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 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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court modifying the parties' prior Florida parenting plan, holding that the district court did not erroneously modify the parties' Florida parenting plan in violation of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. In 2015, the Florida circuit court dissolved the parties' marriage, and the court adopted a stipulated parenting plan. In 2018, Father filed a district court petition for Montana registration of the 2015 Florida parenting plan. The district court entered a permanent order of protection modifying the parties' Florida parenting plan. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly acted within its emergency jurisdiction under Mont. Code Ann. 40-7-204(1) and that the order substantially complied with Mont. Code Ann. 40-7-204(3). View "In re Marriage of Kirkman" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the termination of Father's parental rights to his son, holding that the district court did not err by finding that the Department of Health and Human Services made reasonable efforts to reunite Father and his child. After the district court terminated Father's rights to his child Father argued that the Department did not make reasonable efforts to reunite him with his child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while Father's challenge to the Department's reasonable efforts at trial was not developed, there as ample evidence in the record to establish that the Department made reasonable efforts to reunite Father with his child; and (2) the district court did not err in concluding that Father failed to complete a court-approved treatment plan, his conduct or condition rendering him unfit to parent the child was unlikely to change within a reasonable time, and that his rights to the child should be terminated. View "Matter of C.M.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of counsel's ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced and his parental rights were terminated. In arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel as it related to placement of the children and his stipulation to a treatment plan, Father pointed out that he was the non-offending, non-custodial parent and that there were no allegations of abuse or neglect ever brought in this case against him. Father asserted that but forms counsel's failure to correct legal misunderstandings, failure to object to an unnecessary treatment plan, and failure to request a placement hearing, his parental rights would not have been terminated. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division did not prove the existence of good cause to deny immediate placement with Father; and (2) Father's fundamental rights were prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re B.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Daughters' motion to invalidate parts of Father's will in probate proceedings, holding that Daughters' claim was not properly brought in the probate proceedings. When Father died his property was devised by will to Son. In the probate proceedings, Daughters moved to invalidate parts of the will, claiming that the will contravened a prior marital property settlement agreement between Father and his ex-wife. The district court denied the motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it determined that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the separation agreement while sitting in probate. View "In re Estate of Cooney" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to Child, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in terminating Mother's parental rights to Child. Specifically, the Court held (1) Mother was afforded fundamentally fair procedures comporting with her constitutional due process rights when the district court terminated her parental rights; and (2) while the district court determined that Child was "abused or neglected" prior to terminating Mother's parental rights there was substantial and credible evidence in the record to support the district court's finding that Mother's circumstances remained unchanged following her prior terminations. View "In re C.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Jennifer Hansen's petition for dissolution of marriage on the basis that she failed to establish a common law marriage with Thomas Roffe, holding that the district court correctly ruled that the parties' relationship was not spousal. Specifically, the Court held that the record reflected the parties' mutual decision to remain as life partners throughout their ten-year relationship, not spouses, and that the district court was correct in finding that Roffe did not consent to the marriage and that the public did not view Roffe and Hansen as a married couple. Therefore, the Court held that Hansen failed to meet her burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a common law marriage existed with Roffe. View "In re Marriage of Hansen & Roffe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that a common law marriage existed between the parties in this case and awarding spousal maintenance and child support and equitably dividing the property. As a result of finding a valid common law marriage, the district court awarded spousal maintenance to be paid by Karen Nelson to Lora Adami, equitably divided the parties' estate, calculated Nelson's child and medical support, and awarded Adami attorney's fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that Adami established a common law marriage with Nelson; (2) did not commit procedural errors requiring reversal; (3) did not abuse its discretion in granting a variance from child support guidelines in its calculation of child support; and (4) did not err in awarding Adami attorney's fees. View "In re J.K.N.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's rights to his two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court erred by proceeding without applying the requirements and standards of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) during the first year of the case, but the violations did not require invalidation of the proceedings; (2) even if the Department of Public Heath and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) failed to provide proper notice of the proceedings to the Little Shell Tribe as required by ICWA, any error was harmless; (3) the Department provided Father with active efforts to reunify his family; and (4) the district court applied the correct standards when terminating Father's parental rights, and the court's finding that Father was unlikely to change in a reasonable period of time was supported by substantial evidence and not an abuse of discretion. View "In re S.B." on Justia Law