Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Court of Appeal
N.S. v. Superior Ct.
N.S. was placed in foster care at age 11. After she turned 18 in 2014, she remained under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court as a nonminor dependent. (Welf. & Inst. Code 11400(v)), having been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and depressive disorder. She was participating in therapy and taking medication. The report indicated that N.S. would be enrolled in an educational program. A 2015 report indicated that N.S. qualified for extended foster care because her mental health, prevented her from participating in education or an employment program. In 2016, the Agency recommended that N.S.’s dependency be dismissed because her exact whereabouts were unknown and she had not participated in any services. N.S. had admitted she was using methamphetamine. She was not interested in treatment referrals or placement. She was meeting with her therapist, Chan, sporadically. At the contested hearing, both N.S. and Chan testified. Counsel asked Chan about N.S.’s diagnosis; she and N.S. asserted the psychotherapist-patient privilege. The juvenile court concluded the privilege did not apply because N.S. had put her mental state at issue. The court of appeal disagreed, rejecting an argument that the Agency and the court will be unable to verify the eligibility requirement without information from Chan. It is the Agency’s position that it is N.S.’s substance abuse, and not her mental health condition, that prevents her from meeting the criteria. View "N.S. v. Superior Ct." on Justia Law
In re M.R.
After Mother was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol with her two children in the car, the Department filed a dependency action seeking juvenile court jurisdiction over the children. Mother and Father appeal, arguing that this was a one-time incident that is insufficient to support the juvenile court’s finding that their children were at substantial risk of suffering serious physical harm pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1). The court found, however, that Mother and Father not only seriously jeopardized the physical safety of their children on the night Mother drove while intoxicated, they continued to minimize the seriousness of the incident during the dependency proceedings and had not, at the time of the jurisdiction hearing, taken any significant steps to participate in educational programs concerning the problematic use of alcohol that gave rise to the substantial risk to the children's safety. Therefore, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the juvenile court's determinations, and the court affirmed the judgment. View "In re M.R." on Justia Law
C.M. v. M.C.
M.C., a gestational carrier, challenges the trial court's declaration that Father is the sole legal parent of triplet children and finding that M.C. has no parental rights. M.C. entered into the surrogacy arrangement with Father, pursuant to a written “In Vitro Fertilization Surrogacy Agreement.” As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that M.C. is not estopped from challenging the legal effect or validity of the Agreement. On the merits, the court concluded that Father complied with the requirements for establishing a parent-child relationship and for terminating M.C.’s claimed parental rights pursuant to Family Code section 7962. The court also concluded that the trial court's application of section 7962 is consistent with the constitutional rights of M.C. and the children. In this case, M.C.'s various substantive and procedural challenges are foreclosed by specific legislative provisions and by a prior decision by the California Supreme Court. Because the court found no error in the trial court's ruling, the court affirmed the judgment. View "C.M. v. M.C." on Justia Law
In re Carl H.
Mother‘s childhood was marked by abuse and neglect. When she was 13 years old she began an abusive relationship with Carl, a 20-year-old dropout. Their child, Carl Jr., was born when Mother was 14. While still a minor, Mother left Carl, started a relationship with Kevin, and gave birth to Harmony in 2012 and Melody in 2013. The family, including both fathers, had at least 13 referrals for physical and emotional abuse and neglect before Melody died in 2015, as a result of acute methadone toxicity. The Agency filed petitions on behalf of the surviving children, alleging failure to protect because: parents allowed them to live in a home where dangerous medications were within easy access despite Carl Jr.‘s earlier methadone poisoning; Mother failed to adequately supervise the children by frequently leaving them with Grandmother or Carl Sr. despite earlier incidents and warnings from the Agency; and Kevin was living in a residential facility. The court found that Mother‘s neglect contributed to Melody's death and that there was no clear and convincing evidence that reunification services were in the children’s best interest. The court of appeal upheld the court‘s jurisdictional findings and the bypass of services to Mother, but reversed the dismissal of Carl Jr.‘s dependency case. View "In re Carl H." on Justia Law
In re Yolanda L.
After the juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that there was a substantial danger to the children and no reasonable means to protect them other than removal from father's custody, the juvenile court ordered the children removed only from father and remain placed with mother. Father was also ordered to participate in random, on-demand drug testing and to participate in a parenting program, as well as individual counseling. The court concluded that there was substantial evidence for the juvenile court to infer that father's negligent conduct - possessing a loaded gun in an accessible location and possessing methamphetamine in his car - was likely to recur and did not represent a momentary lapse in judgment. Under Michael S., the court concluded that the juvenile court could reasonably conclude that it was appropriate to remove the children only from father and allow them to remain with mother. In this case, there was substantial evidence that mother was unaware of father's negligent conduct, and once made aware of it, was committed to doing what was necessary to protect the children from such conduct in the future. Accordingly, the court affirmed the dispositional orders. View "In re Yolanda L." on Justia Law
In re M.R.
In July 2015, plaintiff-respondent San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) was contacted by the maternal grandmother of five children whose mother, defendant-appellant M.G. (mother), had “left the children with her” and then “took off.” The juvenile court declared J.R. and M.R. to be dependents of the court, placing them with the maternal grandmother, and ordering reunification services for mother, but not their father, defendant-appellant R.R. With respect to Ro.R., the juvenile court found two men, R.R., and defendant-respondent S.H., to be presumed fathers. The juvenile court initially took jurisdiction over Ro.R., but subsequently dismissed his dependency petition, awarded sole legal and physical custody to S.H., and set the terms of visitation for mother and R.R. to remain in effect until modified by the family court. Mother argued on appeal that the juvenile court erred by failing to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), requiring reversal of its orders terminating jurisdiction over Ro.R. and its custody and visitation orders, and remand for compliance with ICWA. R.R. argued ICWA notice was deficient with respect to J.R. and M.R., as well as Ro.R. R.R. also asserted the jurisdictional findings against him under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (g) with respect to the three children were unsupported by substantial evidence. Additionally, R.R. challenged the trial court's finding that S.H. was a presumed father of Ro.R. and contested the custody and visitation orders issued by the juvenile court with respect to Ro.R. upon termination of its jurisdiction. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed the jurisdictional findings against R.R.; the trial court‟s exercise of jurisdiction over Ro.R., J.R. and M.R. on other bases, and all other orders appealed were affirmed. View "In re M.R." on Justia Law
Anna M. v. Jeffrey E.
Jeffrey E. and Anna M., parents of A.E., share equal custody of the child. After Anna sought a child support award, evidence established that Davis F., Anna's friend and A.E.'s godfather, financially supports Anna and pays her expenses of over $30,000 a month. The court rejected Jeffrey's argument that Davis's financial support should be considered in determining the amount of Jeffrey's child support obligation. The court concluded that regular, recurrent gifts to a parent may be characterized as income to that parent for purposes of calculating guideline child support, but they do not indicate gifts must be so characterized in every case; the trial court has discretion to consider gifts as income when they are a regular, recurrent monetary benefit to the parent; and courts are mindful not to base a child support calculation on monies a parent does not actually have. In this case, the court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to characterize Davis's gifts to Anna as her income when calculating the child support. The court explained that the evidence was sufficient for the trial court to reasonably conclude the financial support Davis provides Anna does not represent a regular, recurrent monetary benefit fairly representing income for purposes of calculating the child support award. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Anna M. v. Jeffrey E." on Justia Law
In re Marriage of McLain
In its order of dissolution for the marriage of respondent Colleen McLain and appellant Bruce McLain, the family court: (1) ordered Husband to pay Wife $4,000 per month in spousal support; (2) awarded Wife $5,500 in attorney’s fees; and (3) denied Husband’s request for reimbursement of alleged separate property contributions used to construct a house. Husband appealed, arguing the family court: (1) erred in its spousal support order by concluding Wife had a right to retire; (2) erred in awarding attorney’s fees; and (3) erred he did not sufficiently tract his separate property, thereby erring by denying his request for reimbursement on that separate property. Finding no errors, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re Marriage of McLain" on Justia Law
Sagonowsky v. Kekoa
The parties married in 1992 and divorced in 2005. During their ongoing “litigation war” the court granted husband Family Code section 2711 sanctions of $767,781.23, including: $500,000 for wife’s “relentless and culpable conduct” in “driv[ing] up the cost of the litigation” and “purposefully frustrat[ing]" the settlement; $180,000 for causing a reduction in the sale price of property awarded to husband in the dissolution judgment; and $45,000 in interest on husband’s attorney fees. The court also awarded husband $28,510 in rents and security deposits that wife received on properties awarded to husband in the dissolution judgment. The court of appeal reversed in part. Section 271 sanctions are limited to “attorney’s fees and costs” so the court erred by imposing sanctions for conduct in increasing the cost of the litigation and frustrating settlement and for causing a reduction in the sale price of real property. The court otherwise affirmed, rejecting wife’s arguments that the court erred by granting the rents motion; the court violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101) by denying her requests for accommodation and holding a motion hearing in her absence; and that husband was not entitled to attorney fees because he used the services of an attorney who previously represented wife. View "Sagonowsky v. Kekoa" on Justia Law
Conservatorship of B.C.
In 2012, B.C., age 30, suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage from the use of methamphetamine and alcohol. She initially lived with and was cared for by her mother. When her mother died, B.C. inherited $450,000. She also received disability payments. Although she had limited cognitive function, she subsequently married Jesse, with whom she had been “partying” at the time of her cardiac arrest. In 2014, B.C.’s aunt, C.S., sought appointment as probate conservator. Through counsel, B.C. opposed the petition. Jesse participated in hiring and advising the attorney. The court appointed the Ventura County Public Defender to represent B.C. An appointed conservator for B.C.’s estate sought reimbursement of $30,000, for disability benefits that Jesse had diverted to himself. Jesse has no assets and is responsible for five children. After a bench trial, the court appointed C.S., Prob. Code 1800. The court of appeal affirmed. Probate conservatorships do not require a personal waiver of the right to a jury trial because the proceedings pose no threat of confinement and are conducted according to the law relating to civil actions, including trial by jury if demanded by the proposed conservatee. B.C.’s attorney had authority to waive a jury trial on her behalf, even if the court failed to recite that B.C. had a right to a jury. The record supports the finding that B.C. cannot take care of her own needs, nor can her husband be trusted to do so. View "Conservatorship of B.C." on Justia Law