Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
In re Ari S.
Mother and her children traveled and lived in a van. Mother has mental health problems and is severely delusional. Mother physically abused the children, who did not attend school. Both Montana’s child protective services agency and Washington state child protective services became involved with the family in 2019-2020. As of June 2020, the family was in San Bernardino County, when someone referred them to that county’s child protective services agency. During a subsequent incident, police placed Mother under a psychiatric hold. Mother had no family in California but owned property in southern California. After the six-month review order, Mother challenged the juvenile court’s assumption of jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, asserting that Montana, not California, had jurisdiction.The court of appeal affirmed. California has significant connections to establish jurisdiction under Family Code section 3421(a)(2) and substantial evidence is available in California concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. When the proceedings began, Mother’s stated intent was to continue traveling within California; her land ownership and litigation in the state also demonstrate her connections to California. View "In re Ari S." on Justia Law
Michael G. v. Super. Ct.
In separate petitions for extraordinary writ relief, Michael G. (Father) and Kristie G. (Mother) asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the juvenile court’s order at the 18-month review hearing terminating reunification services and setting a permanency planning hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 as to their 16-year-old daughter, A.G. According to the parents, the court should have continued services in light of its finding that the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) had provided inadequate services during the most recent review period. Father further contended there was a substantial probability that A.G. could be returned to him with additional services, and the court should have granted a continuance under section 352. Father also argued the court’s ruling denied him fundamental fairness and due process. After review, the Court of Appeal found no reversible error and denied the writ petitions. View "Michael G. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
In re J.D.
Shortly before turning three years old, J.D. in 2018, was removed from his mother’s custody following two violent altercations in his presence, one of which seriously injured his six-month-old half-sister. Ultimately, J.D.’s mother (R.T.) was unable to overcome parenting struggles that were the byproduct of a damaged childhood spent in foster care. Her parental rights were terminated.The court of appeal reversed and remanded for a new hearing. While the appeal was pending, the California Supreme Court clarified the beneficial relationship exception to termination of parental rights (Welfare and Institutions Code 366.26(c)(1)(B)(i)). The court stated that it is not possible to determine on the record that the juvenile court’s ruling complied with the principles announced in the Supreme Court’s decision. R.T. had maintained regular visitation and contact but it is unclear that the court properly weighed the existence of a beneficial relationship and the relative harms and benefits of that relationship against the benefits of adoption. While it is in J.D.’s interest to expeditiously select his permanent plan, the interests at stake when parental rights are terminated are of the utmost importance to both parent and child, and proper consideration of the factors deemed relevant by our dependency scheme is vital. View "In re J.D." on Justia Law
In re Samuel A.
The appointment of a guardian ad litem for a parent in a dependency proceeding radically changes the parent's role, transferring direction and control of the litigation from the parent to the guardian ad litem. While necessary to protect the rights of an incompetent parent—an individual incapable of understanding the nature and purpose of the proceeding or unable to assist counsel in a rational manner—appointment of a guardian ad litem is not a tool to restrain a problematic parent, even one who unreasonably interferes with the orderly proceedings of the court or who persistently acts against her own interests or those of her child.The Court of Appeal reversed the order appointing a guardian ad litem for mother, concluding that the appointment of a guardian ad litem for mother is not supported by substantial evidence and was not harmless. In this case, mother's clashes with counsel were not the result of any mental health disorder but were deliberate and strategic, designed to frustrate and delay proceedings she believed were going to be unfavorable to her. The court noted that, while mother is unquestionably a difficult party, a guardian ad litem cannot be appointed without any finding of her incompetence. View "In re Samuel A." on Justia Law
Marriage of Pletcher
The issue presented by this case arose from a family law order setting pendente lite spousal support. Appellant Mitchell Fletcher operated an investment management business. His income fluctuated considerably from year to year depending on the performance of the market. In re Marriage of Riddle, 125 Cal.App.4th 1075 (2005) held that a court had to calculate future income based on a representative sample of past income. Instead of doing that, the trial court here forecasted Mitchell’s future income based on the most recent year of historical income, which happened to be Mitchell’s best year ever by a wide margin. Given the nature of his income structure, however, it was unlikely Mitchell would repeat such a year. In the recent past, Mitchell had made as little as one-third of the amount the court based its calculation on. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court abused its discretion in calculating his prospective income on an unrepresentative sample period. In addition to managing investments, Mitchell and Jill Fletcher started a theater company. In calculating Mitchell’s income, Court of Appeal found the trial court did not consider any losses from the theater company on the ground that the theater was not “related to” the investment business. The Court agreed with Mitchell that the trial court employed the wrong legal standard in conducting that analysis. The error, however, was harmless because Mitchell did not identify any prospective theater expenses that would impact his income going forward. Nevertheless, because this issue may recur in this case, the Court set forth the proper legal standard for further proceedings upon remand. View "Marriage of Pletcher" on Justia Law
Ashby v. Ashby
Jeffrey "Jeff" Ashby appealed a trial court’s decision to renew a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) issued against him to protect his ex-wife Michelle Ashby. He claimed the court erred because the DVRO was not supported by substantial evidence and the court abused its discretion by failing to independently review relevant evidence relating to more current events. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded there was no abuse of discretion and Jeff forfeited his substantial evidence challenge by failing to set forth all the relevant and material evidence supporting the trial court’s decision. View "Ashby v. Ashby" on Justia Law
In re N.F.
Months after the juvenile court denied E.G. (Mother) reunification services, Mother filed a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 asking for reunification services. The court denied the petition and terminated parental rights to Mother’s daughter, N.F. Mother argued on appeal that the court abused its discretion by denying her section 388 petition. Both Mother and D.F. (Father) argued the court erred by refusing to apply the parental bond exception to termination of parental rights. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mother’s section 388 petition. Mother failed to show: (1) a material change in circumstances; or (2) that granting Mother reunification services would promote N.F.’s best interests. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court concluded the court did not err by refusing to apply the parental bond exception. Accordingly, we affirm the order denying Mother’s petition and affirm the order terminating parental rights. View "In re N.F." on Justia Law
In re N.B.
N.B. was removed from her parents’ care in 2008 when she was one year old. Her grandmother, Catherine, cared for her became her legal guardian in 2012. A maternal aunt also became a co-guardian. Years later N.B. struggled with her mental health and Catherine had trouble managing her care. The juvenile court found that N.B. was suffering serious emotional damage. Services were provided. She was released to her maternal aunt’s care after she said she did not feel safe returning to Catherine’s care. The maternal aunt became “overwhelmed” and returned her to Catherine. N.B. continued to suffer mental health issues.A petition under section 388 sought to terminate the guardianship rights of the maternal aunt and the family maintenance services. Catherine and the aunt had lied about N.B.’s whereabouts and well-being, and asked N.B. to lie during home visits. N.B. was placed in a foster home. N.B. “stabilized.” The Agency recommended terminating Catherine’s legal guardianship. Catherine objected.The juvenile court observed that there was not “any doubt on anybody’s part that [Catherine] loves [N.B. and] that she is committed to [N.B.]” but expressed concern that Catherine’s behavior was contributing to N.B.’s problems. The court terminated the legal guardianship of Catherine and the maternal aunt. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Catherine’s argument the Agency was required to “follow the procedures and requirements of section 387” to terminate her guardianship. View "In re N.B." on Justia Law
Ramsey v. Holmes
Where it is undisputed that there is a community property interest in real property, it is the obligation of both spouses to ensure that the family court has the information necessary to determine that interest, no matter which spouse brought the dissolution action. If the spouses fail to do so, the family court must direct them to furnish the missing information, reopening the case if necessary.Appellant challenges the family court's determination of the community property interest in the family home. Because the determination of the community property interest in the property at issue in this case was based upon incomplete information, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and remanded with directions to the family court to hold a limited retrial to determine the amount of community funds used to reduce the mortgage principal and to recalculate the community property interest. View "Ramsey v. Holmes" on Justia Law
In re I.S.
The Court of Appeal reversed the juvenile court's jurisdictional order, as well as related dispositional orders, declaring daughter a dependent child under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 and removing her from mother's custody pursuant to section 361, subdivision (c)(1). The court agreed with mother that the juvenile court erred and deprived her of due process when it amended the dependency petition to conform to proof produced at the jurisdictional hearing to include allegations based on factual and legal theories not at issue in the original petition. The court concluded that a remand for further proceedings, rather than dismissal of the case, is the appropriate relief on appeal. View "In re I.S." on Justia Law