Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
In re L.J.
Appellant M.B., mother of minor L.J., appealed the termination of her parental rights which freed L.J. for adoption. Mother contended the juvenile court erred by: (1) denying her request to admit self-made recordings of her visits with the minor to support her argument that the Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 (c)(1)(B)(i) beneficial parental relationship exception applied and to impeach the evidence of the visits; and (2) finding the beneficial parental relationship exception did not apply to prevent the termination of parental rights. The Court of Appeal concluded after review that the juvenile court’s findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record and the court did not abuse its discretion in finding no detriment to termination of parental rights. View "In re L.J." on Justia Law
Segal v. Fishbein
Unhappy with a Virginia court’s order regarding the custody of his minor daughter, appellant Paul Fishbein sought to modify that order only one month later in California family court. When the California court found it lacked jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to do so, Fishbein appealed. The Court of Appeal concluded the California court was correct: the Virginia court that entered the governing child custody order had initial home state jurisdiction, and it never lost that jurisdiction. View "Segal v. Fishbein" on Justia Law
Marriage of Sullivan
Jeremiah Sullivan, III, appeals a stipulated judgment of dissolution of marriage. He challenged a 2018 order that was incorporated into the stipulated judgment, in which the family court found that it lacked jurisdiction to divide his ex-wife Lisa Sullivan’s military pension under the Federal Uniformed Services Former Spouse’s Protection Act (FUSFSPA). Jeremiah argued the court erred because Lisa “consent[ed] to the jurisdiction of the Court.” The Court of Appeal concluded the stipulated judgment was not appealable because it did not resolve all issues between the parties. At the parties’ joint request, however, the appellate court exercised its discretion to treat the appeal as a petition for writ of mandate. On the merits, it rejected the trial court’s ruling that a service member had to explicitly and specifically consent to the court’s authority to divide her military retirement under the FUSFSPA. Furthermore, the Court concluded Lisa did consent to the jurisdiction of the court within the meaning of the FUSFSPA by voluntarily filing her dissolution petition in California, seeking a judicial confirmation of “all” her separate property acquired before marriage, asking the court to determine “any” community property assets, and requesting the appointment of an expert under California Evidence Code section 730 to determine a proposed division of the parties’ retirement accounts. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal granted appropriate writ relief directing the family court to vacate the stipulated judgment and the relevant portion of the 2018 order. View "Marriage of Sullivan" on Justia Law
Posted in: California Courts of Appeal, Family Law, Military Law
Marriage of Cohen
After Richard Cohen (Richard) filed a request to modify his child support and spousal support obligations, Lauralin Anderson Cohen (Lauralin) moved to dismiss Richard’s motion under the disentitlement doctrine as Richard was delinquent on his support obligations. The trial court granted Lauralin’s motion and on its own, conditioned the filing of any future modification requests on Richard being current on his support obligations. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting Lauralin’s motion to dismiss, but erred in conditioning the filing of future modification requests on Richard being current on his support obligations. View "Marriage of Cohen" on Justia Law
Posted in: California Courts of Appeal, Family Law
A.H. v. Super. Ct.
In August 2020, police went to a motel room to investigate child abuse. Three children were present: K.H. (an eight-year-old boy), A.H. (a five-year-old girl), and P.A. (an 18-month-old girl). The boy had visible bruises on his face and arms; the older girl had multiple bruises on her legs. Police arrested S.A. (“Mother”), and A.A. (“Husband” and father of the younger girl), who had brought the three children from Texas to California about three weeks prior. At that time, A.H. (“Father” of the two older children) was incarcerated in Texas for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The children were taken into protective custody. The next day, Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) filed a dependency petition, and the juvenile court took “emergency jurisdiction . . . pursuant to UCCJEA.” About a week later, the court phoned a Texas state court judge who “cede[d] jurisdiction to the state of California.” SSA placed the children in foster care with Dana C. (“Caregiver”). Mother pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse, served a 120-day jail sentence, and returned to Texas. Husband’s disposition and whereabouts were unknown. Father was no longer incarcerated and lived in Texas. In March 2021, the juvenile court sustained the dependency petition, declaring the children to be dependents of the court. Six months later, Mother moved to transfer the matter to Texas. In July 2022, the juvenile court again spoke to a Texas judge and found the state continued to decline to exercise jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. Father appealed, contending the California juvenile court never had subject matter jurisdiction under the UCCJEA and all the juvenile court’s orders had to be reversed. The Court of Appeal denied the parents' requests, finding substantial evidence to support the juvenile court's ruling. View "A.H. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
In re J.M.
Father M.M. and mother J.M. pled no contest to a dependency petition regarding their minor children, J. and M. (along with their now-adult sibling Mi.), based on the parents engaging in repeated conflicts in the children’s presence. The juvenile court found jurisdiction over the children pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 3001 and removed them from both parents’ custody, finding that the ongoing conflict caused a substantial risk of harm to the children, including serious mental health issues for J. The court returned the children to mother and father in October 2020 but maintained jurisdiction. In May 2021, the court terminated jurisdiction at a section 364 status review hearing with an exit order granting shared legal custody of J. and M. to mother and father, but sole physical custody to mother. Father appeals from that exit order, arguing that the court erred in terminating jurisdiction and applied the wrong standard to remove the children from his custody. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court found no abuse of discretion in the court’s conclusion that awarding sole physical custody to mother was in the children’s best interest, as recommended by DCFS and requested by mother and the children, and where J. stated she was not comfortable visiting or living with father at all. The court’s order was further supported by the evidence that father had failed to comply with on-demand drug testing, failed to meet with the CSW for assessment for months, blamed mother for his relationship issues with J., blamed DCFS and mother for his lack of conjoint counseling, and was frequently absent. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law
In re N.M.
In these dependency proceedings, T.M. (Father) appealed from a juvenile court exit order awarding sole physical custody of minors N.M. and S.M. to E.S. (Mother), contending no substantial evidence supported the order. The Second Appellate District agreed and therefore reversed the order insofar as it grants sole physical custody to Mother. The court explained that here, the juvenile court made no express finding that granting sole physical custody to Mother would be in the children’s best interests. Instead, the court stated, “It’s not appropriate to reward a parent who does nothing in this court, so I’m not going to make it joint legal.” The court thus granted Mother sole custody to avoid rewarding Father, who had refused to participate meaningfully in the case plan. This was an abuse of discretion because an exit order must serve the best interests of the children, not reward or punish one parent or another for failing to comply with the case plan. The court explained that while it does not condone ignoring the court’s orders, there has been no express finding that these factors impacted the children’s interests, and no grounds appear for an implied finding. Father has never been deemed an offending parent, and no evidence suggested that his drug use, lack of a parenting class, or visitation practices impacted the children in any way. View "In re N.M." on Justia Law
Johnston-Rossi v. Rossi
Plaintiff (Mother) appealed from the post-judgment order modifying the parenting plan between her and her former husband, Defendant (Father) with respect to their two minor children. Mother contends the family court abused its discretion in ordering the children to participate with Father in a therapy program operated by Family Bridges, which mandated no contact with Mother for a minimum of 90 days. The Second Appellate District agreed and reversed the order. The court explained that nothing in the record supports the court’s finding that this significant disruption to the children’s established living arrangement with Mother was in their best interest. The order requires the children, for a minimum period of three months, to be moved out of their home and either moved across the country to Los Angeles if the Family Bridges program can be completed during a school break or moved into a new home in New York with Father until the program can be completed there during the school year. The children would not be allowed any contact with Mother during this disruptive period. Without evidence that it is in the best interest of the children to remove them from Mother’s custody for a period of at least 90 days in order to participate in the Family Bridges program, the court abused its discretion in issuing its order of December 22, 2021. View "Johnston-Rossi v. Rossi" on Justia Law
In re L.B.
The Bureau filed a dependency petition with respect to L.B., Welfare and Institutions Code 300, due to Mother’s failure to protect L.B. from ongoing domestic violence between Mother and her long-term partner, T.Y., and her inability to provide support for L.B. due to her hospitalization for leukemia and consumption of high doses of pain medication. Mother had a history of arrests and had attempted suicide. Despite many reports to the contrary, Mother denied domestic violence, claimed she had no mental health issues, and denied using nonprescribed drugs. L.B.’s school attendance had been poor. L.B. was detained with Father.At the dispositional hearing, Mother testified about her intervening arrest for assault with a deadly weapon and denied telling a social worker that L.B. had seen domestic violence between her and T.Y. The juvenile court found Mother unable to protect the child from ongoing domestic violence and that Mother presented an ongoing risk to L.B. given her domestic violence history, her propensity to engage in violent acts, and her failure to take any preventative steps to allay the court’s concerns. The court granted sole physical custody of L.B. to Father, joint legal custody to both parents, and supervised visitation for Mother. The court of appeal affirmed. There was substantial evidence that L.B. would otherwise be at substantial risk of serious harm. View "In re L.B." on Justia Law
In re A.A.
C.G. (Mother) and R.A. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating their parental rights to three of their minor children. Father’s parents repeatedly denied any Indian ancestry, but Mother reported she was affiliated with the Jemez Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. Father eventually denied having any Indian ancestry or tribal affiliation. The juvenile court found the children might be Indian children and ordered notice to be reported to the Jemez Pueblo tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Jemez Pueblo tribe required individuals to have a 1/4 Jemez Pueblo blood quantum. Mother provided verification of her tribal registration status with the tribe, which confirmed her Jemez Pueblo blood quantum was over 1/4. A social worker from the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (the Department) contacted the Jemez Pueblo and was told that none of the children were registered members of the tribe. The social worker reported she contacted Annette Gachupin, a Child Advocate for the Jemez Pueblo and the tribe’s ICWA Representative. Gachupin confirmed that Mother was an enrolled member of the Jemez Pueblo tribe, but the children were not eligible to become registered members because their blood quantum was too low to meet requirements for tribal membership. Instead, the children were eligible for “naturalization,” which would only qualify them for tribal health services while excluding them from receiving federal funds that Jemez Pueblo members receive. Mother never completed the paperwork to have the children naturalized. The Department asked the juvenile court to find that ICWA did not apply because the children were not Indian children. The parents did not object, nor did the children’s attorney. The juvenile court found that the children were not Indian children and therefore ICWA did not apply. The lack of objections notwithstanding, the parents appealed the termination and the ICWA ruling. The Court of Appeal concluded the juvenile court did not err: Indian tribes determine whether a child is a member of the tribe or eligible for membership. Substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding that N., H., and A. were not “Indian children” for ICWA purposes. View "In re A.A." on Justia Law