Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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Petitioner M.A.B. applied for a Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) protective order against respondent on October 9, 2017. Respondent and petitioner were married in 2014. Together, they had a son, J, who was born in 2015. During the marriage, respondent suffered from depression, for which he took medication. He sometimes also drank to excess. Petitioner testified that respondent raped her twice: once in March 2017 and once in May 2017. The incident in May included respondent dragging petitioner away from J while petitioner was breast feeding. In June 2017, petitioner expressed her unhappiness with the marriage. Respondent replied that, if petitioner left or divorced him, he would kill her and take J. In July 2017, petitioner took J, moved in with her parents, and filed for dissolution. After the separation, respondent made frequent attempts to contact petitioner by phone, email, and text message. At prearranged meetings, respondent regularly exhibited anger toward petitioner. After a hearing, the trial court continued the protective order in its entirety. On appeal, respondent conceded that the trial court’s findings were sufficient to establish that he had abused petitioner within 180 days of petitioner seeking the protective order. Respondent argued, however, that the evidence was insufficient to establish the two other elements: that petitioner was in imminent danger of further abuse from respondent and that respondent presented a credible threat to petitioner’s physical safety. The Court of Appeals agreed with respondent that the evidence was insufficient to show that petitioner was in imminent danger of further abuse from respondent. The court, as a result, reversed the trial court’s order without considering whether respondent represented a credible threat to petitioner’s physical safety. Because the appellate court did not consider whether respondent represented a credible threat to petitioner’s physical safety, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the appeals court to determine that issue in the first instance. View "M. A. B. v. Buell" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the dissolution of a domestic partnership, specifically, how to distribute the appreciation in value of a home in which the parties lived during their time together. The trial court found the parties intended to live as a married couple and share in the appreciation of the home. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in coming to that conclusion. On review, the parties dispute whether the Court of Appeals applied the correct standard of review and whether that court correctly concluded that the parties should share in the appreciation in the home. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals applied an incorrect standard of review, but that it ultimately reached the correct decision. View "Staveland and Fisher" on Justia Law

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Before the Oregon Supreme Court in this case was a child custody dispute arising out of father’s motion to modify a custody determination made at the time of the dissolution of the parties’ marriage, which awarded mother sole legal custody of child. At the conclusion of the modification proceeding, the trial court found that there had been a material change in circumstances concerning mother’s ability to parent child and that a change of custody from mother to father was in child’s best interest, and it awarded sole legal custody of child to father. On mother’s appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court on the ground that, as a matter of law, there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s finding of a change in circumstances and, thus, that custody modification was not warranted. The Supreme Court found sufficient evidence in the record supported the trial court’s ruling that father had proved a change of circumstances. The Court also addressed an issue that the Court of Appeals did not reach: whether the trial court erred in concluding that a change in custody was in child’s best interest. The Court held the trial court did not err in so concluding. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Botofan-Miller and Miller" on Justia Law

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In the juvenile court, mother moved to terminate the court’s wardship over her child, A, and vacate the general guardianship the court had established. Mother’s motion was premised on her assertion that the factual basis for the court’s jurisdiction over A no longer existed. The juvenile court did not determine whether the factual basis for its jurisdiction over A continued to exist; instead, it denied mother’s motion on the ground that mother had failed to establish that vacating the guardianship was in A’s best interests. Mother appealed, and the Court of Appeals vacated the juvenile court’s judgment, holding that, if mother established that the factual basis for the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over A no longer existed, then the juvenile court was required to terminate its wardship over A and, consequently, could not continue the guardianship. Because the juvenile court had not determined whether it was required to terminate its wardship over A, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the juvenile court to make that determination. A’s guardian, petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court concluded the juvenile court had to first determine whether it was required to terminate its wardship over A because, if it was, then the guardianship could not continue. The decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. The judgment of the juvenile court was reversed, and the case was remanded to the juvenile court for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Human Services v. J. C." on Justia Law

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The juvenile court determined that mother was unfit and that it was improbable that child could be returned to mother’s care within a reasonable period of time, satisfying the requirements of ORS 419B.504. However, the court determined, the Department of Human Services had not established, as ORS 419B.500 required, that termination of mother’s parental rights was in child’s best interest. The court acknowledged that the department had proved that child had a need for permanency that could be met by terminating mother’s parental rights and permitting child’s foster parents, his maternal uncle and aunt, to adopt him. However, the court also found that child had an interest in maintaining his bond with his mother and her parents. The court suggested that child’s need for permanency could be satisfied by permitting his foster parents to serve as his permanent guardians and concluded that it was not in his best interest to terminate mother’s rights. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition. In an en banc, split decision, the Court of Appeals determined that child’s pressing need for permanency could have been satisfied if he were “freed for adoption” and that, although naming child’s foster parents as his guardians might mitigate the effects of past disruptions, “leaving open the possibility of a return to mother creates its own instability” and was a “less-permanent” option that was not in child’s best interest. As the division in the Court of Appeals indicated, this was "a close case." The Oregon Supreme Court did not adopt the reasoning of the juvenile court in its entirety, it agreed with its conclusion that, given the particular facts presented here, it was in child’s best interest that his mother’s parental rights not be terminated. The Court of Appeals was reversed and the juvenile court affirmed. View "Dept. of Human Services v. T. M. D." on Justia Law

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In juvenile dependency cases consolidated for review, the issue centered on the permanency plans for two children and half-siblings, L and A, under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Department of Human Services (DHS) arranged for the children to be placed in relative foster care with their maternal aunt. The juvenile court held hearing in accordance with statutory timelines after L had been in relative foster care for about 15 months and A for about 12 months. At the hearing, DHS asked the juvenile court to change the permanency plans for the children from reunification to adoption. The juvenile court did so, but the Court of Appeals reversed, in two separate opinions. DHS sought review, arguing the Court of Appeals had erroneously interpreted the statutes pertaining to changing permanency plans for children within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with DHS that the Court of Appeals incorrectly construed the statutory requirements at issue. Because DHS met its burden to show that the requirements in ORS 419B.476 for changing the permanency plans away from reunification had been met, it was parents’ burden, as the parties seeking to invoke the escape clause, to show that there was a “compelling reason” under ORS 419B.498(2) for DHS not to proceed with petitions to terminate parental rights. The Supreme Court also rejected parents’ arguments that evidence in the record did not support the trial court’s findings in these cases. Accordingly, the decisions of the Court of Appeals were reversed and the judgments of the juvenile court were affirmed. View "Dept. of Human Services v. S. J. M." on Justia Law

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In 2005, the child who was the focus of this proceeding was born. He had an autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, including speech delays, and other significant health issues. In 2010, when the child was five years old, his mother and father divorced. Mother had been his primary caretaker, and she was awarded sole legal custody. In 2015, when the child was 10 years old, the Oregon Department of Human Services investigated reports that mother was neglecting the child’s basic needs and risking his safety by allowing him to have contact with her significant other, L. The department issued a “founded disposition” based on its administrative determination that mother had neglected the child through a “[l]ack of supervision and protection.” The department then filed a petition to obtain dependency jurisdiction over the child. When a parent appeals a jurisdictional judgment making the Department the legal custodian of the parent’s child and that wardship is subsequently terminated, the department may file a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot. In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded termination of such a wardship did not necessarily render the appeal moot; whether dismissal is appropriate will depend on the particular circumstances presented. In this case, the Supreme Court concluded the department met its burden to prove that a jurisdictional judgment would have no practical effect on the rights of the parties and was therefore moot. View "Dept. of Human Services v. A. B." on Justia Law

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In consolidated juvenile dependency cases, father appealed judgments changing the permanent plans for one of his children from reunification with a parent to guardianship and for another child from reunification to another planned permanent living arrangement. Father argued that his trial counsel was inadequate for failing to appear on his behalf at the hearing in which the juvenile court decided to change the permanent plans. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a parent could raise a claim of inadequate assistance of counsel for the first time on direct appeal from judgments changing the permanent plans for his children from reunification with a parent to permanent plans of guardianship and APPLA. After review, the Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative. The Court concluded: (1) the unchallenged rationale of "Oregon ex rel Juv. Dept. v. Geist" (796 P2d 1193 (1990)), was applicable to a direct appeal from judgments that make such changes in the permanent plans for children who were wards of the court in dependency cases; and (2) the legislature’s enactment, following the Supreme Court's decision in "Geist," of a statute that provided a juvenile court procedure for modifying or setting aside a dependency judgment while an appeal from the judgment was pending, did not obviate the need for a direct appeal remedy for father’s claim of inadequate assistance of counsel. View "Dept. of Human Services v. T. L." on Justia Law

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The parties were married for 21 years. At the time of trial, husband was 51 and wife was 53. Husband was a practicing attorney with the Army Corps of Engineers. Wife worked at the Bonneville Power Administration. Both parties were beneficiaries of federal retirement benefits. Because wife was eligible for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) benefits, she was not eligible for Social Security benefits based on her own employment. Husband's civilian federal employment was under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and subject to Social Security taxes. The question presented in this case was whether federal law forbid a division of property by which the value of retirement benefits belonging to the nonparticipating spouse is reduced by the present value of hypothetical Social Security benefits to which that spouse would have been entitled if she had been a Social Security participant. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not violate federal law by "considering" Social Security benefits in that way, it affirmed that court's decision. View "Herald v. Steadman" on Justia Law

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Father sought review of a judgment for unpaid past child support. In the judgment document, the circuit court imposed judgment for the unpaid installments and accrued interest on each installment, and postjudgment interest on both the amount of the unpaid installments and the accrued interest. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court surmised the outcome of this case hinged on the application of two paragraphs of ORS 82.010(2). The trial court relied on the language in paragraph (2)(c). The Supreme Court concluded, however, that the interest at issue in this case was not interest to which ORS 82.010(2)(c) referred. After an initial judgment is entered requiring payment of child support in future recurring installments, interest on unpaid installments is postjudgment, not prejudgment interest, and is not governed by paragraph (2)(c) of ORS 18 82.010. View "Chase v. Chase" on Justia Law