Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Court
Morales v. Morales
Mother and Father were divorced by a judgment of divorce dated 2008 that granted shared legal custody of the parties' child and physical custody to Mother. The judgment included an order directing Father to pay child support to Mother. In 2009, Mother filed a complaint for modification of the child support order, claiming that Father's promotion and increased salary had changed the circumstances underlying the original support order. The trial judge dismissed the modification complaint, finding that the increase in Father's income was not a material and substantial change of circumstances and that no modification was warranted. The appeals court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the trial judge erred in applying a standard requiring a material and substantial change in circumstances rather than the standard set forth in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 28, which provides that a child support order shall be modified if there is an inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount that would result from application of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. Remanded for consideration of the modification request under the statutory inconsistency standard. View "Morales v. Morales" on Justia Law
L.J.S. v. J.E.S
Husband and Wife sought a divorce, and probate and family court judge issued a judgment of divorce providing that Husband's alimony obligation would be reduced after the parties' youngest child graduated from high school and the marital home was placed on the market. Husband moved to alter or amend the divorce judgment, including the alimony provisions of the judgment. The judge issued an order on the motion, which did not include Husband's proposals concerning reduction in alimony. Husband appealed, arguing that the judge erred by not considering Husband's potential federal tax consequences pursuant to I.R.C. 71(c)(2). The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the probate and family court judge's order to the extent that the judge did not consider the uncertainty of potentially unfair tax consequences, holding that, if presented with evidence of potential tax consequences, a judge should consider those consequences when creating or modifying alimony provisions in a divorce judgment. Remanded. View "L.J.S. v. J.E.S" on Justia Law
In re Danielle
In an underlying care and protection case in the juvenile court, following a seventy-two hour hearing, the judge granted temporary custody of a child to the Department of Children and Families. The child's mother filed a Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition seeking relief from that order. A single justice of the Supreme Court summarily denied the petition without a hearing and without addressing the substantive merits of the mother's claims. The mother appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion in the single justice's declining to exercise the court's extraordinary power of general superintendence to disturb the juvenile court judge's ruling. View "In re Danielle" on Justia Law
Hunter v. Rose
The Supreme Court granted an application for appellate review of Defendant, Miko Rose, to consider whether a judge in the probate and family court erred when she recognized Rose's California registered same-sex domestic partnership (RDP) with the plaintiff, Amy Hunter, as the equivalent of marriage in the Commonwealth, determined that both parties were the legal parents of the child each bore and, after dissolving the RDP, awarded physical custody of the two children as well as certain attorney's fees to Hunter. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because parties to California RDPs have rights and responsibilities identical to those of marriage, pursuant to the Court's recent decision in Elia-Warnken v. Elia, the judge did not err in treating the parties' RDP as equivalent to marriage in the Commonwealth; and (2) the judge did not abuse her discretion in awarding physical custody of the children and attorney's fees to Hunter. View "Hunter v. Rose" on Justia Law
M.C. v. T.K
Family Court ordered that father, a retired stockbroker, pay mother, a physician, $454 in weekly child support, to equalize the parties' net incomes. The mother was required to pay specific child-related expenses. The parents were never married, but briefly lived together. They have joint legal custody and share physical custody. The Massachusetts Supreme Court vacated orders that the father pay child support and the mother to bear the full costs of extracurricular activities, child care, and private school. The court rejected father's argument that, to attribute income to him, the judge was required to find that his retirement was voluntary and in bad faith, or that the child's needs required consideration of his ability to earn additional income. It was within the judge's discretion to award support on finding that the child's reasonable needs could not otherwise be met. Application of the income-equalization formula was inconsistent with principles reflected in the guidelines and should not have been employed. Although the guidelines in effect at the time did not apply to shared physical custody arrangements, calculation of support was required to be consistent with principles embodied in the guidelines.View "M.C. v. T.K" on Justia Law
Blonde. v. Antonelli
Blonde appealed denial of his motion to stay pending appeal after a probate judge appointed a special master for the purpose of selling the parties' former marital home. The property has since been sold. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed. Blonde had the opportunity to appeal to a panel of the appeals court. He also could have requested that the appeals court expedite such an appeal. An exercise of the court's “extraordinary power” is not necessary because he did not attempt to pursue ordinary appellate remedies. A stay pending appeal was not required and the request for a stay of that aspect of the judgment has become moot.View "Blonde. v. Antonelli" on Justia Law
Elia-Warnken v. Elia
In 2003 plaintiff entered into a same-sex civil union in Vermont. His Vermont civil union has never been dissolved by any civil authority. Nevertheless, in 2005, plaintiff and defendant were married in Worcester. In 2009 plaintiff filed for divorce from defendant. In his answer, defendant stated that he was married to the plaintiff and counterclaimed for a divorce. Defendant later moved to dismiss on the ground that his Massachusetts marriage was void. Holding that plaintiff's Vermont civil union as the equivalent of marriage in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that the Vermont civil union would have to be dissolved before either party to that civil union could enter into a valid marriage in Massachusetts to a third party. View "Elia-Warnken v. Elia" on Justia Law
D.H. vs. R.R
After her mother had died and genetic market testing had revealed that R.R. was not her biological father, a judge in the Probate and Family Court allowed Karen's motion to vacate the voluntary acknowledgment of parentage and a judgment of support, custody, and visitation that was based on the voluntary acknowledgment of parentage. At issue was whether the judge was correct in vacating the voluntary acknowledgement of parentage, where it was not challenged until more than one year after it was executed, where after the mother's death the mother's husband signed an affidavit denying paternity, and where the judge made no finding as to Karen's best interest. The court concluded that the voluntary acknowledgment of parentage never became effective as a matter of law because the mother was married at the time of the child's birth and the husband had not executed an affidavit denying paternity until after the mother's death. Because the acknowledgment never had force or effect, there was no time limit on challenges to its validity, and the judge was required to vacate it.
Adoption of Meaghan
The child's father, who was indigent and whose parental rights would be terminated if the guardians' petition was granted, filed an objection to the adoption. A judge in the Probate and Family Court appointed counsel for the father and child. CPCS sought a ruling as to whether it was authorized to compensate counsel in these circumstances, moved to intervene for the purpose of asking the judge to reserve and report the question of the father's and child's entitlement to appointed counsel in a case initiated by private parties. The court agreed with CPCS, the father, and the child that due process and equal protection principles required the appointment of counsel in such cases.
Fathers and Families, Inc. & others v. Chief Justice for Admin. and Mgmt. of the Trial Court & others
This case involved a challenge to the constitutionality of the new Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. Plaintiffs, parents who claim that they will be subject to higher child support orders as a consequence of the new guidelines, sought declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin the mandatory use of the new guidelines. Plaintiffs subsequently appealed the dismissal of their complaint where the Superior Court judge determined that the complaint failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint and held that the declaratory judgment statute, G.L.c. 231A, prohibited any action for declaratory relief against the judicial department and plaintiffs would have an opportunity to challenge the new guidelines as applied in their individual cases.