Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court

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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court declaring that Mother neglected and abused her two children, Madlyn and Luke. Specifically, the Court held (1) there was sufficient evidence to support an inference that Mother had abused and neglected Luke; (2) the trial justice did not err in finding that Mother was Luke’s primary caregiver and that it was reasonable to infer that Mother either perpetrated physical abuse upon Luke or allowed the same to occur; (3) Mother’s argument that certain statements made by a physician were inadmissible hearsay was waived; and (4) the trial justice did not abuse his discretion in allowing Father to remain in the courtroom, notwithstanding Mother’s motion to sequester. View "In re Madlyn B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court denying Mother’s motion to relocate with the parties’ four minor children from Rhode Island to Australia, holding that the hearing justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence in reaching his decision, nor were his factual findings clearly wrong. After a hearing on Mother’s motion, the hearing justice concluded that relocation would not be in the children’s best interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no reason to disturb the ruling of the hearing justice that relocation of the minor children to Australia would not be in their best interests. View "Ainsworth v. Ainsworth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the family court finding that Defendant and Plaintiff were married at common law, holding that the trial justice’s factual findings did not represent “a firm belief or conviction” that the parties seriously intended to enter into a mutual husband and wife relationship. Plaintiff filed for a divorce from Defendant. The family court found clear and convincing evidence that the parties were married at common law since 1995, concluding that Defendant’s testimony was largely incredible and Plaintiff’s testimony was mostly credible. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial justice misconceived the evidence in finding that Defendant and Plaintiff had a present and mutual intent to be married at common law. View "Luis v. Gaugler" on Justia Law