Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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After police arrested their mother, 10-year-old J. and her half-brothers were found at a homeless encampment and detained by the Alameda County Social Services Agency, which filed a juvenile dependency petition. At a paternity inquiry, Mother testified that Father is J.’s father. Mother and Father lived together until J. was two years old. Father had participated in Nevada child support proceedings, acknowledged J. as his child, and was subject to a child support order. Father had regular visits with J. After the Agency filed an amended petition naming Father as J.’s alleged father, the court declared the children dependents of the court, and placed the children with their maternal grandfather. The court held a later hearing, ordered a legal guardianship by the grandfather, then dismissed the dependency.During the proceedings, Father maintained his relationship with J. and consistently stated that he wanted custody. Father repeatedly contacted the Agency and provided a birth certificate showing his name as J.’s father. Court-appointed attorneys represented Father but he was unrepresented during critical proceedings and none of the attorneys took action on his behalf. At the dismissal hearing, the court noted that no counsel was present on Father’s behalf and acknowledged that the prior proceeding, without Father's counsel present "was an error.” Contrary to Welfare and Institutions Code 316.2(b), and California Rule 5.635(g), the court clerk never provided Father with notice of the procedure he should follow to establish that he is J.’s father and to protect his parental rights. The court of appeal reversed the juvenile court orders, finding that Father was prejudiced by the failure to comply with the notice requirements. View "In re J.W.-P." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's dispositional order removing son and daughter from father's custody. The court heeded the holding of Conservatorship of O.B. (2020) 9 Cal.5th 989, 995–996, establishing that when a statute requires a fact to be found by clear and convincing evidence, and when there is a substantial evidence challenge, the reviewing court must determine whether the record contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could find the existence of that fact to be highly probable.In this case, the court held that a reasonable trier of fact could have found it highly probable that placement of the minors with father would pose a substantial risk of them being harmed by exposure to future domestic violence, and that there were no reasonable means to protect the minors without removal from father's physical custody. The court rejected father's arguments to the contrary and his argument that the juvenile court's failure to state the facts it relied upon is reversible error. Because the last incident of domestic violence involving father was so dangerous and troubling, it is not reasonably probable that the juvenile court would have reached a different conclusion if it stated the facts it relied upon. View "In re V.L." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's finding that placing 12 year old daughter out of state with father would be detrimental to her emotional well-being. The court held that substantial evidence supports the juvenile court's detriment finding where the evidence shows that, among other things, daughter is strongly attached to her mother, half brother, and maternal family; they are loving; daughter is thriving in her grandmother's home; she sees mother daily and wants to reunify with her; and she has many friends, enjoys school, and is excelling academically. The court explained that a court properly may decline placement with a safe and nonoffending parent if that placement would be detrimental to the child's emotional well-being. View "In re A.C." on Justia Law

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Erica served Francis with a petition for dissolution of marriage, along with an automatic temporary restraining order that prohibited him from “[t]ransferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of any property ... without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life.” Francis subsequently initiated three bitcoin-related transactions, involving $45,000, $99,451, and $44,940. One account holder lost hundreds of thousands of bitcoins to hacking and embezzlement. Francis knew of the company’s bankruptcy but did not recover the bitcoins or his investment. Francis filed his preliminary schedule of assets, disclosing ownership of 1,062.21 bitcoins. Erica sought her half of the community bitcoins. Francis then disclosed that some were tied up in the bankruptcy so that he possessed only 613.53 of the 1062.21 community bitcoins.The court ordered Francis to transfer to Erica half of the bitcoins he had in his possession, to show cause why he should not be ordered to transfer an additional 224.34 bitcoins and proportional cryptocurrency, and to pay Erica’s attorney’s fees and costs. The court found that Francis had violated the automatic restraining order and his fiduciary duties and that he affirmatively hid information. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Francis’s argument that the information he withheld was not material and, alternatively, there was no substantial evidence his breach impaired Erica’s interest in their community estate. View "Marriage of DeSouza" on Justia Law

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The parties had one teenage child, S.S. During their contentious dissolution proceedings, S.S. experienced serious issues. In January 2018, the trial court entered a judgment that provided for joint legal and physical custody of S.S., with mother having a 72 percent timeshare. S.S. was able to spend time at either parent’s residence at her discretion. Father was ordered to pay $1,700 in monthly child support. On April 10, 2018, S.S. left mother’s home. S.S. lived full-time with father thereafter. Mother then filed an income withholding order for child support. In July, the court held a custody review hearing. The court ordered reunification therapy, denied mother’s requests to require S.S. to return to her physical custody, and set a custody trial. In February 2019, father requested that he be permitted to cease paying child support, and that mother be ordered to pay him monthly child support and $18,133 in “Jackson” credits for the child support he paid from April 11, 2018. The trial court granted father’s request to modify child support and ordered mother to pay father $18,133 in $1,000 monthly installments. The court of appeal affirmed. The court had discretion to allow a credit for father’s double-satisfaction of his child support obligation. View "Marriage of Siva" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal granted an extraordinary writ of relief from the juvenile court's order at the 18-month permanency review hearing terminating mother's reunification services and setting a hearing pursuant to Welfare & Institutions Code section 366.26 to consider implementation of a permanent plan of adoption for her son.The court held that a parent's lack of insight may be considered by the juvenile court when assessing whether a child may safely be returned home. Although the court rejected mother's claims to the contrary, the court held that the Department failed to present substantial evidence that the child would be at a substantial risk of detriment if returned to mother. The court issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the juvenile court to vacate its order setting a hearing for the child under section 366.26 and set a continued 18-month permanency review hearing at the earliest date consistent with the rights of the parties to prepare their case. View "Georgeanne G. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Manish and Priyanka married in June 2014. The marriage was dissolved in September 2018. The court of appeal upheld the trial court’s order granting Priyanka’s request for a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO), Family Code section 6344,2, as supported by substantial evidence based on Priyanka’s allegations of stalking and unwanted contact. The court of appeal reversed an order rescinding a prior award of attorney fees. The trial court rescinded the order based on new evidence, rather than the evidence presented at the original proceeding. By so doing, the court in effect improperly granted a new trial, a result which lies outside its inherent powers. The court of appeal affirmed the judgment of dissolution; the trial court utilized the appropriate standard of proof in denying Manish’s petition for nullity after finding that, though Priyanka’s immigration status may have played some indeterminate role in the marriage, it was not enough to establish fraud “go[ing] to the very essence of the marriage relation.” View "Marriage of Ankola" on Justia Law

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This case began when, in December 2016, plaintiff-respondent San Bernardino Children and Family Services (CFS) learned that Mother threatened to physically abuse J.W., the youngest of her two daughters, then one year old. Mother had called 911 and threatened to stab herself and J.W. Police officers detained Mother and temporarily committed her pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150. CFS’s detention reports stated that, a few weeks prior, Mother had moved to California from Louisiana, where she had been living with A.W., J.W.'s father. According to a family friend, Mother was spiraling into depression in Louisiana and had mentioned relinquishing her children to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. The family friend urged Mother to come live with her in California, which she did. The family friend also informed CFS that in 2010 Mother had suffered traumatic brain injuries requiring dozens of surgeries, from a car accident that killed Mother’s mother and sister. Since the accident, Mother had suffered from grand mal seizures and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. CFS petitioned for J.W. and her older half-sister L.M. After the detention hearing, the juvenile court found a prima facie case and detained the children. Although the detention reports noted Mother’s recent move from Louisiana, CFS did not address whether there was jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and the juvenile court made no finding concerning the UCCJEA. Ultimately Mother's rights to the children were terminated. A.W. challenged the termination, contending the juvenile court failed to comply with the UCCJEA, such that Louisiana should have been the forum for the case. Mother contended the juvenile court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming the juvenile court lacked UCCJEA jurisdiction, A.W. forfeited the ability to raise his argument on appeal. "Forfeiture would not apply if the UCCJEA provisions governing jurisdiction implicated the courts’ fundamental jurisdiction, but...they do not." The Court determined there was no failure to apply the ICWA, “ICWA does not obligate the court or [child protective agencies] ‘to cast about’ for investigative leads.” View "In re J.W." on Justia Law

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The trial court granted A.B.’s (Mother) Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 petition to return her three-year-old son (I.B.) to her care. The court ordered that I.B.’s older brother A.B. (five-years-old) would remain with foster parents who had been interested in adopting both boys. I.B.’s counsel filed this appeal, arguing the siblings should not have been separated. In addition, I.B.’s counsel and the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA), agreed the juvenile court erred because Mother did not demonstrate a change in circumstances, or that changing I.B.’s custody was in his best interests. Mother and A.M. (Father) filed briefs asserting the trial court’s ruling should not be disturbed. Mother also filed a request asking the Court of Appeal to take judicial notice of a recent order showing the attorney representing both I.B. and A.B. declared a conflict of interest and now only represented A.B. After carefully reviewing the record, "while it is a close case," the Court of Appeal could not say the trial court abused its discretion. The Court therefore affirmed the order granting Mother’s section 388 petition. The Court granted her request for judicial notice of the juvenile court’s order dated April 3, 2020. View "In re I.B." on Justia Law

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A juvenile court has the authority to order vaccinations for dependent children under its jurisdiction. Recently enacted Health and Safety Code section 120372, subdivision (d)(3)(C) provides that a state public health officer (SPHO) or a doctor designated by a SPHO "may revoke the medical exemption." The Court of Appeal held that section 120372, subdivision (d)(3)(C) does not deprive the juvenile court of that authority.After determining that this case was not moot, the court rejected father's contention that the juvenile court had no legal authority to revoke the vaccination exemptions from a past treating physician and to order that the children be vaccinated. The court held that evidence in the record supported the juvenile court's finding that the children needed vaccinations. The court also held that there is no statutory bar to preclude the juvenile court from ordering dependent children to receive medically necessary vaccinations. Finally, the court held that the juvenile court could reasonably find that the past treating physician did not know the children's current need for vaccinations and father's remaining contentions do not show grounds for reversal. View "In re S.P." on Justia Law