Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her child, S.C.L., holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Mother did not overcome the presumption that termination was in S.C.L.’s interests or in terminating Mother’s parental rights to S.C.L. On appeal, Mother conceded that she did not comply with the approved treatment plan but argued that the conduct or condition rendering her unfit was likely to change without a reasonable time. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the district court’s consideration of Mother’s history and her inability to care for her older children did not violate Mont. R. Evid. 404(b); (2) overwhelming evidence supported the district court’s determination that the conduct or condition rendering Mother unfit, unwilling, or unable to parent was unlikely to change within a reasonable time; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in S.C.L.’s best interests. View "In re S.C.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to J.D., holding that although the district court abused its discretion by issuing a subpoena for privileged communication between Father and his therapist and by allowing certain cross-examination, the errors were harmless. At issue on appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion in granting a court appointed special advocate (CASA) a subpoena to review notes from Father’s therapist and in allowing the CASA to question witnesses at the termination of the parental rights hearing. The Supreme Court held that the district court did abuse its discretion as to these issues, but because the record supported the district court’s decision to terminate the parents’ parental rights without reference to the material that should have been excluded, the district court’s decision did not warrant reversal. View "In re J.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two minor children for failure to comply with a reunification-oriented treatment plan, holding that the district court’s failure to properly determine whether the children were Indian children before terminating Mother’s parental rights was harmless. On appeal, Mother asserted that the district court abused its discretion by failing properly to confirm or dispel a reason to know that the children were Indian children as defined by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, 25. U.S.C. 1901, et seq. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, in light of a subsequently and conclusive tribal determination that neither child was eligible for tribal enrollment, the district court’s abuse of discretion in failing to comply with 25 U.S.C. 1912(a) and 25 C.F.R. 23.107(b) and 23.108 was harmless. View "In re S.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Montana district court temporarily suspending a previously imposed parenting plan for L.G.B., a minor child, holding that the district court did not erroneously grant and maintain a temporary emergency order pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-220(2)(a)(ii) without an adequate showing and finding of changed circumstances under Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-219(1) and -220(1). Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not erroneously modify the parties’ prior parenting plan without a sufficient finding of changed circumstances as required by section 40-4-219(1); (2) did not erroneously limit Mother to supervised visitation without making a sufficient finding under section 40-4-218(2); (3) did not erroneously fail to refer this matter to Family Court Services in violation of the then-governing local rule; and (4) did not abuse its discretion in precluding admission of a psychological evaluation report authored by a non-testifying mental health professional. View "In re Marriage of Bessette" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court affirming the order of the standing master denying Mother’s request to relocate with the parties’ child and ordering the parenting plan, which provided for the child to continue to reside on a primary basis in Montana, holding that the district court’s affirmation of the standing master’s decision was not in error. In a stipulated final parenting plan, both parents were given nearly equal parenting time. Mother subsequently filed a notice of intent to relocate, seeking to move to Boston with the child. Father objected, and a hearing was held before the standing master. The standing master denied Mother’s request to relocate, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the standing master’s findings were supported by the evidence presented and were not clearly erroneous, and the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in affirming the standing master’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. View "Northcutt v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order and decree of adoption issued by the district court terminating Father’s parental rights and ordering the adoption of his minor daughter, L.F.R., by her stepfather, K.J.D., holding that the district court’s failure to notify Father of his right to counsel violated his constitutional rights. During a hearing on the petition for termination of Father’s parental rights, Father appeared but was not represented by counsel. On appeal, Father argued that the district court’s failure to notify him of his right to counsel during the proceeding violated his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Father did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel. The Court remanded the cause for a new hearing. View "In re Adoption of L.F.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court amending the parenting plan of Mother and Father, holding that the district court did not err in amending the parties’ parenting plan. On appeal, Mother argued that the district court made several errors when it amended the parties’ initial parenting plan. Primarily, Mother argued that the district court erred in its application of Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-219(1), the statute controlling parenting plan amendments. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) amending a parenting plan pursuant to a periodic-review provision exists as an alternative to amending a parenting plan pursuant to section 40-4-219(1); and (2) the district court properly amended the initial parenting plan and did not abuse its discretion in determining that an amendment was in the child’s best interest. View "Sinram v. Berube" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it continued with child custody proceedings before conclusively determining the children’s Indian status. After Mother’s children were adjudicated as youths in need of care the district court terminated Mother’s parental rights. The order stated that the children were not Indian children subject to the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). On appeal, Mother argued that the district court erred in categorizing the children outside the scope of ICWA without first making a conclusive determination that the children were not Indian children pursuant to ICWA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it applied the non-ICWA statutory standards because the court had neither a reason to believe nor a reason to know that the children were Indian children subject to ICWA. View "In re J.J.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Father’s parental rights to his two children, holding that the district court correctly determined to proceed as if the children were Indian children and the Indian Child Welfare Act applied, but the court erred in failing to make specific findings about how or if the facts of the case met the “active efforts” required by clear and convincing evidence prior to removal and beyond a reasonable doubt prior to termination. The district court’s order found that children were Indian children, but neither transcripts nor written orders discussed how the Department of Public Health and Human Services made “active efforts” before removal and before termination. The Supreme Court vacated the district court’s order and remanded the matter for the court to document in detail if the Department met its burden of providing “active efforts” by clear and convincing evidence prior to removal and beyond a reasonable doubt prior to termination pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1912(d) and 25 CFR 23.2. View "In re B.Y." on Justia Law