Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
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In this post divorce dispute over child support and alimony, the Supreme Judicial Court held that a provision of the Alimony Reform Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 53(c)(2), allows for the concurrent award of child support and alimony and that several of the judge's rulings relating to the divorce judgment and calculation of child support constituted error.In this dispute, both parties sought a modification of the child support order issued as part of the divorce judgment and Mother sought alimony for the first time in the proceedings. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated certain portions of the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) the judge abused her discretion by not considering an award where alimony was calculated before child support and denied without consideration of the mandatory statutory factors set forth in section 53(a); (2) the judge erred in interpreting the language in the separation agreement as to the parties' obligations for the youngest son's schooling; and (3) the judge abused her discretion in excluding certain interest and capital gains on transactions other than those related to real and personal property in calculating Father's gross income for the purposes of child support. View "Cavanagh v. Cavanagh" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the scope of the litigation privilege, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the protection afforded by the litigation privilege applies even where the statements in question are fraudulent misrepresentations and that the litigation privilege extends to actions taken during the course of litigation.Plaintiffs were creditors of William von Thaden, who was married to Kimberly von Thaden until their divorce. Defendant represented Kimberly in the divorce proceedings. Before they filed the instant complaint against William and Kimberly Plaintiffs had asserted several claims against William related to contract disputes. William subsequently declared bankruptcy. Plaintiffs then commenced this action against Defendant, seeking to hold him liable for allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations he made to the court during the divorce trial. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the dismissal of this complaint, holding that the litigation privilege applied under the circumstances of this case. View "Bassichis v. Flores" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the juvenile court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child and granting permanent guardianship to the child's paternal grandmother, holding that the juvenile court properly exercised its authority even where the Department of Children and Families did not have physical custody of the child when they petitioned for termination.While the child was still in his grandmother's custody the Department filed a notice of intent requesting that the juvenile court terminate Mother's parental rights pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 210, 3. The judge found Mother unfit, terminated her parental rights, and ordered conditional permanent custody to the grandmother. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the judge was warranted in terminating Mother's parental rights. View "In re Care & Protection of Zeb" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decree entered by the superior court terminating Mother's parental rights and remanded this case for a new trial, holding that the conduct of the trial violated Mother's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article 10 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.On the first day of the two-day virtual bench trial conducted in this case was afflicted by technological issues, resulting in Mother's inability to participate and interruptions to the testimony of certain witnesses. The virtual trial resumed two days later. The judge ultimately issued a decree terminating Mother's parental rights to her child. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment below, holding that the trial was conducted in violation of Mother's right to due process. View "In re Adoption of Patty" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the appropriate standard of proof by which the Department would have to prove that it had made "reasonable efforts to make it possible for the child to return safely to his [or her] parent or guardian" under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 29C is proof by a fair preponderance of the evidence.The parties in this case jointly petitioned for clarification of the standard by which the Department would have to prove that it has made reasonable efforts. The Department argued that the standard of proof should be fair preponderance of the evidence, and the child at issue and its mother argued for a more demanding clear and convincing evidence standard. The Supreme Judicial Court declared that, at a reasonable efforts hearing, the Department's burden is to prove that it has made reasonable efforts by a preponderance of the evidence. View "In re Care & Protection of Rashida" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court answered three reported questions regarding whether the provision in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, 29C that the court shall determine reasonable efforts not less than annually permits or requires a juvenile court judge to make a reasonable efforts determination at other times, holding that a party may file a motion for a determination of reasonable efforts at other times.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held that, following judicial certification of reasonable efforts at the emergency custody hearing and the seventy-two hour hearing, there is no requirement that a trial court judge determine that the department has continued to engage in reasonable efforts at any time prior to the statutorily mandated annual review, but the trial judge has the discretion to do so upon the motion of a parent or child. View "In re Care & Protection of Rashida" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that social workers, and their approving supervisors, in the Department of Children and Families who attest to facts in sworn affidavits as part of care and protection proceedings commenced by the Department in the juvenile court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 119, 24 are entitled to absolute immunity in these circumstances.Plaintiff brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a social worker with the Department, alleging that the social worker intentionally misrepresented facts in a sworn affidavit filed in support of a care and protection petition in the juvenile court. Plaintiff further alleged that the social worker's area supervisor (together, with the social worker, Defendants) was liable because she had approved the social worker's actions. Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that they were entitled to absolute immunity. A superior court judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Defendants were entitled to absolute immunity under the circumstances of this case. View "C.M. v. Commissioner of Department of Children & Families" on Justia Law

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In Father's appeal from a civil contempt order and subsequent judgment on a complaint for unpaid child support filed by Mother, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the judge abused her discretion in holding Father in civil contempt.Mother filed a pro se complaint for civil contempt in the probate and family court alleging that Father, the noncustodial parent, was $3,690 in his child support payments. Father filed an answer and counterclaim for modification, claiming that his past incarceration and subsequent difficulty obtaining employment made past and future payments at the set rate impossible. The judge held Father in contempt and then entered judgment on Father's complaint for modification, reducing his ongoing child support obligation to his requested amount. The Supreme Court vacated the civil contempt judgment against Father, holding (1) Father's case should not have reached the civil contempt hearing stage, (2) the Department of Revenue failed to follow the Federal regulations and its own procedures in failing to assist Father, and (3) the judge failed to provide Father with sufficient procedural safeguards. View "Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement v. Grullon" on Justia Law

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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