Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order issued by the district court concerning the conservatorship and estate planning efforts of Appellant's elderly mother, H.D.K., holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion when it declined to issue a scheduling order; (2) did not abuse its discretion in declining to quash a subpoena for the file of H.D.K.'s attorney; (3) did not abuse its discretion when it concluded the conservatorship hearing after three days; (4) did not err when it issued findings regarding how H.D.K. intended to allocate her estate; (5) did not err by determining the present values of the properties in H.D.K.'s estate; and (6) did not err when it found H.D.K. had testamentary capacity. View "In re H.D.K." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Linda Dower motion for partial summary judgment wherein she argued that certain trust assets should be included in an estate in order to satisfy her statutory allowances, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion.Douglas Dower was married to Alyce Dower until her death in 2008. The couple had four children, including Jayne Dower Lux, and executed a revocable living trust. In 2011, Douglas married Linda. After Douglas died and during the probate process, Linda argued that certain trust assets should be included in the estate for purposes of satisfying her statutory allowances. The district court denied Linda's claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err when it concluded that trust assets were nonprobate assets and could only be used to satisfy Linda's statutory allowances when and to the extent the probate estate was insufficient; (2) did not err when it determined the probate estate was sufficient to satisfy Linda's statutory allowances through the abatement of her specific devises; and (3) did not abuse its discretion by denying Linda's motion to remove Lux as personal representative. View "In re Estate of Dower" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part four provisions of a district court order and amended parenting plan in this case, holding that certain provisions in the provisions in the court's amended parenting plan were erroneous.The amended parenting plan at issue required Sarah Willmon and her husband to attend family counseling, allowed her ex-husband, Marlen Russell, to contact the children regularly, required the parties to mediate future disputes, and split between the parties the tax dependency deductions. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) erred to the extent it ordered Sarah's current husband to attend family counseling; (2) abused its discretion when it ordered that Marlen may contact the children "regularly"; (3) erred when it ordered future conflicts to be subject to mandatory mediation; and (4) did not err when it divided the tax dependency deductions between the parties. View "In re Parenting of P.H.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the district court terminating Mother's and Father's respective parental rights to their child, holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not erroneously proceed to a youth-in-need-of-care (YINC) adjudication, temporary legal custody, and parental rights termination without a determination of the child's eligibility for enrollment in the Lakota Sioux Tribe; (2) did not erroneously re-adjudicate the child as a YINC or later erroneously find under Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609(1)(f) that it had; and (3) did not erroneously terminate Father's parental rights under section 41-3-609(1)(f)(ii) without sufficient evidence to prove by clear and convincing evidence that his conduct or condition of unfitness was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. View "In re L.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting relief to Melissa Lynn Fuller from the 2016 final decree of dissolution of the marriage of Melissa and Bradley Dean Fuller, holding that the district court erred in setting aside the final decree of dissolution on the ground of perjury under Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-253(5).The district court concluded that the failure to the parties to disclose their jointly owned business to the court, which they determined that they would settled after the divorce, violated the law requiring full disclosure of assets, debts, income, and expenses. The court granted Melissa's requested relief by raising sua sponte the issue of mutual perjury under section 40-4-253(5), concluding that significant nondisclosures in final declarations of marital assets are conditions that justified the court to reopen the final decree. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the parties chose not to include their jointly owned businesses in their disclosures, the district court erred by reopening the judgment on that basis. View "In re Marriage of Fuller" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court awarding temporary guardianship of Carol Merideth's two stepchildren to their maternal grandparents, Diana and Kenneth Merideth, holding that the district court did not err.After the children's father died, Diana and Kenneth filed a petition for guardianship and requesting an emergency order for temporary guardianship. The district court appointed Diana and Kenneth temporary guardians. That same day, Carol filed a petition seeking temporary guardianship and conservatorship. The district court entered an order appointing temporary guardians and conservators, determining it was in the children's best interests to appoint Diana and Kenneth as their temporary guardians and conservators. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the children's mother consented to appointment of Diana and Kenneth and the district court found that the appointment was in the children's best interests the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "In re Guardianship of J.S.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights and granting permanent legal custody, holding that the court's failure to obtain written confirmation of Child's enrollment eligibility directly from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribe did not constitute reversible error and the termination of Father's parental rights was not an abuse of discretion.The district court terminated Father's parental rights pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609(1)(f), failure to successfully complete his court-ordered treatment plan combined with lack of likelihood of successful change within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) although the Department did not file a written document from the Tribe confirming Child was not an Indian child, the error was not reversible; and (2) the district court did not err in concluding that continuation of the parent-child relationship would result in continued abuse or neglect and that it was in the best interest of Child to terminate Father's parental rights. View "In re D.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the termination of Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the district court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights under state and federal law.In terminating Mother's parental rights to her child the district court made the additional findings and used the heightened evidentiary standards required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) in failing to make specific findings under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when terminating Mother's parental rights; (2) when it terminated Mother's parental rights under Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609 and 25 U.S.C. 1912; and (3) in terminating Mother's rights under federal and state law. View "Matter of K.L.N." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing pending abuse and neglect proceedings and placing Mother's two children with Father, their non-custodial parent, holding that the district court did not err.After the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division filed a petition for adjudication of child as youth in need of care and temporary legal custody the district court adjudicated the children as youths in need of care. The district court subsequently entered an order placing the children in the custody of Father and dismissed the abuse and neglect proceedings without prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by dismissing the abuse and neglect proceedings and placing the children with Father pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-438(3)(d). View "In re J.S.L." on Justia Law

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In this termination of parental rights matter, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the district court's order, holding that the court abused its discretion by terminating Mother's parental rights without a conclusive determination of her two children's tribal membership status and enrollment eligibility with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians tribe.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred by terminating Mother's parental rights in the absence of a conclusive tribal determination regarding the children's status as Indian children of the United Keetoowah tribe; (2) the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services engaged in reasonable efforts to prevent removal and reunite Mother with her children; and (3) the district court did not err by determining that the conduct or condition rendering Mother unfit, unable, or unwilling to parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court remanded the case to allow the tribe to make a conclusive determination regarding the children's membership and enrollment eligibility. View "In re M.T." on Justia Law