Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the family court terminating Plaintiff's marriage to Defendant on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, holding that the trial justice neither erred nor abused her discretion in her assignment of specific martial assets or in determining the amount of Plaintiff's child support obligation. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged several of the specific asset allocations as well as the amount of child support Plaintiff was ordered to pay Defendant, arguing that there was either error or abuse of discretion in the part of the trial justice. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in its allocation and distribution of Defendant's investment accounts, in offsetting spending from marital assets, in allocating assets from individual bank accounts, and in ordering Plaintiff to pay a certain amount of child support. View "Boschetto v. Boschetto" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court denying Father's motions to modify visitation placement, ordering Father's visitation to remain suspended, granting in part Mother's motion for a mental health examination of Father, and ordering the parties to engage a counselor for the purposes of Father's psychological evaluation as well as for a parent-child evaluation of Father and the minor children, holding that the family court did not err. The parties in this case were divorced and shared joint custody of their three minor children with physical possession granted to Mother and visitation to Father. After a few years, the family court suspended Father's visitation and ordered him to undergo a mental health examination. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not abuse his discretion when he issued the order. View "Tsonos v. Tsonos" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the order of the family court denying Father's motion for a new trial following an order that denied Father's motion to change custody and awarded sole custody of the parties' children to Mother, holding that the trial justice improperly determined that Plaintiff should be awarded sole custody. Following the entry of final judgment of divorce Father moved to modify placement, seeking an order awarding him placement of the children. The trial justice granted Mother's motion to dismiss, finding that Defendant had not met his burden of showing a substantial change in circumstances. The trial justice then found that the parents could not co-parent the children and granted sole custody to Mother. The Supreme Court vacated the order in part, holding that the trial justice (1) did not abuse her discretion when she denied Defendant's motion to modify custody; and (2) erred in awarding sole custody to Mother without determining that the change of placement was in the best interests of the children. View "Souza v. Souza" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the family court did not err when it terminated the rights of Mother, the non-Indian mother of an Indian child who was born suffering from severe medical issues. The trial court terminated Mother's rights after applying the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), finding that the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) had met the burden under the ICWA of engaging in active efforts to reunify the child with Mother, and concluding that the child would face serious emotional and physical harm if Mother was given custody of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err when she found that DCYF engaged in "active efforts" to reunify the child with mother as required by the ICWA in section 1912(d). View "In re Roman A." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated in part a family court final judgment of divorce and otherwise affirmed, holding that without a finding as to Wife's ability to pay for her legal representation during the course of the divorce proceedings, the trial justice's denial of Wife's request for attorneys' fees must be vacated and remanded for findings of fact whether to award attorneys' fees under Neb. Rev. Stat. 15-5-16. Specifically, the Court held that the trial justice (1) did not abuse his discretion in denying Wife's request to relocate with the children to Ohio; (2) did not err in awarding temporary use of the home to Wife for thirty months, after which time the home would be sold; (3) did not err in his award of child support; (4) erred in awarding attorneys' fees and costs; (5) did not err in the equitable distribution of the marital property; (6) did not err in setting the visitation schedule; and (7) did not abuse his discretion in determining the amount of sanctions imposed on Husband. View "Saltzman v. Saltzman" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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