Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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In this marriage dissolution case, the issue presented was whether a spouse’s conveyance of his interest in a home through an interspousal transfer deed (“ITD”) automatically overcame the presumption of marital property in the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, (“UDMA”), provided that there was proof that the conveying spouse intended to exclude the property from the marital estate. "[A] party may overcome the marital property presumption in the UDMA only through the four statutory exceptions set forth in section 14-10-113(2) [C.R.S. (2020)]." Because the court of appeals improperly created a new exception to the presumption, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed its judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Marriage of Blaine" on Justia Law

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A.M. was placed with her Father’s stepsister (“Aunt”) after A.M. tested positive for heroin at birth and after both of A.M.’s parents tested positive for illegal drugs. The trial court subsequently adjudicated A.M. dependent and neglected as to both parents and adopted appropriate treatment plans. The State ultimately filed a motion to terminate the rights of both parents, alleging that they had not complied with their treatment plans, that no modifications to the plans could be made to enable them to regain parental fitness, that no less drastic alternatives to termination existed, and that termination of the parent-child legal relationship was in A.M.’s best interests. The trial court denied the State's motion, holding that “the best interest of the child would be served by termination; however, permanent custody is a less drastic alternative.” The State appealed. A divided panel of the court of appeals held a trial court had to deny a motion to terminate parental rights that has been proven by clear and convincing evidence if a less drastic alternative to termination exists even though it is not in the child’s best interests. The Colorado Supreme Court found the panel departed from well-established jurisprudence regarding the best interests of the child standard in termination cases; that a trial court was not required to make express less drastic alternative findings, "though it is certainly the better practice to do so;" and that the majority substituted its judgment for that of the trial court. The appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded. View "Colorado in Interest of A.M." on Justia Law

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The petitioner in this appeal was attempting to enforce an oral agreement she entered into with her husband to exclude the couple’s retirement accounts and inheritances from being considered “marital property,” which was subject to equitable division in a dissolution proceeding. The district court found that an agreement existed, and that ruling wasn’t appealed. The issue this appeal presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the agreement was valid despite being oral, and, alternatively, whether the parties’ partial performance could otherwise render the oral agreement valid. There were four statutory exceptions to the rule that property acquired during a marriage was generally considered "marital property." The only exception implicated here was property excluded from the marital estate by a "valid agreement" of the parties. Specifically, the issue was whether the parties' agreement to exclude their retirement accounts and inheritances from the marital estate had to be in writing and signed in order to be a "valid agreement." The Supreme Court held the parties' 2007 oral agreement was not a valid agreement because, at the time, Colorado statutory law required that all agreements between spouses be in writing and signed by both parties. Furthermore, the Court held the court of appeals correctly determined the parties’ conduct after entering into the oral agreement could not be treated as partial performance that satisfied the writing and signature requirements. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed and the case remanded with instructions to return the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "In re Marriage of Zander" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Respondent Timothy Pyfer filed a dissolution of marriage petition, alleging that he had entered into a common law marriage with his same-sex partner, Petitioner Dean LaFleur, when they held a ceremony before family and friends in 2003, and exchanged vows and rings. LaFleur countered that Pyfer’s claim was legally impossible because at the time of the 2003 ceremony, Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriages. In the interim, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held that same-sex couples could exercise the fundamental right to marry and struck down state laws that excluded same-sex couples from civil marriage as unconstitutional. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address whether, in light of Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015), a same-sex couple could prove a common law marriage entered in Colorado before the state recognized same-sex couples’ fundamental right to marry. The Court indeed held a court could recognize a common law same-sex marriage entered in Colorado before the state recognized same-sex couples’ fundamental right to marry, "state law restrictions held unconstitutional in Obergefell cannot serve as an impediment to the recognition of a same-sex marriage predating that decision." The Colorado Court held that to the extent Obergefell did not merely recognize an existing fundamental right to marry but announced a new rule of federal law, that decision applied retroactively to marriages (including common law marriages) predating that decision. View "In re Marriage of LaFleur & Pyfer" on Justia Law

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When Viacheslav Yudkin died intestate, his ex-wife, Petitioner Svetlana Shtutman, was appointed personal representative of his estate. Respondent Tatsiana Dareuskaya sought Shtutman’s removal, asserting that she (Dareuskaya) should have had priority for that appointment as Yudkin’s common law wife. A probate court magistrate found that although Yudkin and Dareuskaya cohabitated and held themselves out to their community as married, other factors weighed against a finding of common law marriage, including that the couple did not file joint tax returns, own joint property or accounts, or share a last name. The court of appeals reversed the magistrate’s order, concluding that the magistrate abused his discretion by misapplying the test for a common law marriage set out in Colorado v. Lucero, 747 P.2d 660 (Colo. 1987). Shtutman petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for certiorari review. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court was unclear whether the magistrate found Yudkin and Dareuskaya mutually agreed to enter into a marital relationship. Further, the magistrate’s treatment of certain evidence, such as the fact that the parties maintained separate finances and property, and that Dareuskaya never took Yudkin’s name, may have been appropriate under Lucero, but did not necessarily account for the legal and social changes to marriage acknowledged in In re Marriage of Hogsett & Neale, 2021 CO 1 __ P.3d ___. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter ordered remanded to the probate court to reconsider whether the parties entered into a common law marriage under Hogsett. View "In re Estate of Yudkin" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court has previously held that a couple could establish a common law marriage “by the mutual consent or agreement of the parties to be husband and wife, followed by a mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship.” The Court advised that evidence of such agreement and conduct could be found in: a couple’s cohabitation; reputation in the community as husband and wife; maintenance of joint banking and credit accounts; purchase and joint ownership of property; filing of joint tax returns; and use of the man’s surname by the woman or by children born to the parties. In this case, a dispute arose over a common law marriage claim. Notably in this case, because same-sex couples could lawfully marry, the gender-differentiated terms and heteronormative assumptions found in the case law were "ill-suited" for same-sex couples. "The lower court decisions in these cases reflect the challenges of applying Lucero to these changed circumstances." The Supreme Court refined the Lucero test to hold that a common law marriage may be established by the mutual consent or agreement of the couple to enter the legal and social institution of marriage, followed by conduct manifesting that mutual agreement. The core query is whether the parties intended to enter a marital relationship—that is, to share a life together as spouses in a committed, intimate relationship of mutual support and obligation. In assessing whether a common law marriage has been established, courts should accord weight to evidence reflecting a couple’s express agreement to marry. In the absence of such evidence, the parties’ agreement to enter a marital relationship may be inferred from their conduct. When examining the parties’ conduct, the factors identified previously in Colorado case law can still be relevant to the inquiry, but they must be assessed in context; the inferences to be drawn from the parties’ conduct may vary depending on the circumstances. Finally, the manifestation of the parties’ agreement to marry need not take a particular form. Applying these factors to the parties' case here, the Supreme Court determined no common law marriage existed here. View "In re Marriage of Hogsett & Neale" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, shortly after the child’s birth, the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services initiated this case based on evidence that the child’s mother was using drugs and that both father and the child’s mother were missing the child’s cues, were homeless, and had previously been involved in child welfare cases. The child was placed with maternal relatives. As pertinent here, the juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected as to father based on father’s admission that he needed support and services and that the child’s environment was injurious to her welfare. At the first hearing in the juvenile court, father appeared in custody following a recent arrest. The court appointed counsel for him and approved an initial treatment plan. Two months later, the court conducted another hearing, and father again appeared in custody, this time based on new drug possession charges. The Department filed a motion to terminate father’s parental rights. In this petition, the Department alleged that (1) father did not comply with his treatment plan, and the treatment plan failed; (2) no additional period of time would allow for the successful completion of the treatment plan; (3) father was an unfit parent; (4) father’s conduct or condition was unlikely to change within a reasonable period of time; and (5) there were no less drastic alternatives to termination, which would be in the child’s best interests. The matter then proceeded to a termination hearing; father was incarcerated. When father did not appear for the hearing, father’s counsel told the court that father was “on a writ at Arapahoe County and he refused the writ so he did not want to appear today.” Father’s counsel did not seek a continuance to ensure father’s presence, and the court found that father had voluntarily absented himself from the court. Mother was denied her request for a continuance. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was similar to that decided in its companion, Colorado in Interest of A.R., 2020 CO 10, __ P.3d __. Here, as in A.R., the Supreme Court was asked to decide (1) the correct standard for determining whether a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffective performance and (2) whether an appellate court may vacate a juvenile court’s decision in a dependency and neglect proceeding on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel without remanding the case for further evidentiary development. Applying those principles here, the Court concluded the juvenile court correctly applied Strickland’s prejudice prong to father’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims and that the court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting those claims. View "M.A.W. v. The People in Interest of A.L.W." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on the contention of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a dependency and neglect proceeding. In 2016, petitioner A.R.’s (the “child’s”) paternal step-grandmother took him to the emergency room to receive treatment for scabies. A physician who treated the then-six-month-old child determined that the degree of scabies on the child evinced a case of neglect, and, later that night, another doctor confirmed that the child also had a skull fracture. The Department of Human Services subsequently initiated this dependency and neglect proceeding, and the juvenile court granted the Department continued custody of the child. Later, the juvenile court held an adjudicatory hearing with respect to both parents. When mother did not appear, her counsel told the court that he had made arrangements with mother to attend the hearing, but did not know why she did not appear. Apparently in an effort to move the case forward, and after speaking with counsel for both mother and the child’s father (who also did not appear), the Department asked the court for leave to amend the Department’s dependency and neglect petition to include an allegation that the child was dependent or neglected through no fault of the child’s parents and to allow the Department to rest on the Report of Investigation filed with the petition. The child’s guardian ad litem (“GAL”) agreed with this procedure, stating that it was in the child’s best interests to “move forward,” and the court therefore entered a no-fault adjudication and approved the proposed treatment plan. Mother did not appeal this adjudication. The mother challenged the ultimate termination of her rights to A.R. The Supreme Court was asked to decide: (1) whether, in a direct appeal from a judgment terminating parental rights, an appellate court may consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s performance at an adjudicatory hearing; (2) the correct standard for determining whether a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffective performance; and (3) whether an appellate court may vacate a juvenile court’s decision in a dependency and neglect proceeding on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel without remanding the case for further evidentiary development. The Supreme Court held an appellate court may consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s performance at an adjudicatory hearing only when the party claiming ineffective assistance did not have a full and fair opportunity to assert such a claim immediately after his or her child was adjudicated dependent and neglected, and outlined the standard for determining ineffective performance in a dependency and neglect context. Applying these determinations to the facts and claims presented, the Court affirmed the judgment below (on different grounds), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado in Interest of A.R." on Justia Law

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Husband Steven Durie brought a dissolution of marriage action in April 2014. He and his then-wife, Wife Kelly subsequently exchanged sworn financial statements, mandatory disclosures, and supplemental disclosures. In line with C.R.C.P. 16.2(g), the parties jointly selected and retained an expert to value their businesses: Coin Toss, LLC, a holding company, and the two companies owned by Coin Toss: Rock Paper Scissors, Inc., d/b/a Secure Search, and Sandbox Sharing, LLC, d/b/a Safeguard from Abuse. The parties integrated this value into the property division of the marital estate set forth in their separation agreement, which was in turn, integrated into the decree of dissolution. Thirteen months after the court issued the decree of dissolution, Husband sold a portion of Secure Search’s assets to a Tennessee company, for an amount more than 685% higher than the value assigned to Coin Toss in the separation agreement. When Wife learned of the sale, and “[b]elieving she smelled a rat,” she filed a motion pursuant to Rule 16.2(e)(10) to set aside or reopen the property division in order to reallocate the proceeds from the post-decree sale. Husband moved to dismiss. Although Husband did not cite the rule in his motion, Wife urged the court to treat it as a Rule 12(b)(5) motion and to apply "Warne’s" plausibility standard in evaluating her 16.2(e)(10) motion. The court granted Husband’s motion to dismiss. Wife appealed, and the Colorado Supreme Court held that hold that Rule 12(b)(5) and the plausibility standard in Warne did not apply to Rule 16.2(e)(10) motions. Instead, the Court held that, consistent with C.R.C.P. 7(b), a Rule 16.2(e)(10) motion must “state with particularity” the grounds on which it is premised, but this did not preclude allegations that were based on information and belief when the moving party lacked direct knowledge about those allegations. “So long as the motion satisfies the particularity requirement in Rule 7(b)(1), it may include such allegations.” The matter was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. View "In re Marriage of Durie" on Justia Law

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Mother, Kimberly Nanke, filed a petition requesting an allocation of parenting responsibilities to her child, W.C. The trial court ultimately entered permanent parenting responsibility orders, granting Mother sole decision-making responsibility and making her the primary residential parent. Father, Winston Conkling, appealed. While his appeal was still pending, however, Father filed motions to modify the orders in the trial court, alleging changed circumstances. This raised the question of whether the trial court had jurisdiction to modify the very orders that were on appeal. The trial court believed that it did not have such jurisdiction; a division of the court of appeals disagreed. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court held that, because Father’s motions to modify were material to his appeal and sections 14-10-129(1)(a)(I), C.R.S. (2019), and 14-10-131(2), C.R.S. (2019), did not specifically grant trial courts jurisdiction to modify parenting responsibility orders while an appeal of the orders is still pending, the trial court here did not have jurisdiction to rule on Father’s motions to modify while those orders were on appeal. The Supreme Court concluded the court of appeals therefore erred in concluding the trial court retained jurisdiction to modify the orders during the pendency of Father’s appeal. View "Parental Responsibilities Concerning W.C." on Justia Law