Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Mother's motion to amend the parenting plan entered into between the parties, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mother's motion to amend the parenting plan. When Mother and Father divorced in 2015 they entered into a stipulated parenting plan providing for equal parenting time. In July 2018, Mother filed a notice of intent to move and a motion to amend parenting plan along with the proposed parenting plan, expressing her desire to recreate to Indiana. The district court denied Mother's motion and ordered an amended parenting plan providing that the parties' child would remain in Montana and reside with Father on a primary basis in the event Mother decided to relocate to Indiana. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that district court did not abuse its discretion. View "In re Marriage of Solem" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the termination of Mother's parental rights to her child, D.D., holding that D.D. was not an abused or neglected child as provided in Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-102(2)(a), (7)(a)(i)-(iii) and (21)(a)(i)-(vi), and therefore, the district court erred in terminating Mother's parental rights to D.D. D.D. was residing with his father and had not been in Mother's care for nearly eight years when the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division filed is petition for termination of Mother's parental rights. At the close of a hearing, the district court implicitly determined D.D. was an abused or neglected child, found the Department need not make reasonable efforts to provide preservation or reunification services, and terminated Mother's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because D.D. was not residing with mother at the time of her alleged neglectful conduct and was not at risk of doing so, D.D. was not an abused or neglected child. View "In re D.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the family court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, C.S., holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in the proceedings below. After a hearing, the district court implicitly determined C.S. was an abused or neglected child, found the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division, need not make reasonable efforts to provide preservation or reunification services due to Mother's chronic, severe neglect of C.S., and terminated Mother's parental rights to C.S. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) C.S. was properly determined to be an abused or neglected child; and (2) Mother was not denied due process in determining reunification efforts were not necessary and terminating Mother's parental rights to C.S. due to chronic and severe neglect. View "In re C.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court adopting in full a standing master's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order amending a parenting plan to direct a fifty-fifty division of parenting time for the parties' minor child, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion and that there was no clear error in the standing master's findings. The district court adopted a permanent parenting plan in 2014 granting Mother primary residential custody and Father approximately eight days of parenting time per month. In 2017, Father moved to amend the parenting plan asking the district court to grant him primary custody. The standing master concluded that amending the parenting plan was necessary and ordered the parties to parent the child on a week on week off basis. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Father failed to preserve his challenges to the district court's appointment of the standing master; (2) there was no clear error or mistake of law in the standing master's findings and conclusions; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion in affirming the standing master's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order amending the parenting plan. View "In re Parenting of D.C.N.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the post-judgment order of the district court requiring David Ruis to pay his ex-wife, Twila Ruis, a cash equalization payment plus interest in accordance with the court's earlier dissolution decree, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion or otherwise err in awarding Twila the cash equalization payment originally determined in the decree, together with judgment interest. David appealed, arguing that the eventual sale of the parties' marital home rendered the cash equalization payment inequitable, which made the award of post-judgment interest on that payment amount an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not act arbitrarily or exceed the bounds of reason when it awarded Twila the cash equalization payment originally contemplated in the decree even though David did not refinance and retain the property; and (2) the district court did not err in awarding Twila judgment interest or err in its calculation of judgment interest. View "In re Marriage of Ruis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dissolving Sam Mahlum's marriage to Terri Elder and equitably apportioning the parties' marital estate, holding that the district court erroneously characterized and divided Sam's early disability retirement benefit as a divisible marital estate asset rather than the equivalent of post-dissolution employment income. Before the district court, the only significant matter in dispute was the status of Sam's disability retirement benefits from the Montana Sheriff's Retirement System (SRS) and whether the benefits were a divisible marital asset or the indivisible equivalent of future earnings. The district court concluded that Sam's SRS disability benefits were a divisible marital asset. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in characterizing Sam's post-dissolution SRS disability retirement benefits as a marital estate under Mont. Code Ann. 40-3-202(1). View "In re Marriage of Elder & Mahlum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his child, A.L.P., holding that the district court erred when it based its finding that Father's treatment plan was unsuccessful solely on Father's incarceration, but the error was harmless. In terminating Father's parental rights, the district court found that Father had not successfully completed his treatment plan. The court further found clear and convincing evidence to conclude that the child was adjudicated as a youth in need of care, that Father had not successfully completed his treatment plan, that his conduct or condition was unlikely to change within a reasonable time, and that it was in the best interests of the child to terminate Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court erred in finding that Father failed successfully to complete his treatment plan resulting solely from his incarceration, but the error was harmless in light of the fact that the district court made express findings that rendered a treatment plan unnecessary; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that it was in the child's best interests to terminate Father's parental rights. View "In re A.L.P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her son, holding that the district court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights. In terminating Mother's parental rights, the district court concluded that Mother's conduct was unlikely to change within a reasonable time and found that termination of Mother's parental rights, rather than a guardianship, was in the best interests of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err when it determine that Mother's condition or conduct rendering her unfit to parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time; and (2) did not abuse its discretion when it determined that termination was in the child's best interests and that Mother did not overcome the presumption in favor of termination. View "In re A.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dividing marital assets in Husband's dissolution from Wife, holding that the district court did not commit clear error in its findings of fact and did not abuse its discretion. Husband appealed, arguing that the district court erred in distributing approximately twenty-five percent of the total marital estate to Wife and awarding her maintenance for ten years because much of the marital estate was compromised of property that Husband inherited. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not commit clear error in its findings of fact supporting its distribution of the marital estate and award of maintenance; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in its division of inherited property in the marital estate. View "Lewis v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Stepmother's petition for stepparent adoption of the minor child, N.P.M., holding that Step-grandmother had standing to object to Stepmother's petition and that the district court correctly applied Mont. Code Ann. 42-2-301 to require that all applicable consents be obtained prior to addressing the merits of Stepmother's petition. The petition in this case included Mother's consent to adoption and waiver of parental rights and Father's consent to adoption. Step-grandmother, who was the primary physical custodian of the child, objected to the petition, arguing that she had a parental interest and that her consent to the adoption was required under section 42-2-301. The district court concluded that the plain language of section 42-2-301 required Step-grandmother's consent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a person with a parental interest established by a court has standing to object to the child's adoption by a stepparent; (2) the district court correctly interpreted section 42-2-301 to require consent to adopt from a person whose parental rights have been established by a court; and (3) the district court did not err in its application of section 42-2-301. View "In re Adoption of N.P.M." on Justia Law