Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Minnesota Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court rejecting Wife's action against Husband seeking half of his retirement account or, alternatively, an equitable portion of the account, holding that the parties' omission of their largest asset from the dissolution decree made it impossible for the district court to determine whether the settlement was equitable.After the parties' marriage was dissolved through a joint petition for marriage dissolution Wife filed this action seeking half of Husband's retirement account. In objecting, Husband argued that he and Wife had intentionally omitted his retirement account from their joint petition pursuant to an unwritten side agreement. The district court concluded that the relief Wife sought was beyond the scope of a ** proper enforcement of clarification order and was time-barred to the extent it sought to reopen the decree. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) district courts have the power to address omitted assets that fall outside the scope of the grounds set forth in Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2 for reopening a dissolution decree; and (2) the parties' omission from the decree of their largest asset rendered it impossible for the district court to determine whether the settlement was equitable. View "In re Marriage of Pooley" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court applying the endangerment standard of the child-custody modification statute, Minn. Stat. 518.18(d)(iv), to a noncustodial parent's motion for joint legal custody of the parties' child based on their prior stipulation to apply the statutory best-interests standard set forth in Minn. Stat. 518.18(d)(i), holding that the district court erred.The noncustodial parent's modification motion in this case was expressly predicated on section 518.18(d)(i), which provides that the statutory best-interests standard set forth at Minn. Stat. 518.17 applies if the parties previously agreed in a court-approved writing to the application of that standard. The district court denied the motion for custody modification without holding an evidentiary hearing. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred by requiring the noncustodial parent to establish a prima facie case for a change in custody based on the statutory endangerment standard in section 518.18(d)(iv). View "Woolsey v. Woolsey" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the nonprecedential opinion of the court of appeals instructing the district court to consider whether Rebecca Bender presented newly discovered evidence warranting relief from a child support order, holding that the district court should have determined whether Bender's proffered evidence warranted relief.Years after marriage dissolution and child support proceedings between Bender and Peter Bernhard, Bender filed a motion to modify the child support termination order based on "newly discovered evidence" under Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(2) and Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) as may be just, a district court has discretion under section 518.145 to consider newly discovered evidence that arises after the court's underlying decision; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in finding that Bender's newly discovered evidence was not "new." View "Bender v. Bernhard" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court in this case arising out of a dispute between the children of Lawrence and Phyllis Schwagerl over the disposition of assets owned by Lawrence's trust before his death, holding that the court of appeals erred in part.The assets in this case included undivided half-interests in more than 700 acres of farm real estate owned by the family, as well as Lawrence and Phillis's residence and surrounding yard. The district court determined (1) the Lawrence Trust agreement created a family trust upon Lawrence's death and that his undivided half-interest in the farm real estate was distributed to that trust, and (2) Phillis waived her right to Lawrence's undivided half-interest in the couple's personal residence at the time of his death by intentionally leaving ownership of that property within the family trust. View "In re Trust of Lawrence B. Schwagerl" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court finding that Mother's child was in need of protection or services, holding that the district court properly considered the allegations of the petition in this case and that Rice County proved the allegations by clear and convincing evidence.After Mother failed to appear at a pretrial hearing the County requested to proceed by default pursuant to Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 18. The district court granted the request and found that the child in this case was in need of protection or services. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the juvenile protection rules do not allow for relief in a default proceeding based solely on the pleadings and that the evidence was insufficient to support the adjudication. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court could not simply accept the allegations in the County's petition as true when Mother failed to appear for the pretrial hearing; (2) the unrequited witness testimony presented at the hearing established that the allegations of the petition were true and correct; and (3) the court did not err in finding that the child was in need of protection or services. View "In re H.G.D." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court amending a spousal maintenance award granting in favor of Respondent, Appellant's former wife, holding that the district court abused its discretion in deciding it could not consider the principal of certain cash gifts as an available source of income for spousal maintenance.After almost five years of dissolution-related court proceedings, Appellant moved to eliminate or amend a spousal maintenance award granted in favor of Respondent on the ground that there had been a substantial change of circumstances making the initial award "unreasonable and unfair." The motion stemmed, in part, from two cash gifts given to Appellant by her parents after the divorce totaling $500,000. The district court concluded that the spousal maintenance statute prohibited it from considering the principal of the cash gifts as a financial resource available for Appellant's self-support. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that post-dissolution gifts received by a maintenance recipient are a financial resource a district court may consider under the spousal maintenance statute. View "Honke v. Honke" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's petition to voluntarily terminate her parental rights to her two young children after Grant County filed a petition for involuntary termination, holding that a parent's voluntary petition does not supplant a county's petition for involuntary termination of parental rights.After the County filed a petition for involuntary termination of Appellant's parental rights to her two children. Three days before trial, Appellant filed a petition for voluntary termination of her parental rights to her children for good cause. The district court denied the voluntary petition, finding that Appellant did not demonstrate good cause for the termination. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the plain language Minn. Stat. 260C.301 shows that the Legislature did not contemplate that a parent's petition for voluntary termination would automatically supplement an earlier-filed involuntary petition. View "In re Welfare of Children of J.D.T." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing Father's paternity action on the grounds that Minn. Stat. 259.25, subd. 8 barred the action, holding that the statute did not bar Father's action.Father failed to register with the Minnesota Fathers' Adoption Registry within thirty days of the birth of his child. Father subsequently filed this paternity action seeking to be adjudicated as his child's father. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that because Father had failed timely to register with the Fathers' Adoption Registry he was barred under Minn. Stat. 259.52, subd. 8 from bringing or maintaining a paternity action. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Minn. Stat. 259.52, subd. 8 did not apply to Father under the circumstances of this case. View "T. G. G. v. H. E. S." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of felony deprivation of parenting rights in violation of Minn. Stat. 609.26, subd. 1(3) on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient because the circumstances proved supported a reasonable inference that Defendant did not have a subject intent to substantially deprive her child's father of parenting time, holding that the court of appeals erred when it concluded that the State presented insufficient evidence to support the conviction.Implicit in the court of appeals' analysis was an assumption that section 609.26, subd. 1(3) required the State to prove that Defendant had the subjective intent substantially to deprive the father of his parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 609.26, subd. 1(3) establishes an objective standard that focuses on the nature of the defendant's action; and (2) the only reasonable inference that can be drawn from the circumstances proved here was that Defendant's actions, viewed objectively, manifested an intent substantially to deprive the child's father of court-ordered parenting time. View "State v. Culver" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the conclusion of the district court that Mother had to notify her three children's biological father of her request to change the children's names, holding that where Mother was the only parent listed on her children's birth certificates and no one had been adjudicated as their father, Mother was the legal parent with authority to apply to change her children's names.At issue was the notice provision found in Minn. Stat. 259.10 relating to name-change applications on behalf of minors. The district court determined that the biological father had a legally recognized parent-child relationship with the eldest two children and was therefore entitled to notice of the name-change petitions. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because Mother was the only legal parent of her three minor children the district court erred when it determined that the biological father was a "parent" under section 259.10. View "In re Application of J.M.M." on Justia Law