Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Connecticut Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dissolving Plaintiff's marriage to Defendant, holding that the trial court did not err. After a dissolution trial, the trial court ordered Defendant to pay alimony to Plaintiff in the amount of $350,000 per year and awarded Plaintiff $1,326,849, which represented one-third of the parties' aggregate net worth. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court (1) correctly concluded that the parties’ purported agreement to revoke the postnuptial agreement was unenforceable and that the parties' postnuptial agreement was enforceable; and (2) correctly awarded the parties joint legal and physical custody of their minor children with the defendant having final decision-making authority. View "Zhou v. Zhang" on Justia Law

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In this postdissolution matter the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the decision of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for sanctions and for contempt, holding that there was no basis to support the award of attorney's fees and costs. This matter stemmed from the parties' oral stipulation following a motion for modification of alimony and the trial court's adoption of that stipulation as a court order. Subsequent litigation efforts saw Defendant attempting to carry the order into effect and Plaintiff challenging the order. At issue was the court's decision to grant Defendant's postjudgment motion for sanctions and for contempt and awarding Defendant the litigation expenses he had incurred following the entry of the order adopting the stipulation. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment of contempt. The Supreme Court affirmed and further concluded that the sanction for litigation misconduct must be reversed, holding that, insofar as the award was based on contempt, it could not stand on any of the grounds articulated by the trial court, and insofar as the award was based on litigation misconduct, it lacked the requisite findings. View "Puff v. Puff" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the judgment of the trial court terminating Father's parental rights as to his child, holding that Father's parental rights were properly terminated for lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship. Father was incarcerated when the child was two years old. At the time of the termination trial, the child, who was six years old, had no knowledge or memory of Father. On appeal, Father argued that the virtual infancy and interference exceptions to the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship ground for the termination of parental rights was applicable because the child was only two years old when Father's incarceration separated them, and the circumstances of this case rendered contact impossible during his incarceration. The Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the interference and virtual infancy exceptions were inapplicable as a matter of law, and therefore, the Appellate Court properly upheld the trial court's termination of Father's parental rights. View "In re Tresin J." on Justia Law

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In this case concerning how pre-embryos created through in vitro fertilization should be distributed upon the divorce of their progenitors the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment insofar as the court determined that a storage agreement with the fertility clinic was not enforceable, holding that the parties in this case had an enforceable agreement. Plaintiff and Defendant underwent in vitro fertilization during their marriage, and several pre-embryos resulting from that treatment were stored for implantation at a later date. As part of the storage agreement, the parties stated that they wanted the pre-embryos discarded if they divorced. The parties later divorced, and Plaintiff sought to have the pre-embryos discarded. Defendant, however, wanted the pre-embryos preserved or donated, arguing that the agreement was unenforceable. The trial court determined that the agreement was unenforceable and awarded the pre-embryos to Plaintiff. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court incorrectly determined that the storage agreement was unenforceable. View "Bilbao v. Goodwin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that in case a case involving the termination of parental rights where an indigent parent has a constitutional right to appellate counsel, appointed counsel may not be permitted to withdraw without first demonstrating that the record has been thoroughly reviewed for potential meritorious issues and taking steps to facilitate review of the case for the purpose of determining whether the attorney accurately concluded that any appeal would be meritless. After Mother's parental rights were terminated, counsel was appointed for Mother, who was indigent, to review the matter for a possible appeal. Counsel filed motions to withdraw his appearances for lack of any nonfrivolous issue on which to proceed. The trial court granted counsel's motion to withdraw without requiring the filing of an Anders brief or conducting its own independent review to determine whether any appeal would be frivolous. The Appellate Court then dismissed the appeal, finding that the procedure set forth in Anders is not applicable to the withdrawal of an appellate review attorney in child protection proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the precise procedures discussed in Anders are not constitutionally mandated, but minimal procedural protections are required; and (2) the minimal procedural protections set forth in this opinion were not afforded to Mother. View "In re Taijha H.-B." on Justia Law

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In this dissolution of marriage action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court reversing the decision of the trial court awarding appellate attorney's fees to Plaintiff under the bad faith exception to the American rule, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in setting the amount of the fees. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the appellate court did not accord the proper level of deference in concluding that the trial court's findings lacked sufficient specificity. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the appellate court with direction to affirm the trial court's award of attorney's fees, holding that the trial court acted within its discretion in awarding Plaintiff $30,000 in attorney's fees. View "Lederle v. Spivey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Father's postjudgment motion for a no contact order between his minor child and the child's maternal aunt, holding that Father failed to meet his burden of demonstrating a violation of his fundamental parental right to make decisions regarding his child's associations. Father was granted custody of the child after Mother's death. Plaintiffs, the maternal grandparents, were involved in the child's life until Father terminated their contact. The trial court granted Plaintiffs' petition for visitation. Father filed a postjudgment motion for order asking the trial court to enter an order requiring Plaintiffs to allow no contact between the child and the child's maternal aunt. The trial court denied the motion on the grounds that Father failed to produce evidence to show the child's contact with the aunt was inappropriate or put the child in danger. Father appealed, arguing that the trial court's failure to direct Plaintiffs to abide by his parental decisions regarding the child's care violated Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-59 and the Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Father was not entitled to relief because he failed, as a threshold matter, to articulate a reason in support of the requested condition. View "Boisvert v. Gavis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's decision affirming the trial court's judgment dismissing Plaintiff's appeal from the decree of the probate court monitoring use of a September 11th Victim Compensation Fund award that had been paid to Plaintiff, the surviving spouse, as a "representative payee" for the benefit of her minor child, holding that the probate court lacked jurisdiction over the fund award. Plaintiff's husband died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and died intestate. Plaintiff filed a claim for compensation from the fund. Plaintiff was awarded $1,153,381, and the couple's minor child was awarded $1,271,940, which Plaintiff was to be paid on behalf of the minor child. The probate court appointed a guardian ad litem for the minor child in the estate administration proceedings and directed that the minor child's share of the benefits from the fund be placed into a guardianship account. Plaintiff unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the guardianship proceedings for lack of jurisdiction, and the trial court dismissed Plaintiff's probate appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the probate court lacked jurisdiction over the fund award paid to Plaintiff as a representative payee because that award was neither the property of the decedent's estate nor the property of the minor child. View "Hynes v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court reversing the judgments of the trial court denying the petitions filed by the maternal grandmother (Petitioner) for termination of Father's parental rights with respect to his three minor children, holding that the trial court applied an incorrect legal test to determine that Petitioner had failed to prove the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court erred in concluding that, under the facts of this case, it was required to depart from the usual test to determine whether a petitioner has established a lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship; and (2) the trial court’s finding that Petitioner failed to prove that allowing further time to develop a parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the best interests of the children was clearly erroneous. View "In re Jacob W." on Justia Law

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At issue in this divorce case was whether a property award based on a criminal conviction that was later reversed must also be reversed. Wife sought dissolution of her marriage to Husband after Husband allegedly assaulted her. While the dissolution action was pending, Husband was convicted of criminal offenses stemming from the alleged assault. While Husband’s appeal from the criminal conviction was pending, the dissolution trial began. During the trial, the court allowed Wife to present evidence of the criminal conviction. Based solely on the evidence of that conviction, the court ruled that Husband was exclusively responsible for the marital breakdown and entered a property division award heavily favoring Wife. Thereafter, the Appellate Court reversed the judgment of conviction in the criminal case. The Supreme Court held (1) the reversal of Husband’s criminal conviction deprived that judgment of any preclusive effect it may have had in the dissolution action; and (2) the property division award, which was premised exclusively on the fact of Defendant’s conviction, must also be reversed. View "Shirley P. v. Norman P." on Justia Law