Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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L.O. (Father) and Z.T. (Mother) were the parents of six-year-old L.L.O. (L.), a boy born in December 2014. Father appealed a juvenile court order adjudicating L. as a dependent of the court and removing L. from parental custody. Father contended there was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court’s findings sustaining the petition against him under Welfare & Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b) and (d) and the order removing L. from his custody. The Court of Appeal found substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding under subdivision (b) of section 300 and the order removing L. from Father’s custody. However, the Court agreed insufficient evidence supported the court’s finding under section 300, subdivision (d), and modified the order to strike the allegation under that subdivision. The order was affirmed in all other respects. View "In re L.O." on Justia Law

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After a two-day hearing, the trial court found L.R. (Mother) to be obsessive, aggressive, manipulative, and controlling of K.A. (Father) during a two-hour urgent care visit with the parties’ sick minor child - an incident described by the responding police officer as “boil[ing] down to being a child custody dispute.” The incident ended with Mother, who did not have physical custody, taking the child home in violation of the child custody and visitation order. Finding Mother’s conduct disturbed Father’s peace, the court issued a three-year domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against Mother for Father’s protection and included the child as a protected party. The Court of Appeal concluded Mother’s conduct might have demonstrated poor co-parenting, but it did not rise to the level of destroying Father’s mental and emotional calm to constitute abuse within the meaning of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA). Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Marriage of L.R. and K.A." on Justia Law

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C.D. (Father) and R.Q. (Mother) appealed the juvenile court’s orders terminating parental rights to their son, B.D. (born 2012) and daughter L.D. (born 2015). The parents contended the juvenile court erred in finding that the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption did not apply because the evidence demonstrated that terminating parental rights would be detrimental to the children’s well-being. They contended that a legal guardianship was the only appropriate permanent plan for the children. On May 6, 2021, the Court of Appeal filed an opinion affirming the orders. Before this opinion became final, Mother filed a petition for rehearing arguing that the recent Supreme Court decision in In re Caden C., 11 Cal.5th 614 (2021) found the juvenile court erred in terminating parental rights. The Court of Appeal granted rehearing and gave all parties the opportunity to file supplemental briefing on the petition for rehearing and the impact of Caden C. on this appeal. After review, the Court of Appeal vacated its initial opinion, and reversed the orders terminating parental rights. "When concluding that the parents did not meet their burden of showing that they had a substantial, positive, emotional attachment with their children, the juvenile court and social worker considered the parents’ substance abuse without addressing whether this continued substance abuse had any negative effect on the parent-child relationship. We are also uncertain whether the juvenile court considered other factors proscribed by the Supreme Court in determining the beneficial nature of the parent-child relationship. We therefore must reverse the orders terminating parental rights and remand for the juvenile court to reexamine the record based on a proper application of the governing law." View "In re B.D." on Justia Law

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Judge John W. Ouderkirk (Ret.) was the privately compensated temporary judge selected by petitioner, Angelina Jolie, and real party in interest, William Bradley Pitt, to hear their family law case. Jolie filed a statement of disqualification challenging Judge Ouderkirk based on his failure to disclose, as required by the California Code of Judicial Ethics, several matters involving Pitt's counsel in which Judge Ouderkirk had been retained to serve as a temporary judge. After the superior court ruled against Jolie, she petitioned for writ of mandate and supporting papers.The Court of Appeal granted the writ of mandate directing the superior court to vacate its order denying Jolie's statement of disqualification and to make a new order disqualifying Judge Ouderkirk. The court concluded that Judge Ouderkirk's ethical breach, considered together with the information disclosed concerning his recent professional relationships with Pitt's counsel, might cause an objective person, aware of all the facts, reasonably to entertain a doubt as to the judge's ability to be impartial. Therefore, the court concluded that disqualification is required. View "Jolie v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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M.M. appealed a judgment denying his petition to establish a parental relationship with his biological son (Child). M.M. filed the petition after he learned, when Child was two years old, that he was Child’s biological father. M.M. alleged he was entitled to status as a presumed father under the principles of due process and equal protection set forth in Adoption of Kelsey S., 1 Cal.4th 816 (1992) for unwed fathers who were prevented by the mother or by a third party from establishing presumed father status. M.M. did not dispute the parental status of T.M., who was married to Child’s mother (Mother), listed on Child’s birth certificate as the father, and signed a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage at the Child’s birth. However, M.M. contended he should be accorded status as Child’s third parent pursuant to Family Code section 7612 (c). The Court of Appeal concluded that even assuming that M.M. was entitled to presumed parent status, the trial court properly determined that M.M. should not have been adjudged a third parent due to his lack of an existing relationship with Child. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "M.M. v. D.V." on Justia Law

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Charles W. Sr. (Father) challenged a juvenile court's finding regarding his children Charles W. Jr. (Jr.), S.W., and R.W., that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply. He contended there was an insufficient inquiry of the mother’s ancestry. The children’s parents have a history of substance abuse. In a prior dependency case, the parents admitted to their use of methamphetamine. In January 2019, the juvenile court found ICWA did not apply in the proceeding. In July 2020, after completing her reunification services, the children’s mother (Mother) was granted sole custody of Jr. and S.W. Father did not complete his reunification services. Several months later in late September, R.W. was born to Mother and Father. In December 2020, police officers responded to the hotel room where the family was living and seized a large quantity of illicit drugs, which were accessible to the three young children. Both parents were arrested on drug-related charges, and they admitted to using drugs. Mother told the assigned social worker she had Yaqui and Aztec heritage but she “already went through the Court process,” and the court had found ICWA did not apply. Days later, the state filed dependency petitions on behalf of all three children; the Agency submitted a completed form ICWA-010(A), indicating Mother’s report of “Yaqui and Aztec Native American heritage” and Father’s denial of Indian heritage. The Agency also filled out a “field worksheet for updating client demographics.” On this worksheet, as to ICWA applicability (“ICWA?”), the Agency marked “No” for the two older children and made no marking for R.W. Further, for each child, a tribal affiliation of “Sioux” was denoted. At a dispositional hearing at which mother and her counsel attended, Native American ancestry was denied: “I spoke to my client this morning. She has no Native American ancestry. She does have some ancestry through central Mexico.” The court went on to “reconfirm ICWA does not apply at this time based on the information provided to the court and the reaffirmation of no Native American ancestry as stated and will be provided on the 020 form by Mother’s counsel." The Court of Appeal disagreed with Father's contention that the juvenile court and Agency did not make a sufficient inquiry as to the children's ancestry before finding the ICWA did not apply. "[G]iven the prior ICWA finding regarding this family and the parents’ unequivocal denials of Indian ancestry, we do not find it reasonably probable that further inquiry based on the record before us would yield a different result." View "In re Charles W., Jr." on Justia Law

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D.M. (father) appealed the termination of his parental rights to his biological daughter A.C. (child). He contended there was a failure to inquire into whether he had Indian ancestry, as required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and related federal and state law. The issue arose because the mother plainly did have Indian ancestry — she was an enrolled member of a federally recognized Indian tribe; an older daughter had been removed from her custody and transferred to the jurisdiction of the tribe. Apparently no one thought it was worth asking whether the father, too, might have Indian ancestry. When the mother’s tribe surprised everyone by reporting that the child was not a member and not eligible for membership, the juvenile court found (without any further inquiry regarding the father ) that ICWA did not apply. San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) did not dispute there was a failure to inquire, however, it contended the father did not show the error was prejudicial. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: the father did not claim he had any Indian ancestry. "Because he has not managed to clear this rather low hurdle, there is no reason to suppose that, absent the error, the outcome would have been any different. And, more to the point, there is no reason to reverse and remand for a further inquiry, which would not only entail effort and expense, but would also delay permanency for A.C." View "In re A.C." on Justia Law

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T.W., the de facto parent of the minor, appealed a juvenile court’s order removing the minor from his and his wife’s care and placing the minor with her maternal relatives. He contended the juvenile court abused its discretion in entering the orders and that placement with the maternal relatives was not in the minor’s best interests. The respondent Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services elected not to file an appellate brief, as its position was aligned with appellant’s position at the contested hearing giving rise to this appeal. The respondent minor, who argued in favor of placement with the maternal relatives, contended appellant did not have standing to raise the issue of placement in this appeal and, in any event, the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in ordering placement with the maternal relatives. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded appellant lacked standing to contest the placement order, and dismissed the appeal. View "In re B.S." on Justia Law

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In 2018, Mother filed a petition for dissolution of the parties’ marriage. The parties resided together with their six children, ages three-13. Mother was a stay-at-home parent and the primary caregiver. Mother stated that Father had abused her throughout their marriage. For six months, the family continued to reside together. In August 2019, Mother filed a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) application seeking orders forbidding Father from committing abuse, compelling him to stay away and to move out of their shared residence, and to be restrained from traveling with their children.Father was ordered not to abuse Mother and to stay at least five yards away from her. The court denied Mother’s other requests pending a hearing. Father denied committing any violence, claiming that Mother harassed him. The DVRO matter was heard over several days in late 2019. The court ordered Mother to move out of the home. Father was denied visitation. Mother, at various points, was living in a motel and out of her car with the children. The trial court found insufficient evidence to grant a DVRO.The court of appeal reversed. The trial court erroneously refused to consider evidence of abuse committed following the filing of the DVRO application, failed to properly evaluate the evidence that it heard, and improperly found that physical separation alone could substitute for the legal protections afforded by a restraining order. View "Marriage of F.M. & M.M." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the family law court's order denying father's petition filed pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, concluding that father did not bear his burden of establishing the existence of ameliorative measures to ensure his children's safety. In this appeal concerning an international custody dispute involving the two minor children of an American mother and a Chilean father, mother was subjected to acts of domestic violence and emotional abuse by father, which was sometimes committed in the presence of the children.The court concluded that it is a reasonable inference from the evidence that father will continue to drink to excess and drive while intoxicated, thus exposing his children to a grave risk of harm. Given father's failure to acknowledge his excessive drinking and acts of domestic violence, as well as his repeated acts of driving while intoxicated, the court explained that there are no ameliorative measures that will mitigate the grave risk of harm to his children. View "Emilie D.L.M. v. Carlos C." on Justia Law