Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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This termination of parental rights case concerned the “active efforts” required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs to assist a parent in completing a court-ordered treatment plan. A division of the Colorado court of appeals reversed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parent-child legal relationship with her two Native American children, holding that the Denver Department of Human Services (“DHS”) did not engage in the “active efforts” required under ICWA to assist Mother in completing her court-ordered treatment plan because it did not offer Mother job training or employment assistance, even though Mother struggled to maintain sobriety and disappeared for several months. The Colorado Supreme Court held that “active efforts” was a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies, and agencies must provide a parent with remedial services and resources to complete all of the parent’s treatment plan objectives. The Court was satisfied the record supported the juvenile court’s determination that DHS engaged in active efforts to provide Mother with services and programs to attempt to rehabilitate her and reunited the family. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for that court to address Mother’s remaining appellate contentions. View "Colorado in interest of My.K.M. and Ma. K.M." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether a district court erred in dismissing a a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities (“APR”) filed by Steven Cook (“Stepfather”) for lack of standing. The Court reaffirmed that neither exclusive physical care nor parental consent was required for a nonparent to establish standing to petition for an APR under section 14-10-123(1)(c), C.R.S. (2021), of Colorado’s Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (“UDMA”). Thus, the Court vacated the district court’s order dismissing Stepfather’s APR petition and its award of attorney fees against Stepfather pursuant to section 13-17-102, C.R.S. (2021), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Parental Responsibilities of: E.K." on Justia Law

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Respondents B.A. and J.W., adopted S.A., a minor, and his two younger siblings. In 2020, S.A. had homicidal and suicidal ideations and allegedly acted out against his siblings. S.A. was eventually placed in foster care at the request of B.A., J.W., and A.W. (collectively, “Parents”). After initially opening a voluntary case, the Park County Department of Human Services (“Department”) filed a petition in dependency or neglect as to S.A. The district court, sitting as a juvenile court, adjudicated S.A. dependent or neglected on September 16, 2021. The juvenile court, after conducting a series of hearings, reviewing the proposed treatment plans, and considering the parties’ position statements, ordered therapeutic sibling visits between S.A. and his two younger siblings “[p]ursuant to [section] 19-7-204,” C.R.S. (2021). The court entered this order over Parents’ strenuous objection. Parents then petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court found that neither the Foster Youth Siblings Bill of Rights, nor the dependency or neglect provisions of the Colorado Children’s Code, granted the juvenile court personal jurisdiction over the siblings. Additionally, the court’s personal jurisdiction over the parents and its subject matter jurisdiction over the case did not grant the court authority over the non-dependent siblings. Accordingly, the Court vacated the juvenile court order, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Colorado in the int. of S.A., a Child" on Justia Law

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In the Colorado Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, the issue presented for review centered on a district court's setting aside the adjudication and termination orders entered against A.P.’s parents, S.S. and D.P. under C.R.C.P.60(b)(5). Because the Parents failed to show that former Judge Natalie Chase was actually biased in their case, and because Rule60(b)(5) was reserved only for extraordinary circumstances not present here, the district court abused its discretion by misconstruing the law concerning impropriety and bias in this case, and misapplied Rule 60(b)(5) in granting the Parents' relief. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado in the Interest of A.P." on Justia Law

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When members of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (“PERA”) apply for retirement, they can choose between three options for benefit distribution. Generally, a retiree’s option choice is final. Pursuant to section 24-51-802(3.8), C.R.S. (2021), if a retiree chose either option 2 or 3 at retirement and the retiree’s then-spouse was named cobeneficiary, “the court shall have the jurisdiction to order or allow [the] retiree . . . to remove the spouse that was named cobeneficiary . . . in which case an option 1 benefit shall become payable.” In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether section 24-51-802(3.8) empowered a divorcing retiree to unilaterally remove a former spouse as named cobeneficiary and convert to option 1 retirement benefits. Assuming without deciding that this issue was adequately preserved for appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court answered this question in the negative. Instead, applying the statute’s plain language, the Court held that section 24-51-802(3.8) vested the trial court, not the retiree, with the authority to remove the former spouse as cobeneficiary and facilitate a conversion to option 1. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, albeit on different grounds. View "In re Marriage of Mack" on Justia Law

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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