Articles Posted in Missouri Supreme Court

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The trial court in this case ordered the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services (Division) not to include Mother’s name in the child abuse and neglect central registry as a sanction for the Division’s failure to comply with the ninety-day statutory deadline for investigations and determinations. The Division noted that its investigation into Mother’s alleged neglect of her children would be extended for “good cause” before it eventually determined that the evidence substantiated the allegations of Mother’s neglect. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the legislature did not provide for a sanction in the event that the Division fails to meet the statutory deadline, and courts are not authorized to create one. View "Frye v. Levy" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Father, a California resident, sent his children (Children) to Missouri, and later that year, the Children began to live with their mother. In 2011, the Children were taken into protective custody. In 2012, the circuit court found that the record supported three separate legal grounds for termination of Father’s parental rights, including neglect, and concluded that termination of parental rights would be in the Children’s best interest. The court of appeals affirmed the judgments terminating Father’s parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court’s determinations that Father neglected the Children and that it was in the best interest of the Children to have Father’s parental rights terminated were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re J.A.R." on Justia Law

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In 2012, the trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights over Child, determining that Mother, who had been under psychiatric care for three years before the termination hearing, had abused or neglected Child in that she had a mental condition that rendered her unable to provide Child the necessary care, custody and control and that she failed to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or education to Child even though she had the financial resources to do so. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in discrediting testimony from Mother’s psychiatrist and therapist regarding her mental condition at the time of the termination hearing or in finding Mother’s custody of another child did not show Mother could provide the necessary care, control or custody to Child; (2) substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Mother’s personal relationships presented a potential harm for Child despite Mother’s therapy; and (3) the trial court did not err in finding that Mother’s de minimus financial support to Child did not show that she provided adequate support to Child before the termination hearing. View "In re Interest of Q.A.H." on Justia Law

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Mother and Father’s divorce was dissolved in 2006 by a Texas district court. In 2009, Father initiated post-dissolution child custody proceedings in the St. Charles County circuit court. A guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed for the minor children. In 2011, the trial court entered a judgment deciding the custody and visitation rights of the parents and ordering Father to pay guardian ad litem fees, among other costs. Father appealed. In response to Father’s notice of appeal, the GAL filed a motion to secure costs on appeal seeking payment from Father or Mother so that she could draft and file an appellate brief. The trial court sustained the motion. The court of appeals affirmed on appeal. In 2012, the trial court ordered Father and Mother to each pay toward the GAL’s services rendered on appeal. Father appealed that judgment, arguing that the GAL had no legal authority to participate in the appeal from the trial court’s judgment and, if such authority did exist, the GAL’s claimed fees were not supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Father was precluded from raising his claims, having failed to timely and properly pursue or preserve them. View "Brown v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In this dissolution of marriage action involving child custody, Father moved the trial court to order the Department of Social Services to release all records concerning the children, including the identity of persons who placed several unsubstantiated hotline child abuse and neglect reports, asserting that the hotline caller's identity was relevant to prove that Mother had placed the hotline reports. The Department's Children's Division opposed Father's discovery request, arguing that the identity of the hotline caller was confidential. The trial court denied the motion and ordered the Division to produce the records disclosing the identity of the hotline reporters. The Division then filed a petition for writ of prohibition to prevent the trial court from enforcing its order to produce the records. The Supreme Court issued the requested permanent writ of prohibition, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering disclosure of the identity of the hotline caller because the hotline reports were confidential and none of the exceptions to the general rule of confidentiality applied to this case. View "State ex rel. Dep't of Social Servs. v. Tucker" on Justia Law

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The marriage of Husband and Wife was dissolved in 2003. In 2005 and 2006, the trial court reduced Husband's child support obligations and made no change to his maintenance obligation. While Husband's second appeal was pending, Wife filed a motion for attorney's fees on appeal. The trial court ordered Husband to pay $7,500 of Wife's attorney fees on appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mo. Rev. Stat. 452.355, which grants the circuit court subject matter jurisdiction to enter an award of attorney fees on appeal while the appeal is pending, is not unconstitutional; (2) section 452.355 is not unconstitutionally vague because it provides sufficient guidance so as to allow a person of ordinary intelligence to understand the standards to be applied by the circuit court in making an award of attorney fees; and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Wife attorney's fees on appeal. View "Goins v. Goins" on Justia Law

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The marriage of Father and Mother was dissolved in 2005, and Father and Mother were awarded joint legal and physical custody of their only child. In 2008, the trial court modified the custody and support provisions of the original judgment. In 2009, Father filed a motion to modify, alleging that a modification was justified due to Mother's numerous refusals to comply with the 2008 judgment. Specifically, Father requested that the court grant him sole legal and physical custody of the child as well as other modifications. The court continued the parties' joint legal and physical custody but imposed new custody terms (2009 judgment). Mother appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mother was not entitled to a new trial because the trial court failed to appoint a guardian ad litem in the modification proceedings; (2) the trial court properly considered all of the best interest factors before it in its 2009 judgment; and (3) the trial court's modification clarifying its 2009 judgment was supported by good cause. View "Soehlke v. Soehlke" on Justia Law

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During Petitioner's relationship with Mother, Mother gave birth to a son (Child). Although Petitioner was not listed on Child's birth certificate, Petitioner acted as Child's father. After the relationship between Petitioner and Mother soured, Petitioner took a DNA test that indicated he was not Child's biological father. Petitioner subsequently filed an amended petition alleging that Mother and the unknown biological father were unfit parents and sought a declaration of paternity, custody and visitation, and for equitable relief. The circuit court dismissed the petition based upon Petitioner's failure to put forth a theory under which Child's custody could be determined properly. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that Petitioner sufficiently alleged the elements necessary under Mo. Rev. Stat. 452.375.5(5)(a) to establish third-party custody. View "M.M.A. v. L.L." on Justia Law

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Child was born out of wedlock to Mother. While Mother was preparing to move to Ohio, Father filed a paternity and custody action against her. Mother subsequently moved to Ohio. The trial court awarded sole physical custody of Child to Mother and ordered Mother to relocate Child to Missouri to reside in a designated three-county area. The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the trial court's judgment requiring Mother's relocation, holding (1) the trial court had no statutory authority to compel Mother to relocate as part of its initial custody determination; and (2) Mother did not give the court the authority to compel her to move back to Missouri. Remanded.

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Husband and Wife divorced pursuant to a judgment entered by the trial court. As part of the judgment, Husband was required to pay Wife monthly maintenance as agreed upon by the parties in a settlement agreement. After Wife remarried five years later, Husband filed a motion asking the trial court to terminate his obligation to pay Wife maintenance. The trial court dismissed the motion, finding that, according to the settlement agreement, the maintenance was non-modifiable and would terminate after the expiration of fifteen years. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the presumption that an obligation to pay maintenance is terminated by remarriage of the party receiving maintenance can be overcome by an agreement in writing between the parties that either expressly or by implication extends said obligation, and (2) Husband failed to demonstrate that the trial court erroneously declared or applied the law by dismissing his motion to terminate his obligation to pay maintenance to Wife.