Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that the district court erred when it proceeded with termination of Mother’s parental rights before it had a conclusive determination of the children’s status in the Chippewa Cree Tribe and when it did not address whether the Department of Public Health and Human Services made “active efforts” to prevent the breakup of the Indian family and that those efforts were unsuccessful. Specifically, the Court held (1) where the district court had reason to believe that the children may be eligible for enrollment in the Chippewa Cree Tribe, the court failed to satisfy the threshold requirement of the Indian Child Welfare Act to verify the children’s eligibility; (2) the district court did not err when it did not address whether the Department provided “active efforts” pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1912(d); and (3) Mother’s due process were not violated when the Department raised the issue of abandonment during closing arguments at the termination hearing and Mother’s counsel did not object. View "In re L.A.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court setting forth a parenting plan which awarded maternal Grandmother primary residential custody of Child during the course of an ongoing child dependency proceeding, holding that Grandmother could not pursue a parental interest and parenting plan during the pendency of the child dependency proceeding. In a dependent neglect (DN) matter, the Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) became formally involved with Mother. Thereafter, Father petitioned the district court for a parenting plan designating him as Child’s primary residential parent. Grandmother subsequently filed a petition to establish a parental interest as a separate action. The district court consolidated the two matters. While the DN case was pending, the district court awarded Grandmother primary residential custody of Child. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter, holding that Montana law did not provide Grandmother the ability to pursue a parental interest during the pendency of the child dependency proceeding. View "Cromwell v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

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In this dependent neglect proceeding, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order permanently placing A.J.C. in the primary care of his maternal grandmother and denying the motion filed by the Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to place A.J.C. with Father, holding that the district court violated Father’s constitutional fundamental right to parent. After the Department became formally involved with Mother, it placed A.J.C. in Grandmother’s care. The district court then adjudicated A.J.C. as a youth in need of care. After a hearing to determine a final parenting plan and a permanency plan for A.J.C., the court awarded Grandmother primary residential custody of A.J.C. The Department subsequently moved the court to approve an amended permanency plan in which the Department recommended placement of A.J.C. with Father. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that once Father successfully completed his court-ordered treatment plan and the Department determined Father to be a safe and appropriate placement, the district court unconstitutionally violated Father’s fundamental right to parent by placing A.J.C. with Grandmother. View "In re A.J.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the final parenting plan ordered by the district court, holding that substantial evidence supported the district court’s decision and that Appellant failed to demonstrate reversible error. The final parenting plan in this case provided that the parties’ child would reside with Appellee and that Appellant had visitation on alternating weekends. On appeal, Appellant claimed, among other things, that many of the district court’s findings of fact were clearly erroneous and that the court’s parenting decision was not based on the best interest of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) in choosing where the child would primarily reside, the court properly considered and weighed the statutory factors; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in developing a final parenting plan for the child; and (3) Appellant received effective assistance of counsel. View "In re Marriage of Kesler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court modifying the property settlement agreement entered into by Dennis Simpson and Larissa Simpson and the subsequent order awarding attorney fees, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. The district court here modified the agreement by terminating maintenance payments to Larissa. The court then limited the amount of Larissa’s attorney fees to those incurred during contempt proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not abuse its discretion in concluding that continued imposition and enforcement of the parties’ agreement was unconscionable; (2) appropriately modified the agreement based on the parties’ unique circumstances; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in limiting Larissa’s attorney fees. View "In re Marriage of Simpson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law setting forth the court’s parenting plan, which provided for the parties’ children to reside on a primary basis in Columbus, Montana, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. The Supreme Court affirmed and declined to award attorney fees, holding (1) the district court’s findings were sufficiently pertinent to the issues, comprehensively set forth the basis for the court’s decision, were supported by the evidence, and were not clearly erroneous; (2) the court’s conclusions of law were correct; and (3) the court employed conscientious judgment in reaching its decision. View "In re Marriage of Williams" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County (Montana Court) determining that it had jurisdiction over a child custody proceeding concerning Father’s minor child (Child), holding the court did not err in finding Child's home state to be Montana and assuming initial subject matter jurisdiction over the child custody proceeding. Child was born in Montana, where she lived with Mother after Father moved to Minnesota. Mother and Child moved to Minnesota and lived there for approximately eight months before moving back to Montana. When Father “took custody” of Child Mother commenced a child custody proceeding by petitioning the Montana Court to establish a parenting plan for Child. Father then brought a separate custody proceeding in a Minnesota Court by filing complaint to establish paternity and resolve parenting issues. The Montana Court determined Montana to be the home state of Child and assumed jurisdiction over the matter. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, consistent with the requirements and intent of Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the Montana and Minnesota Courts appropriately communicated and cooperated to resolve the jurisdictional issue; and (2) there was substantial credible evidence supporting the findings and conclusions of the Montana Court. View "Smalling v. Klubben" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating the parental rights of A.M., the putative father of P.T.D., holding that the district court was not required to comply with the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) when terminating A.M.’s parental rights. After P.T.D. was removed from Mother’s custody, the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division identified P.T.D. as an Indian child subject to the ICWA. See 25 U.S.C. 1912. Later, the Department filed a petition to terminate A.M.’s parental rights as P.T.D.’s putative father. By that time, P.T.D. had been in foster care for nearly two years, and A.M. had no meaningful contact with P.T.D., nor had he established a relationship with the child. The district court determined that termination of A.M.’s parental rights was in P.T.D.’s best interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the requirements of ICWA were inapplicable to the facts of this case and that the district court’s decision to terminate A.M.’s parental rights was not clearly erroneous. View "In re P.T.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order terminating Father’s parental rights to his daughter, M.B., holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. On appeal, Father argued that the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division violated his due process rights when it withheld discovery and that the district court erroneously determined that the Department met its burden under Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609(1)(f) to terminate his parental rights. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) Father failed to establish that the Department’s failure to provide complete discovery amounted to a due process violation; (2) this Court declines to review Father’s claim that his treatment plans were inappropriate; and (3) the district court’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, and its conclusions of law were correct. View "In re M.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that the court erred in proceeding with termination of parental rights in the absence of a conclusive tribal determination regarding each child’s status as an Indian child defined by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a threshold determination of whether the two children were Indian children based on a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership and eligibility in the Blackfeet Tribe. The Court noted that the district court may re-enter judgment against Mother on the merits of its prior findings of fact and conclusions of law if it found and concluded on a conclusive tribal determination that the two children are not Indian children. View "In re D.E." on Justia Law