsequently dismissed the dependency proceeding, ruling that DCS had not met its burden of proving that Defendant inflicted physical injury on C.C. Defendant then moved to discuss the criminal proceeding. The trial judge denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals and remanded for dismissal of the criminal charge, holding that, under the circumstances, the State could not force Defendant to relitigate the same issue. View "Crosby-Garbotz v. Honorable Howard P. Fell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated a potion of the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the family court’s order giving Father final legal decision-making authority over certain issues regarding the parties' child, holding that the words “final” and “sole” have different meanings in the context of a family court’s award of joint legal decision-making that gives one parent final legal decision-making authority over certain matters.The court of appeals determined that an award of joint legal decision-making that gives authority to one parent is, in essence, an award of sole legal decision-making. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that joint legal decision-making with final decision-making authority and sole legal decision-making authority are separate and distinct categories. View "Nicaise v. Sundaram" on Justia Law