Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Mother challenged three juvenile court orders regarding her sons. The Court of Appeal held that the juvenile court committed reversible error when it denied mother's modification petition, because she established a substantial change in circumstances by resolving the domestic violence underlying the initial dependency petition. The court also held that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding placement with mother would not be in J.M.'s best interests. Therefore, the juvenile court's May 15, 2019 and September 30, 2019 orders denying mother's Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petitions and the juvenile court's September 30, 2019 order pursuant to section 366.26 are reversed. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law

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The Orange County Department of Child Support Services (Department) has withdrawn money from Daniel Lak’s (Father) Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) to pay for child/spousal support arrears since 2015. Father disputed the Department's authority to withdraw money, and at a hearing, sought reimbursement for overpayments and maintained the Department violated Family Code section 5246 (d)(3) by collecting more than five percent from his SSDI. The court denied Father’s requests and determined the Department could continue withdrawing money from SSDI for support arrears. On appeal, Father maintaned the court misinterpreted the law and failed to properly consider his motion for sanctions. Finding his contentions lack merit, the Court of Appeal affirmed the court’s order the Department did not overdraw money for arrears, Father failed to demonstrate he qualified for section 5246(d)(3)’s five percent rule, and sanctions were not warranted. View "Lak v. Lak" on Justia Law

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The Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services (Department) filed a dependency petition on behalf of the newborn minor pursuant to Welf. & Inst. Code section 300, subdivisions (b) and (j). The petition alleged the minor suffered, or was at substantial risk of suffering, harm due to substance abuse by mother and alleged father M.W. The petition further alleged substantial risk to the minor due to the abuse or neglect of, and eventual termination of mother’s parental rights over, the minor’s three half-siblings. Mother and M.W. reported they believed M.W. was the minor’s biological father but requested a paternity test for confirmation. Mother also reported the maternal grandfather had Native American heritage with the Apache Tribe, later confirming her claim in her parental notification of Indian status form (ICWA-020). M.W. denied having any Indian ancestry. At a detention hearing, the juvenile court made ICWA orders as to mother and ordered the minor detained. The Department interviewed mother in custody, and learned A.C. (father) could potentially be the minor's biological father. No parent was present for a January 2019 jurisdiction/disposition hearing. The court ordered the Department to continue its search for father and, upon locating him, inform him of the proceedings and his options for establishing paternity, and to make ICWA inquiry. Father appeared in court on March 27, 2019, and requested paternity testing to determine whether the minor was his biological child. By May 2019, father was given court appointed counsel, and was found to be the minor's biological father. Because family members refused to cooperate with a social worker's investigation, twelve tribes were contacted for help determining the minor's status as an Indian Child. Ten confirmed the minor was not an Indian for purposes of the ICWA, and the remainder did not respond by the time of the hearing. The court ruled the ICWA did not appeal as to the minor, and Father's parental rights to the child were ultimately terminated. He appealed, arguing the Department failed to comply with the ICWA. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's ICWA ruling and termination of parental rights. View "In re M.W." on Justia Law

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After a trial on both parties' domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) requests, the trial court denied Warren's requested DVRO and granted Nicole's requested DVRO against Warren. Warren appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by ordering him to move out of the property and by awarding use and possession of the property to Nicole. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order, holding that the Domestic Violence Prevention Act and Family Code sections 6340, 6321, and 6324 authorize a court to order the restrained party to move out of property and allow the protected party to use and possess the property. In this case, while ownership of the property will be determined in the pending civil suit, the trial court had authority to make orders about the use and possession of the property. The court concluded that the DVRO, including the move-out order and use/possession order, did not exceed the bounds of reason. View "Nicole G. v. Braithwaite" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed a detention order based on a subsequent dependency petition filed under Welfare and Institutions Code section 342. The Court of Appeal granted DCFS's motion to dismiss the appeal, because the detention order based on a section 342 petition is interlocutory and not appealable. Therefore, the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain mother's appeal of the detention order entered prior to disposition. View "In re B.P." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's order selecting adoption as the permanent plan for mother's daughter. The court held that mother's challenge to the juvenile court's order of adoption is waived; the trial court was under no obligation sua sponte to inquire whether M.W. (the mother of Samantha's godmother) had been advised of and rejected the option of guardianship in favor of adoption; and where, as here, all statutory requirements to terminate parental rights have been met, the non-relative prospective adoptive parent has been clear and consistent in her willingness and desire to adopt the child, and the court has found the adoptive parent suitable and the child thriving in the adoptive parent's care and custody, the court saw no reason whatsoever to derail this adoption. View "In re Samantha H." on Justia Law

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K.L. (mother) and J.P. (father) had three young children together as well as an infant son named E. Mother tested positive for amphetamine at a prenatal visit for E., and when the child was born a few months later, he tested positive for amphetamine and marijuana. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court declared all four children dependents and removed them from the parents’ care. Mother appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence used to support the removal order. She argued there was insufficient evidence E.’s siblings were at risk of harm, as well as insufficient evidence all of the children could not live safely with father, with her out of the home. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence supported the challenged findings and orders, and therefore affirmed. View "In re E.E." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the dependency court's order concerning father's baby daughter. The court held that the juvenile court abused its discretion in ordering father to complete a parenting education program because substantial evidence did not support a finding that, in order to protect his daughter, he needed to participate in a parenting course. In this case, the record contained uncontroverted evidence that after the baby was placed with father at the detention hearing, he provided appropriate care for her; his home was safe and had the necessary baby supplies; he was meeting the baby's needs and had a nurturing and healthy relationship with her; and father had completed a formal parenting program in 2015. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the family court's division of marital property and rejected father's four claims of error. The court deferred to the family court's credibility call in rejecting two of father's witnesses as unreliable, and held that substantial evidence supported the family court's conclusion that a $171,099 obligation remained on the Hacienda Heights home, which sum it subtracted from the home's value. The court upheld the family court's sanction against father for his omission of another property in his preliminary and final declarations of disclosure. The court held that the family court did not abuse its discretion in interpreting a 2008 order directing father to sell a third property. Finally, the court held that substantial evidence supported the family court's judgment regarding father's Jeep, tools, all-terrain vehicle, and watch. View "Gutierrez v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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Mary, then 18 months old, was removed from her parents in 2016, due to both parents’ drug abuse, chronic unemployment, homelessness, and neglect of their children. Aurora was eight months old when she was removed. A brother, age four, was freed for adoption in 2018. Since December 2017, the girls have lived in the concurrent foster-adoptive home of Shawn, a woman in her forties who formerly worked in early childhood development but now stays at home with the children. Shawn lives with her partner and their 16-year-old daughter. Shawn wanted to adopt the girls. The parents engaged in reunification services half-heartedly but participated regularly in visitation. The court terminated reunification services. The maternal grandmother petitioned to adopt Mary; her petition was denied because Mary was in a concurrent foster-adoptive home. The section 366.26 report recommended termination of parental rights and a permanent plan of adoption. The social worker had observed the girls' connection to their foster-adoptive family and described the girls as generally healthy but having special needs. The parents testified in support of their claim of a beneficial parental relationship. The court selected adoption as the permanent plan and terminated both parents’ rights in the children. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the children have too many special needs to be generally adoptable and should not have been deemed specifically adoptable because the section 366.26 report failed to contain all the statutorily required detail about the prospective adoptive mother and failed to report on her longtime partner who resides with her. View "In re Mary C." on Justia Law