Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated certain portions of a trial judge's nondisparagement orders issued to the parties in this case in an attempt to protect the psychological well-being of the parties' minor child, holding that the nondisparagement orders here operated as an impermissible prior restraint on speech. After Mother filed for divorce from Father, Mother filed a motion for temporary orders, including a request that the judge prohibit Father from posting disparaging remarks about her and the ongoing litigation on social media. The judge issued temporary orders that included nondisparagement provisions against both parties. Thereafter, Mother filed a complaint for civil contempt alleging that Father violated the first order. A different judge declined to find contempt on the ground that the first order, as issued, constituted an unlawful prior restraint of speech in violation of Father's constitutional rights. The Supreme judicial Court agreed, holding that the nondisparagement orders were unconstitutional. View "Shak v. Shak" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the probate and family court judge's dismissal of Petitioner's third petition for adoption due to lack of jurisdiction, holding that the probate and family court had both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. Petitioner was the biological father of the child at issue and was named as the child's parent on her birth certificate. Petitioner lived outside of the United States with his same-sex partner and the child, where the child was born outside of marriage to a gestational carrier, the child's birth mother, who lived in Massachusetts. Mother signed a surrender form indicating her desire to surrender the child to the care and custody of Father. Thereafter, Father filed three petitions in the probate and family court seeking to establish his status as the child's sole legal parent. Each petition was rejected. Father appealed the denial of his third petition, which was rejected on the basis that the court lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the probate and family court had subject matter jurisdiction under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 210, 1 and personal jurisdiction over the parties in this case. View "In re Adoption of Daphne" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice dismissing Petitioner's petition treated pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice neither abused his discretion nor made a clear error of law in denying the petition. Petitioner's minor child was the subject of a care and protection proceeding in the juvenile court. After the trial concluded, Petitioner filed a "Verified Emergency Time is of the Essence Ex Parte Petition for Answer to Question of Law," in which Petitioner sought a declaration that he had a right to a jury trial in the care and protection proceeding. The single justice denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner had an adequate remedy and that the single justice was within his discretion in concluding that extraordinary circumstances requiring exercise of the court's supervisory power were not present. View "Care & Protection of a Minor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the appeals court affirming the decision and decree of the juvenile court judge terminating Mother's parental rights to Luc, holding that there was sufficient proof to support he judge's decree and decision. On appeal, Mother argued that the judge improperly admitted into evidence a Department of Child and Families social worker's reports and dictation notes, as well as inadmissible hearsay and improper opinion evidence contained therein. Mother also argued that the juvenile court judge's findings of fact were insufficient to establish Mother's unfitness by clear and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that even without the challenged evidence, there was enough proof supporting the judge's decree and decision terminating Mother's parental rights to Luc. View "In re Adoption of Luc" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the application of the standard set forth in Care & Protection of M.C., 479 Mass. 246 (2018) (M.C. I), governing requests for limited relief from impoundment of records in a care and protection proceeding in the juvenile court by a party in a related criminal proceeding, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the juvenile court judge properly applied the "good cause" standard. When this matter was previously before the Supreme Judicial Court the Court vacated the juvenile court judge's decision allowing Father's and the Commonwealth's motions for release from impoundment. On remand, the Commonwealth and Father filed renewed motions for relief from impoundment. The judge considered the motions in light of the newly announced standard in M.C. I and allowed both motions in part. Mother and Father appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the judge properly applied the "good cause" standard required by M.C. I and the Uniform Rules of Impoundment Procedure with respect to Father's motion; but (2) the Commonwealth's request for transcripts of Mother's and her psychotherapist's testimony should have been allowed contingent on the occurrence of specific events at Mother's trial. View "In Care & Protection of M.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice denying Petitioner's "Verified Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief" without a hearing, holding that the single justice did not err in denying relief. Specifically, the Court held that Petitioner's request for declaratory and inductive relief was a mere recasting of the same types of claims Petitioner raised in his previous postconviction filings, and even if his claims were new, his avenue for seeking relief was in the superior court in the first instance. Therefore, the single justice did not err or abuse her discretion in denying relief. View "Vinnie v. Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Norfolk" on Justia Law

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In this divorce case, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of divorce nisi that awarded general term alimony to Wife and, among other things, divided the marital estate such that fifty-five percent of the overall assets were awarded to Husband and forty-five percent to Wife, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. On appeal, Husband challenged the alimony award and the division of the marital estate. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the judge did not err in calculating the duration of the marriage for purposes of awarding alimony; and (2) the judge made no error in dividing the parties’ assets. View "Connor v. Benedict" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a judgment of a single justice of the court denying Petitioner’s petition filed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that Petitioner did not show that review of the trial court could not adequately be obtained on appeal or by other available means. In his Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition, Petitioner sought relief from various interlocutory rulings of the probate judge in his divorce proceedings and also sought to have the probate judge recused. The single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief. View "Jiang v. Liu" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that, to the extent a surviving spouse’s shares of a deceased spouse’s estate exceeds $25,000, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 191, 15, the Commonwealth’s elective share statute, reduces his or her interest in the real property from outright ownership to a life estate. The dispute here centered on the nature of a surviving spouse’s interest in a deceased spouse’s real property where the surviving spouse’s shares of the decedent’s personal and real property together exceeded $25,000 in value. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) where a surviving spouse elects to waive the provisions of a deceased spouse’s will in accordance with section 15 and the decedent left issue, the surviving spouse is entitled to one-third of the decedent’s personal property and one-third of the decedent’s real property; (2) the above is subject to the limitation that if the surviving spouse’s shares of the real and property property, taken together, exceed $25,000 in value, then the surviving spouse takes $25,000 absolutely and a life estate in any remaining real property; and (3) further, any remaining personal property must be held in trust for the duration of the surviving spouse’s life with the surviving spouse entitled to the income therefrom. View "Ciani v. MacGrath" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of a single justice of the court denying Petitioner’s petition for extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that where Petitioner had the opportunity to obtain review of an adverse judgment in an appeal, the single justice did not commit a clear error of law or abuse her discretion in denying relief. Petitioner was divorced from Respondent pursuant to a judgment of divorce nisi. Thereafter, Respondent filed a complaint for modification of child support followed by a motion to set aside the property settlement in the divorce judgment. A judge allowed both requests for relief. Petitioner later sought extraordinary relief, which the single justice denied. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner failed to demonstrate the absence or inadequacy of alternative means of redress. View "Aktas v. Aktas" on Justia Law