Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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Raisa Pinto ("Mother") and Sailesh Arulkumar ("Father") were married in 2015. Both parents were trained physicians who attended medical school in India. In the summer of 2017, the couple moved to Oklahoma to allow Mother to attend a three-year Hematology and Oncology fellowship at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center ("OUHSC"). In July 2017, shortly after beginning her fellowship, Mother gave birth to the couple's only child. At the time, Father was working in Tulsa, commuting from the couple's home in Oklahoma City. He later took a job in Oklahoma City to reduce his commute time. In April 2018, Mother filed for divorce in Oklahoma County. The trial court granted the couple's divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. In its order, the trial court designated Mother as the custodial parent, but ordered equal visitation time. The couple has adhered to the custody plan and split time with their child equally since the divorce. While completing the final year of her fellowship, Mother began her search for employment. During her job search, Mother applied to 120 positions and underwent thirty interviews. Of those interviews, Mother received seven job offers for positions located in California, New York, and Pennsylvania. Mother did not receive any job offers in Oklahoma. Prior to accepting an out of state job offer, Mother contacted Father to inquire if he knew of any job openings in Oklahoma. The next day Mother accepted an offer from a hospital in New York. Later that month, Mother notified Father of her intent to relocate to which Father timely objected. Although finding Mother's request was made in good faith, the trial court denied the relocation request finding Father met his burden showing relocation was not in the child's best interest. Mother appealed the trial court's ruling. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother's proposed relocation. View "Arulkumar v. Arulkumar" on Justia Law

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Appellee Andrea Milne dated Appellant Howard Hudson. During an argument, Hudson became violent with Milne. Milne sought a civil protection order from the McIntosh County district court, as the couple dated in in Eufaula, Oklahoma. She stated in her application, and testified at a hearing, that Hudson first attacked her in a car, slamming her head into the dashboard. When they got to her house, he hit her and threw her across her yard. Finally, he pushed his way into her house, grabbed some of his belongings, and struck her in front of her children. When the children came to her aid, he absconded, but returned later and threatened to burn the house down. Milne testified that after the afternoon of violent acts, he stalked her at home, around town, and at her workplace. This application and testimony, though not tested by investigation or cross-examination, "were certainly enough to justify an order of protection." Hudson objected, claiming that the district court had no jurisdiction to enter the eventual order. Hudson argued that because McIntosh County was within the boundaries of the Muscogee Reservation, Milne was a member of the Muscogee Nation, and Hudson was a member of the Cherokee Nation, the McIntosh District Court had no jurisdiction to enter a civil protective order against him. The trial court denied the objection and entered the civil protection order. The Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision. View "Milne v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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Pro Se respondent-appellant Anthony Hammer (Father) was a member of the Cherokee Nation. His parental rights to his children were terminated, and he sought to collaterally attack the termination order using: McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020); the United States' 1866 treaty with the Cherokee, Treaty with the Cherokee, U.S.-Cherokee Nation, July 19, 1866, 14 Stat. 799; and the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Father argued the district court never acquired jurisdiction because the children were domiciled or resided within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation. The district court implicitly found Children were not residents or domiciliaries of a reservation. At no point in the original proceedings did Father or the tribe allege otherwise. No direct appeal was filed from the original order. Instead, Father brought a claim to vacate more than a year after the judgment terminating his parental rights became final. "A motion to vacate is not a substitute for a timely appeal. A judgment will only be vacated as void if the lack of jurisdiction affirmatively appears on the face of the judgment roll." Because Father failed to demonstrate the judgment was void, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Father's motion to vacate. View "Hammer v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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After appellant Paul Laubach (father), and the appellee Maria Laubach (mother) divorced, the mother sought approval from the trial court to move across the state with their children. The father objected. Among the numerous orders issued by the trial court in this case was a minute order filed April 17, 2018. After the father's appeal culminated in two consolidated cases, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals dismissed a portion of the appeals when it held that the April 17, 2018, minute order was an appealable order which was appealed out of time. Consequently, it dismissed the portion of the father's appeals which transpired from that order. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari for the limited purpose of addressing whether written instruments titled "court minute," "minute order," "minute," or "summary order," could ever serve as an appealable order, so as to trigger the time to appeal. To this, the Court held that they did not. Consequently, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals opinion, and remanded this case to the Court of Civil Appeals for further proceedings. View "Laubach v. Laubach" on Justia Law

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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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Husband filed a petition seeking appointment as guardian over his wife. The parties' daughter, Christy Hladik, objected and sought to have herself appointed. In July 2020, the trial court entered the Court's First Amended Plan for Care and Treatment of Ward and Management of Property of the Ward. A month later, the trial court appointed daughter as guardian over the person and property of Wife. Husband appealed, and on the Oklahoma Supreme Court's own motion, the matter was retained. After reviewing the record and briefs, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's rulings. View "Walterscheidt v. Hladik" on Justia Law

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Procedurally, after an initial determination of child support and custody, Appellee Kirsten Friend (Mother) sought to modify the child support order and applied to find Appellant Brian Friend (Father) in contempt, claiming he had not paid child support for several months. The district court granted Mother's motions. The trial court found Father in indirect contempt and increased the child support payment. Mother asked for attorney fees and costs, dividing the request into fees incurred for the request to modify child support and fees incurred for the contempt request. Father objected but conceded the only issue was whether Mother was legally entitled to the fees. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that, where a prevailing party is entitled to attorney fees below, they are also entitled to appellate attorney fees; where an award of attorney fees is within the trial court's discretion, a prevailing party may be granted appellate attorney fees. View "Friend v. Friend" on Justia Law

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S.A.H. was born out-of-wedlock on February 3, 2009. S.A.H.'s mother (Mother) had sole legal custody of S.A.H. until Mother could no longer care for the minor child due to a terminal illness. In Case No. 118,986, Appellant S.A.H.'s maternal first cousin (Cousin) appealed the district court's denial of her motion to vacate an order finalizing the adoption of the minor child to Appellees, S.A.H.'s paternal grandparents (Grandparents). In Case No 119,218, Cousin appealed the dismissal of her petition for general guardianship based on Grandparents' adoption of S.A.H. The issues these cases presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the adoption court erred in granting the adoption of the minor child to Grandparents based on the consent of S.A.H.'s father (Father) while Cousin had a claim for general guardianship pending; and (2) whether the guardianship court erred in dismissing Cousin's petition for guardianship due to the adoption. The Supreme Court answered both in the negative: Cousin held no constitutional or statutory right to unwind Grandparents' adoption to which Father consented. Due to Grandparents' adoption of the minor child, a guardianship was not necessary. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of S.A.H." on Justia Law

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Appellant Iris Stacy (Mother) sought certiorari review of an unpublished opinion by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) that affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to I.T.S., I.M.S., and R.E.S. (Children). At issue was the trial court's sua sponte discharge of Mother's court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without representation until State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights over two years later. She argued the trial court's failure to provide her legal representation between the disposition and the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights (a period of 798 days) was contrary to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted her petition to address a question of first impression: Upon request by an Indian child's parent for counsel in a deprived child proceeding, and a finding of indigency, whether the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required court-appointed counsel for the parent at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. The Supreme Court held that section 1912(b) of ICWA required, upon request and a finding of indigency, the appointment of counsel at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. View "In the Matter of I.T.S." on Justia Law

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Appellants Taylor Hudson (Mother) and Cody Hudson (Father) appealed a trial court's judgments terminating their parental rights to their biological children, K.H., C.H., E.H., and C.H. Both judgments were entered on separate jury verdicts finding that clear and convincing evidence supported each parent's “heinous and shocking physical abuse” on another child of Father. After review on rehearing, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) admitting evidence of State's pending criminal child abuse charges against Parents; and (2) giving a jury instruction that listed the criminal charges to support State's amended petition for immediate termination of parental rights was “so inherently prejudicial” that it violated Parents' right to a fair trial. The judgments were reversed, and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "In the Matter of K. H." on Justia Law