Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court that terminated Mother's parental rights with respect to her daughter, holding that the family court justice's findings were not clearly wrong, and the justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence. On appeal, Mother argued that the family court justice erred in finding unfitness, in concluding that the Department of Children, Youth, and Families made reasonable efforts to provide services to address the circumstances that led to the child's placement in the first instance, and in determining that the termination of Mother's parental rights was in the best interest of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that legally competent evidence existed to supporting the family court justice's findings. View "In re Violet G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the postjudgment order of the family court in favor of Judith Cusick requiring Maurice Cusick to submit to limited genetic testing for the benefit of the parties' minor children, holding that the hearing justice made sufficient findings of fact and did not overlook or misconceive any evidence. Judith, Maurice's former wife, filed her motion for genetic testing after Maurice was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition that poses significant risks that can result in sudden death. The hearing justice granted the motion. Maurice appealed, arguing for the first time that ordering him to submit to genetic testing violated his constitutional rights to privacy and due process. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Maurice's constitutional challenges were not property before the Court; and (2) the hearing justice's conclusion that genetic testing was in the best interest of the children was supported by the evidence, and the order was both balanced and reasonable. View "Cusick v. Cusick" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the family court ordering Joel Trojan to pay $1,796 per month in child support for the parties' minor child, holding that the trial justice erred in calculating the assets available to satisfy Joel's child support obligation. On appeal, Denise Trojan argued that the trial justice erred when he did not order Joel to pay interim and retroactive child support and erred in determining Joel's gross income for the purpose of calculating his child support obligation. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding (1) the trial court acted within the bounds of his discretion in awarding child support; and (2) the trial justice erred when he excluded certain moneys from Joel's gross income. View "Trojan v. Trojan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decree of the family court that terminated Mother's parental rights with respect to her minor son, holding that notice of the hearing date on the petition to terminate Mother's parental rights was improper as a matter of law and that the decree must be vacated and the matter remanded for a hearing with appropriate notice in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws 15-7-9. The family court ordered that an advertisement be placed in a local newspaper notifying Mother the a hearing on the petition to terminate her parental rights would be held on October 3, 2017. Mother was not present at the October 3, 2017 hearing, and the court went forward with the hearing despite Mother's absence. The trial justice determined that Mother was unfit to parent and ordered that Mother's parental rights be terminated. The Supreme Court vacated the decree and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) because there was no affidavit filed in advance of the family court order of notice by publication in accordance with R. I. Gen. Laws 15-7-9, the family court's order of advertisement was improper as a matter of law; and (2) Mother was entitled to procedural due process before the termination of her parental rights. View "In re Joziah B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the family court granting an absolute divorce to Defendant and his former wife, Plaintiff, and ordering an equitable distribution of their marital assets, holding that Defendant's arguments were without merit. Specifically, the Court held (1) the family court had jurisdiction to grant Plaintiff's complaint for divorce, as well as Defendant's counterclaim for divorce, even to those whose religious beliefs repudiate divorce; (2) the family court justice did not abuse her discretion in disproportionately distributing the parties' marital assets; and (3) the family court justice did not abuse her discretion in imposing sanctions requiring Defendant to pay Plaintiff's reasonable attorney's fees under Rule 11 of the Family Court Rules of Procedure for Domestic Relations. View "Smith v. Smith" on Justia Law

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In this case between former spouses who disagreed about the ex-husband's entitlement to visitation with two dogs the parties acquired during their marriage, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court approving the marital settlement agreement (MSA) entered into between Diane and Paul Giarrusso and ordering that Paul had the dogs Tuesdays through Thursdays, as provided in the MSA. Diane and Paul entered into a MSA formalizing the terms of the dissolution of their marriage. The final judgment dissolving the marriage incorporated the MSA. The MSA gave Diane title and interest in and to the two dogs and permitted Paul to take the dogs for weekly visits. After Diane unilaterally ceased allowing the visits, Paul filed a motion for post-final judgment relief. Diane also filed a motion for relief, claiming that Paul had breached the MSA regarding the dogs. The hearing justice denied Diane's requested relief, finding that the MSA unambiguously gave Paul the right to visitation with the dogs every week from Tuesday to Thursday and that Paul acted in good faith with respect to the dogs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing justice did not err in not withdrawing the court's approval of the MSA and did not overlook or misconceive any evidence. View "Giarrusso v. Giarrusso" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the order of the superior court authorizing a permanent receiver to distribute the proceeds from the sale of 25 Burnside Avenue in Narragansett in accordance with the receiver's recommendations, holding that the order is vacated to the extent that it deducted the entire balance of an outstanding mortgage from Kevin Hunt's share of the proceeds. The property in this case was owned by Kevin and Alice Hunt as tenants by the entirety. After the family court dissolved the Hunts' marriage, Bank scheduled a sale of the property to foreclose upon the mortgage. Alice filed a petition for receivership to protect her equity interests in the property, and the property was placed into temporary judicial receivership. The receiver eventually sold the property and filed a final report and a recommendation on allowance of claims. The superior court entered an order adopting the receiver's recommendations. The Supreme Court held that the superior court justice (1) did not err when he concluded that the net proceeds were to be distributed equally between Kevin and Alice; (2) erred when he attributed the mortgage wholly to Kevin; and (3) did not err by ordering Kevin to pay rent retroactively. View "In re 25 Burnside Avenue, Narragansett, R.I." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decree of the family court finding that Mother abused and neglected her infant child, holding that the trial justice's findings were not supported by legally competent evidence. The trial justice determined that the child was abused and neglected as to both Father and Mother and ordered that the child be committed to the care, custody, and control of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. On appeal, Mother argued that the trial justice overlooked or misconceived relevant law evidence, ignored evidence contradicting her findings, disregarded uncontroverted evidence, and based her finding of abuse and neglect on "an impermissible pyramid of inferences[.]" The Supreme Court held that, under the clear and convincing standard, the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of abuse or neglect as to Mother. View "In re Sophia M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court denying a miscellaneous petition filed by Plaintiff pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 15-5-24.1 and 15-5-24.3 for grandparent visitation with two children of her daughter, who was deceased, holding that the hearing justice was within his discretion in denying Plaintiff’s petition. Defendant, who was previously married to Plaintiff’s daughter, was the biological father of the two children at issue in this case and had full custody of the children. Plaintiff filed this petition seeking grandparent visitation alleging that Defendant had refused her visitation requests. The hearing justice denied Plaintiff’s petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing justice did not abuse his discretion in denying Plaintiff’s petition for grandparent visitation. View "MacTavish-Thurber v. Gauvin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the Family Court terminating Father’s parental rights with respect to his daughter, holding that that any errors complained of were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, the Court held that the Family Court justice (1) did not abuse her discretion by qualifying a certain witness as an expert and relying on her testimony; (2) admitting the child’s letter into evidence pursuant to R.I. R. Evid. 803(4); and (3) taking judicial notice of Form 188, the Disclosure of Permanency Planning form. View "In re Izabella G." on Justia Law