Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In this opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed three consolidated appeals relating to a judgment for the return of a child in an international custody dispute. This case was retried after the Court reversed an earlier judgment marred by due process violations. After remand, the trial court again granted father’s petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Convention) and the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), for return of the child to her father’s custody in Denmark, her country of habitual residence. The court also awarded father his attorney fees and other expenses as the prevailing party under the Convention and ICARA. Mother filed separate appeals of the return order and the fees award and two post judgment sealing orders related to the parties’ use of the transcript of the trial judge’s confidential interview with the child during the trial. The Court of Appeal determined mother’s appeal of the return order was moot because the child was nearly 18 years old, and the Convention did not apply after the child who was the subject of the return petition turns 16. The Court reversed the fees award, because mother had no opportunity for a full and fair hearing on father’s motion for fees. As for mother’s appeal of the postjudgment sealing orders, the Court found no merit to the appeal and affirmed the orders. View "Noergaard v. Noergaard" on Justia Law

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In 2001, a Minnesota state court ordered James to pay $89,582.15 in child support arrears to his ex-wife, Rosemary, for their two children. James was then living in California. In 2005 the Minnesota order was registered for enforcement purposes in Santa Cruz County Superior Court under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. In 2018, in connection with registration in California of a renewed judgment from Minnesota, the Santa Cruz County court stayed enforcement of a portion of James’s child support arrears determined by the 2001 Minnesota order because the children had intermittently lived with James between 1993 and 2002. The trial court found the remainder of the arrears enforceable. The Santa Cruz County Department of Child Support Services, which has assisted in the enforcement and collection of James’s child support arrears, contends that the court lacked authority under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to stay the arrears owed by James because the 2001 Minnesota order at issue was registered and confirmed in California in 2005, and James did not timely challenge its registration. The court of appeal agreed and reversed the portion of the 2018 order staying enforcement of $28,890 of the arrears, while affirming that the remainder of the arrears ($60,692.15) was enforceable. View "Marriage of Sawyer" on Justia Law

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Father appealed the termination of his parental rights at a Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 permanency planning hearing. Although the Court of Appeal was troubled by the errors father identifies in connection with the jurisdiction/disposition hearing, the court concluded that they would not have affected the ultimate outcome of the dependency proceedings and affirmed the trial court's order regarding son. In this case, the errors identified were not prejudicial under the applicable harmless error analysis articulated in People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818. Nor are they prejudicial under the more stringent "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" standard articulated in Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24. Under the harmless standard analysis, the record clearly establishes that, had father appeared and/or been represented by counsel at the jurisdiction/disposition hearing, father would not have obtained a more favorable result.The court also denied father's motion to apply the doctrine of constructive filing to extend father's appeal regarding daughter. The court held that, given its conclusion that father's arguments regarding son do not warrant reversal, permitting father to pursue them with respect to daughter would serve no purpose. View "In re Christopher L." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that father's failure to reunify with D.N. was due solely to poverty, and terminating reunification services for father was not in D.N.'s best interests. The court also held that these errors caused the juvenile court to make a premature finding of detriment that could affect father in future dependency proceedings. Finally, the court rejected DCFS's assertion that an order returning D.N. to mother's physical custody issued after the filing of this appeal renders the instant appeal moot. Therefore, the court reversed the denial of father's request for a continuance of the Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.22 permanency review hearing, the juvenile court's finding of detriment, and the order terminating reunification services, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re D.N." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order dismissing, for lack of jurisdiction, appellant's request for a civil harassment restraining order. The court held that appellant is not permitted to use the civil harassment order process to collaterally attack a confidential child dependency and adoption proceeding concerning her biological daughter.In this case, appellant's parental rights were terminated in a child dependency proceeding after appellant refused cancer treatment for her daughter and threatened the caregiver and case worker. The juvenile court then denied appellant's petition to reinstate service, freed the daughter for adoption, and placed her with a confidential caregiver. After the court affirmed the dependency order, appellant tried to intervene in the adoption proceeding by requesting a civil harassment restraining order. The court held that appellant may not use the civil harassment order process to mount a collateral attack on the Welfare & Institution Code section 366.26 order terminating parental rights, the selection of a confidential caregiver, or the adoptive placement. View "Leah B. v. Michael V." on Justia Law

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L.C. (Mother) appealed a final order of child support covering periods from 2014 to 2019, when Child turned 18. Mother contends the trial court’s child support order had to be reversed because the court calculated child support utilizing a 29 percent timeshare for P.B. (Father) during a period of time when Father had no visitation with the child, purportedly due to Mother’s interference with Father’s visitation rights. Mother also challenged the court’s failure to include certain payments Father received from his parents as income available for child support. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with Mother’s first contention, that it was improper to attribute nonexistent timeshare in response to Mother’s alleged interference with visitation, and concluded the order should be reversed so that support could be recalculated based on Father’s actual timeshare during the disputed time period, consistent with the statutory guideline under Family Code sections 4050-4076. In all other respects, the order was affirmed. View "County of San Diego v. P.B" on Justia Law

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In this case, the dependency petition was filed, and the juvenile court assumed jurisdiction, after the family court had entered a final judgment awarding Todd T. sole legal authority to make healthcare decisions for his daughter, Anna T. After the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction a year later, it expressly declined to issue a juvenile court custody order pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 362.4, reverting back to the original family law decision. The juvenile court nonetheless ordered Anna to continue in treatment with a therapist selected by Anna's mother to be paid by Todd until the therapist determined a change would not interfere with Anna's treatment. The juvenile court also prohibited Todd from returning Anna to two healthcare providers who had previously seen her.The Court of Appeal held that the challenged orders, not having been made as part of a juvenile court custody order pursuant to section 362.4, had no continuing effect after the juvenile court terminated its jurisdiction. In this case, although the juvenile court plainly recognized its ability to issue a juvenile court custody order pursuant to section 362.4, the juvenile court believed it unnecessary to do so. The court vacated the orders, and stated that any ongoing issues regarding Todd's authority to make healthcare decisions regarding Anna are properly addressed to the family court. View "In re Anna T." on Justia Law

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C.V. (Mother) appealed an order issued under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.261 selecting adoption as the permanent plan for her son N.S. and terminating her parental rights. N.S.’s father was a member of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians (the Tribe). The Tribe was involved in this case since the juvenile court found that N.S. was an Indian child and that the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) (ICWA) applied. On appeal, Mother contended: (1) the Tribe’s “decree” selecting guardianship as the best permanent plan option for N.S. preempted the statutory preference for adoption under section 366.26; (2) N.S.’s counsel breached his duties under section 317 and provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to discover what Tribal benefits or membership rights were available to N.S. before the termination of parental rights; (3) the court erred in finding that the Indian child exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(vi)(I) and (II) did not apply to preclude termination of parental rights; (4) there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding beyond a reasonable doubt that continued custody in Mother’s care would be a substantial risk to N.S.; and (5) the court erred in finding that the beneficial parent-child relationship exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(i) does not apply to preclude termination of parental rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re N.S." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's jurisdictional findings and dispositional orders, holding that substantial evidence supports the juvenile court's finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) does not apply here. Mother contends that the juvenile court and DCFS failed to satisfy the formal notice requirements under the ICWA and related California law.In this case, the initial inquiry conducted by the juvenile court created a "reason to believe" the children possibly are Indian children; DCFS's repeated efforts to gather information concerning the children's maternal ancestry constitutes substantial evidence that DCFS met its duty of further inquiry; but the juvenile court and DCFS's further investigation did not yield results that pushed their reason to believe the children are Indian children, to reason to know the children are Indian children. The court explained that a suggestion of Indian ancestry is not sufficient under ICWA or related California law to trigger the notice requirement. Because DCFS was not required to provide formal notice to the pertinent tribes, the court did not reach Mother's argument that the ICWA notices may have lacked necessary information. View "In re Dominic F." on Justia Law

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The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (department) filed a petition seeking to remove an 18-month old girl based on mother’s substance abuse and mental health issues and noncustodial father’s failure to provide for her. However, after the child was detained, father came forward and said he had been trying to reunify with her since mother took the child when she was about four months old. He also said he had established his paternity through a genetic test and had been paying child support to mother throughout their separation. Father said he couldn’t yet take custody of the child because his housing, transportation, and employment weren’t stable, but he indicated he had obtained work and was attempting to find suitable housing. He also indicated he would return to Chicago, his home city, and live with relatives who were willing to help him raise her once he obtained custody. The department amended the petition to remove the allegations against father before the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, nonetheless maintained the child should be removed from both parents, and asked the trial court to find by clear and convincing evidence that placing the child with her parents would pose a substantial danger to her health, safety or well-being. Rights to the child were ultimately terminated, but the father appealed, averring his situation had changed: he obtained full-time employment with benefits and a permanent place to live. The court denied his motion, concluding he had shown his circumstances were changing, but had not changed. Before the Court of Appeal, father argued the entire procedure violated his due process rights and there wasn’t adequate support for the trial court’s finding that giving him custody would be detrimental to the child. The Court held a juvenile court could not terminate parental rights based on problems arising from the parent’s poverty, "a problem made worse, from a due process standpoint, when the department didn’t formally allege those problems as a basis for removal." Absent those impermissible grounds for removal the Court found there wasn’t clear and convincing evidence that returning the child to father would be detrimental to her. Termination of father’s rights was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In re S.S." on Justia Law