Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) removed K.T. (K. or child) from his mother when he was about nine months old. At that time, a nurse noticed that he had an enlarged head. He was placed with distant relatives, Mr. and Ms. B., who were already caring for his older half-brother. Further testing showed that K. had a subdural hematoma. Meanwhile, the B.’s began refusing to communicate with K.’s social worker or her “friends” in the same office, claiming that she had discriminated against them and insulted them. CFS detained K., placed him in a special health care needs foster home, and filed a petition to remove K from the B.'s custody. The B.'s in turn, filed a "changed circumstances" petition for return of the child. The trial court denied the B.'s petition, finding they had not show they were qualified as a special health care needs foster home. It then granted CFS' petition, finding that communication between the B.'s and CFS has broken down. The B.'s appealed; CFS contended the B.’s lacked standing to appeal the trial court's orders, citing In re Miguel E., 120 Cal.App.4th 521 (2004). The Court of Appeal agreed with Miguel E. that, in general, a person from whom a child has been removed under Welfare & Institutions Code section 387 lacked standing to challenge the removal. However, when that person is a relative, the Court disagreed with Miguel E., because under Welfare & Institutions Code section 361.3, a relative has standing to appeal from a refusal to place a child with him or her (an argument that Miguel E. did not consider). Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal rejected the B.'s contentions of error and affirmed the trial court's orders. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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Tanya McKean appealed a trial court’s order granting sole legal and physical custody of her two younger children in favor of their father, Scott McKean. Tanya claimed the court abused its discretion by modifying the parties’ custody order absent sufficient evidence of changed circumstances. Specifically, she argued the court erred when it determined that by granting her sole legal and physical custody of her severely disabled daughter, she was rendered incapable of maintaining joint legal and physical custody of her two younger children. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with Tanya, reversed the court’s order, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Marriage of McKean" on Justia Law

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After the County commenced an action against biological father to establish his paternity and his obligation to provide child support for M.D., biological father successfully moved to join mother's boyfriend as a party in the action, asserting that mother's boyfriend, not he, was M.D.'s father under Family Code section 7611, subdivision (d). The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's determination that mother's boyfriend was M.D.'s father, holding that clear and convincing evidence of biological father's biological paternity rebutted, as a matter of law, any presumption under section 7611 subdivision (d) that mother's boyfriend was M.D.'s father. Because the presumption did not apply, biological father's only defense against the County failed. View "County of Los Angeles v. Christopher W." on Justia Law

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After 26 years of marriage, Husband moved out of the family residence in May 2012. He rented an apartment in another city and occasionally interacted with Wife with whom he maintained an amicable relationship. Husband filed a dissolution petition in August 2014. The parties litigated their date of separation. Family Code section 771 classifies property acquired after the date of separation as the acquiring spouse’s separate property. The court found and the court of appeal affirmed that legal separation occurred when Husband moved from the family home in May 2012. Family Code section 70 defines “date of separation” as the date that a complete and final break in the marital relationship has occurred, as evidenced by both the spouse expressing to the other spouse his or her intent to end the marriage and conduct of the spouse consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage. Husband’s intent to end the marriage was clearly expressed by leasing an apartment and was reinforced by relinquishing the key to the family home and refusing to give Wife a key to the apartment. Their limited interactions after Husband’s move did not show an intent to reconcile and did not overcome any clear act of ending the marriage by moving out. View "Marriage of Lee and Lin" on Justia Law

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T.S., mother of M.S., appealed an order at M.S.'s jurisdiction and disposition hearing denying Mother reunification services based on the juvenile court's finding that Mother's whereabouts were unknown pursuant to Welfare & Institutions Code section 361.5(b)(1), and setting a section 366.26 permanency planning hearing. Mother also appealed the court's subsequent order at the section 366.26 hearing terminating her parental rights. On appeal, Mother contended: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the court's finding at the jurisdiction and disposition hearing that her whereabouts were unknown within the meaning of section 361.5(b)(1), and, accordingly, it erred in denying her reunification services; and (2) the court also erred at the jurisdiction and disposition hearing by setting a section 366.26 hearing after denying reunification services to her under section 361.5(b)(1), and by subsequently terminating her parental rights at the section 366.26 hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed with Mother's contentions, and reversed the orders and remanded the matter to the juvenile court with directions that it, inter alia, order that Mother be provided with a minimum of six months of reunification services. View "In re M.S." on Justia Law

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In the dissolution of marriage between Rosalinda and George Deluca, both parties appealed a judgment determining the division of property and other matters, including spousal support. During the marriage, George's sister transferred to him title to an apartment complex, "the Florida Street property." Rosalinda contended the trial court erred in ruling the Florida Street property was George's separate property rather than community property. George had custody of the parties' two children and contended the court erred by awarding Rosalinda spousal support in an amount greater than his total net income available to support the children. Specifically, he argued the court erred by including the amount of monthly loan principal payments he was required to make on his income-producing properties as income available for spousal support. The Court of Appeal reversed the portion of the judgment awarding the Florida Street property to George as his separate property and remanded with directions to characterize that property as community property and determine the amount of reimbursement to which George was entitled for his separate property contributions to the acquisition of the property under Family Code section 2640. The Court also reversed the spousal support award and directed the trial court to reconsider spousal support after determining the extent to which George's loan principal payments reasonably and legitimately reduced his income for purposes of support. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Marriage of Deluca" on Justia Law

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Family Code section 2034, subdivision (c) permits a family law court to reduce or limit a Family Law Attorney's Real Property Lien (FLARPL) after the lien is recorded. The Court of Appeal affirmed a pretrial discretionary order limiting husband's $250,000 pendente lite lien for attorney fees in a marital dissolution action. The court held that the plain language of section 2034, subdivision (c) does not impose any timing requirement or otherwise limit the trial court's ability to revisit the propriety of a FLARPL. The court rejected the argument that section 2033, which addresses the ex parte objection procedure before a FLARPL is recorded, restricts the trial court's discretion to limit the amount of a FLARPL after it is recorded. View "Bittenson v. Bittenson" on Justia Law

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A court errs when it dismisses a petition for lack of sufficient evidence of current risk when the reason why such evidence is lacking is because a parent, as in this case, absconded with her children and wrongfully prevented the Department from monitoring their welfare. After mother eventually surrendered the minors to a maternal relative, the juvenile court held a jurisdiction hearing and erroneously concluded that it must dismiss the petition because there was, by then, a lack of evidence of current risk of harm to the minors. The Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court's order and remanded to the juvenile court with directions to vacate its order dismissing the petition, to make a new and different order assuming jurisdiction over the minors under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1), and to hold a hearing pursuant to section 358 at which it may consider the minors' then-current circumstances when deciding what disposition is appropriate. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law

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Carolyn helped obtain a green card for her Jamaican first husband. Her second husband, Michael, is also from Jamaica. In January 2015, Carolyn met him online. Michael told Carolyn he wanted to move to the U.S. to live with her, start a restaurant business, and join the Army. In June 2015, Carolyn went to Jamaica and first met Michael. They married during that visit. Carolyn obtained a two-year conditional visa for Michael. In November 2016, Michael flew to the U.S. and moved in with Carolyn. Carolyn claims that Michael immediately began engaging in sexual relationships with other women. Michael insists that he did not have sexual relations with other women during the marriage. Carolyn sought annulment of the marriage on the basis of fraud. The court of appeal reversed a declaration of annulment. Carolyn did not prove the requirements of Family Code section 2210(d), which states: “A marriage is voidable and may be adjudged a nullity if ... the consent of either party was obtained by fraud, unless the party whose consent was obtained by fraud afterward, and with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other" as his spouse. Carolyn continued to cohabit with and have sexual relations with Michael for eight months after discovering his infidelity. View "Goodwin-Mitchell v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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B.A. (Mother) and D.V. (Father) were the parents of six-year-old I.A.-V. (I.) and eight-year-old Is.A.-V. (Is.). Mother and Father had a history with child protective services due to ongoing domestic violence and neglect issues, resulting in the removal of their children from their care. I. and Is. were first removed from Mother in 2015. At the close of the first dependency, Mother’s reunification services were terminated, and Father received legal and physical custody. In 2017, I. and Is. were removed from Father’s custody and placed with Mother as a previously noncustodial parent. The second dependency resulted in Mother receiving legal and physical custody of the children and termination of Father’s reunification services. The third and current dependency commenced in 2018 after I., Is., and A.A. were removed from Mother’s care for the same reasons as previously. At the dispositional hearing, the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) recommended to bypass reunification services pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5 (b)(10) as to all three children. The juvenile court agreed to bypass Mother’s services as to A.A. However, the court interpreted I. and Is. to be “the same child” under the statute and granted Mother reunification services as to I. and Is. Counsel for I. and Is. subsequently appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in ordering reunification services for the parents in I. and Is.’s case after it found the bypass provision under section 361.5(b)(10) did not apply. The Court of Appeal agreed: the juvenile court’s finding that section 361.5(b)(10) did not apply to this case was reversed and the matter remanded to the juvenile court to enter an order denying reunification services to the parents in I. and Is.’s case, and to set a permanency planning hearing pursuant to section 366.26. View "In re I.A." on Justia Law