Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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In an issue of first impression, the Court of Appeals addressed whether Family Code section 4504(b) required derivative benefits received by the child of a disabled parent to be credited against a noncustodial obligor's child support. In this case, the Social Security Administration (SSA) took six years to approve Father's application. In 2015, it made a lump-sum payment for past-due derivative benefits to custodial parent Y.H. (Mother), as Daughter's representative payee. In the intervening six years, Father had continued to pay child support and was not in arrears. The Court of Appeals held section 4504 (b) indeed permitted retroactive child support credit from Daughter's lump-sum payment where there was no child support arrearage. View "Y.H. v. M.H." on Justia Law

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Husband appealed an order setting aside a default judgment that incorporated a marital settlement agreement (MSA). He contended the trial court erred by considering evidence not presented, submitted, or admitted at the hearing, in violation of Family Code section 217. He further argued the court erroneously relied upon an incorrect legal standard when it found the failure to complete preliminary and final disclosures provided sufficient grounds to vacate the judgment. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding that if husband disagreed with the court’s assessment, he should have stated his position on the record and requested the opportunity to present live testimony as authorized by section 217. Having failed to do so, the trial court did not err in allowing wife to “‘rest on the pleadings’” instead of presenting evidence. In deciding to set aside the judgment, the trial court found that husband failed to complete the preliminary and final disclosures, as evidenced by : (1) there were no supporting documents attached to the preliminary disclosure; (2) the stipulation was prepared by husband’s attorney; (3) wife never actually exchanged any documents with husband; (4) husband was unable to produce copies of the documents that support the preliminary disclosure; and (5) husband has over $400,000 in cash and checking accounts that was not disclosed in his income and expense declaration. Here, husband prepared the necessary preliminary declarations of disclosure; however, he failed to provide the supporting documentation. Wife never completed or exchanged any declarations of disclosure, despite executing the stipulation stating that she had done so. Given the lack of compliance with the statutory requirements, the stipulation was insufficient to act as a waiver of the final disclosure. The trial court therefore correctly concluded that there had been a mistake of fact by the parties regarding whether the statutory requirements had been satisfied, and properly vacated the judgment on that basis. View "In re Marriage of Binette" on Justia Law

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Beginning in December 2006, plaintiffs made several loans to defendant Lee, who is You’s father. Lee defaulted. In July 2013, a judgment was entered against Lee for $1,143,576. No part of the debt has been paid. In October 2016, plaintiffs filed a complaint against Lee and You, seeking to set aside allegedly fraudulent conveyances and an accounting, claiming that in 2013, Lee paid $104,850 to Northeastern University for You’s tuition and other expenses, knowing that he had incurred, or would incur, debts beyond his ability to pay, intending to “hinder, delay, or defraud” his creditors, including plaintiffs. You contended Lee’s transfers were not fraudulent because they did not lack consideration and that You was not a beneficiary of the transfer, having received only the intangible benefits of an education. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Noting that there is no authority on whether creditors may attack college tuition payments as fraudulent transfers under the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (Civ. Code 3439) the court reasoned that a parent can reasonably assume that paying for a child to obtain a degree will enhance the child's financial well-being which will, in turn, confer an economic benefit on the parent. View "Lo v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Mother made no progress on her case plan for a year, then, as she was about to lose her parental rights, she began eagerly complying with the plan. The twist in this case is that the child, Sofia, was 14 years old, and by the time mother decided to comply with the plan, Sofia was depressed and too hurt to want to spend any time with her. So she refused visits. At the 12-month review hearing, mother complained that she had been prevented from visiting Sofia. The court left the visitation order in place, and even authorized visitation in a therapeutic setting, but terminated reunification services and set a selection and implementation hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 (.26 hearing). Sofia continued refusing visits and threatened to run away from therapy sessions if she were pressured. At the .26 hearing mother filed a section 388 modification petition, seeking to reinstate services, arguing she had been denied the ability to establish the “beneficial relationship exception” to adoption. The court denied the petition, terminated parental rights, and selected adoption as a permanent plan. On appeal, mother contended Sofia’s refusal to visit amounted to a failure by the court to enforce its order. The Court of Appeal disagreed: the trial court’s visitation order was appropriate, and it granted every visitation accommodation mother requested. "The fact that no one was able to persuade Sofia to visit her mother does not amount to an error by the court. Accordingly, we affirm." View "In re Sofia M." on Justia Law

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Fourteen-year-old E.A. and her eleven-year old sister, M.A. (together minors or children) had been living in what the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (Agency) described as "deplorable" conditions. Minors, both United States citizens, were living with their parents in Tijuana in an abandoned home with no electricity, no potable water, and with cockroaches crawling near minors' bed. The children had not been to school for over a year. They looked anorexic because J.A. (Mother) and Z.A. (Father) (together parents) fed them only one meal a day. When ruling in dependency proceedings, "'the welfare of the minor is the paramount concern of the court.'" At the time of the dispositive hearing in this case, there was no evidence that the minors' living conditions had changed. However, misinterpreting Welfare and Institutions Code section 300(g), and misapplying Allen M. v. Superior Court (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1069, the juvenile court dismissed the dependency petitions. The minors appealed. The Agency conceded court erred, but claimed the Court of Appeal should affirm because the errors were harmless. The Court of Appeal concluded the court's errors were prejudicial and, therefore, reversed with directions to deny the Agency's motion to dismiss the petitions. View "In re E.A." on Justia Law

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C.T. and D.A. appealed a juvenile court order terminating C.T.'s parental rights to her minor daughter, C.A., and earlier orders finding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply to C.A.'s presumed father, D.A., or C.A.'s biological father, D.R. The Court of Appeal rejected these challenges and affirmed the orders. View "In re C.A." on Justia Law

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Wife Rachelle Spector filed a request for a temporary order for spousal support and professional fees. The parties filed their respective briefs with supporting declarations and evidence in advance of a February 17, 2017, hearing. The court issued its ruling on February 21, and served the order on the parties via e-mail the next day. The court ordered, among other things, husband to pay wife temporary spousal support and certain professional fees. The first temporary spousal support payment was due on March 1, 2017. Shortly after receiving the 2/21 Order on February 22, husband Phillip Spector sent an email to the judge with a copy to wife, stating “there appears to be an error in your arithmetic” regarding the monthly temporary spousal support figure. Husband, wife, and the judge engaged in several e-mail exchanges regarding the calculations and the effect of the monetary awards and requirements in the 2/21 Order. Husband suggested “that the court relabel it’s [sic] ruling to instead be a Tentative Ruling and let us each argue before making it final.” On February 23, the judge responded, “[q]uite frankly I have the authority to modify the orders and am considering doing so.” She further stated “[w]e can call the notice and orders tentative,” and invited the parties to argue the issues but indicated she “prefer[red] a 5 page written argument from each of [them].” The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal’s review was whether the trial court had the inherent authority to reconsider its own orders and make them effective retroactively. Wife argued the trial court was precluded from doing so pursuant to Family Code sections 3603, 3651(c), and 3653(a), and the various cases interpreting those statutes. The Court of Appeal concluded the court had inherent authority to reconsider its prior order and to apply its modified decision retroactively. Finding no merit in wife’s argument that the court violated her due process rights when it exercised this authority, the appellate court affirmed. View "Marriage of Spector" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's determination that wife had not intentionally misrepresented her intention to be bound by the mahr agreement in order to induce husband to enter into the marriage. The trial court found that the parties had different interpretations of the mahr agreement, which they did not discuss with one another, and that husband made the assumption that wife shared his interpretation of the agreement. Therefore, the court held that the trial court properly found that husband failed to meet his burden to establish by clear and convincing evidence that wife fraudulently induced him to enter into the marriage. View "Turfe v. Turfe" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order directing husband to pay wife child support for their three children. The court held that the trial court properly followed the case of Asfaw v. Wolberhan, 147 Cal.App.4th 1407, by disallowing husband's deduction of depreciation; husband failed to demonstrate any prejudicial error or abuse of discretion by the trial court and substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that special circumstances existed in this case to support the grant of an upward departure from guideline support; and the trial court did not err in regard to husband's request for sanctions. View "Marriage of Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Linda Marshall appealed a trial court’s judgment on reserved issues following the dissolution of her marriage to Bryan Marshall. Linda challenged two specific aspects of the family court’s division of marital property: (1) the court erred declaring a 2006 capital gains tax liability to be a community debt, notwithstanding the fact she had obtained an “innocent spouse” determination from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and (2) the court erred in awarding Bryan the post-separation proceeds of a disability insurance policy as his separate property, despite the fact the policy had been purchased with community funds and was purportedly intended to serve as retirement income. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court did not err: (1) the trial court was not bound by the IRS’s innocent spouse determination in characterizing the tax liability, and the decision to treat the liability as a community debt, notwithstanding that determination, was supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the disability insurance policy was intended to replace Bryan’s earned income, rather than to operate as part of a retirement plan, was amply supported by the evidence. View "Marriage of Marshall" on Justia Law