Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her three children, holding that the Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) provided reasonable efforts to avoid removal and to reunify Mother with her children and that the district court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights to the children. Specifically, the Court held (1) The Department made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the children and to reunite Mother with the children, but those efforts were hindered by Mother's apathy or active refusal to engage with the Department; and (2) the district court did not err in determining that the conduct or condition rendering Mother unfit, unable, or unwilling to parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. View "In re R.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting Daniel Boudette's motion to extinguish an Arizona Decree of Dissolution of Marriage that Tammy Boudette registered in Montana under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act, holding that the court was not required to apply Arizona law in this case. Six years after Tammy registered the Arizona the Arizona judgment in Montana, Daniel moved to extinguish the registered Arizona judgment because Arizona's statute of limitations for enforcing judgments had expired. In response, Tammy argued that Montana's longer statute of limitations applied to foreign judgments filed in Montana. The district court granted the motion to extinguish, ruling that the Full Faith and Credit Clause required that Arizona law be applied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Montana law allows a registered foreign judgment to be enforced just as a Montana judgment would be, and the principle of full faith and credit does not require forum states to apply foreign rendering states' statutes of limitation for enforcement; and (2) therefore, the Arizona judgment registered in Montana was subject to Montana's statute of limitations. View "Oskerson v. Boudette" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to Child, holding that the record did not support that the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) engaged in active efforts to provide Father with remedial services and rehabilitative programs to prevent the breakup of Child's family, as required by 25 U.S.C. 1912(d). Child in this case was an Indian child, thus requiring that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) apply to the proceedings. After a termination hearing, the district court concluded the Department had made active efforts as required by ICWA, Father was not able safely to parent Child, and it was in Child's best interest to terminate Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Department failed to provide Father with active efforts throughout the custody proceedings as required by ICWA. View "In re K.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the district court did not err by concluding that the Department of Public Health and Human Services had made reasonable efforts to help Mother, Mother had not complied with her treatment plan, and the condition rendering Mother unfit was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. The district court found by a preponderance of the evidence that Mother had failed to complete most of her treatment plan, that the treatment plan was appropriate, and that Mother had failed to complete it and her unfitness was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. The court then ordered termination of Mother's rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the department made reasonable efforts to help Mother complete her treatment plan and that the district court's did not err by terminating Mother's parental rights. View "In re C.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel resulting in his parental rights being inappropriately terminated. On appeal, Father argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his court-appointed counsel failed assiduously to advocate for him throughout her representation. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Father's initial appointed counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of that ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced, and his parental rights were terminated. The Court remanded this case for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to conduct initial preliminary assessment of Father as the first placement option for the child consistent with its policies and this opinion. View "In re E.Y.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of dissolution issued by the district court, holding that the district court had jurisdiction to divide a portion of the proceeds from Shannon Moore's California personal injury lawsuit in the decree and did not err when it denied Kayle Jo Hardman's request for half of the proceeds from Shannon's California personal injury lawsuit. Kayle and Shannon married in California. Shannon was injured in California and filed a personal injury lawsuit. After living in Montana for 100 days, Kayle filed a petition for dissolution and served it on Shannon in California. The district court entered a decree. Thereafter, Shannon received a jury verdict in his personal injury lawsuit. Kayle sought to be awarded half of the proceeds of the lawsuit under the decree. The district court granted Kayle fifty percent of the proceeds from Shannon's personal injury lawsuit. The court later vacated its order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) had jurisdiction to divide a portion of the proceeds from Shannon's California personal lawsuit in the decree; and (2) correctly denied Kayle's request for half of the proceeds from Shannon's California personal injury lawsuit. View "In re Marriage of Moore" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decree of dissolution of the marriage between Sonia Frank and Brian Frank, distributing marital assets, and awarding Sonia five years of spousal maintenance, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the amount and duration of the maintenance award granted to Sonia. On appeal, Sonia argued that the district court failed properly to consider the relevant factors to a determination of maintenance under Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-203(2). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court employed conscientious judgment, did not act arbitrarily or outside the bounds of reason, and did not clearly err in its findings. View "In re Marriage of Frank" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to Child, holding that Father was not denied due process and that his treatment plan was appropriate. In terminating Father's parental rights the district court determined that Father did not successfully complete his treatment plan and that the condition rendering him unfit, unable, or unwilling to parent was not likely to change within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Father's due process rights were not violated when the district court terminated Father's parental rights; and (2) Father waived his right to appeal the appropriateness of the court-ordered treatment plan, and the district court's approval of the treatment plan did not constitute a manifest miscarriage of justice or compromise the integrity of the proceedings. View "In re B.J.J." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's award of prejudgment interest on a sum Pamela Fossen was directed to pay in a marriage dissolution action and the court's award of attorney fees incurred in a separate action to Allen Fossen, holding that the district court abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence to support the calculation of attorney fees and costs. Specifically, the Court held that the district court (1) erred in awarding Allen attorney fees under terms of the parties' dissolution settlement agreement for defending Pam's third-party complaint against Allen in a separate action; (2) did not abuse its discretion in admitting certain evidence to support the calculation of attorney fees and costs; and (3) erred in awarding prejudgment interest. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the amount of fees. View "In re Marriage of Fossen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court that denied Mother's motion to set aside her earlier conditional relinquishment of parental rights, terminated her parental rights, and granted permanent legal custody of her child to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division, holding that the district court erred when it terminated Mother's parental rights based on the conditional relinquishment Mother executed in a prior proceeding. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court violated Mother's due process rights when it terminated her parental rights based on the earlier conditional relinquishment because (1) neither condition in Mother's conditional relinquishment occurred before the court dismissed the first abuse and neglect case, and (2) Mother executed the conditional relinquishment as part of a previously-dismissed abuse and neglect case. View "In re K.B." on Justia Law