Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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This case concerns a child custody dispute between Kelly K. Fitzgerald and James W.A. Jackson. The parties have two minor children, who have dual citizenship of the United States and Australia. The children have lived in Rhode Island with the Plaintiff since 2015. The Defendant, an Australian citizen, argued that the Family Court of Rhode Island lacked jurisdiction over the dispute, contending that there was a simultaneous case in Australia and that he had no personal ties to Rhode Island.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Family Court's decision over the custody dispute, confirming that Rhode Island had jurisdiction over the matter. The Supreme Court confirmed that the Family Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over child-custody cases as a matter of law and that the defendant had waived the issue of personal jurisdiction and consented to jurisdiction in Rhode Island by availing himself of the laws of Rhode Island.The Court found that the Family Court had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) because Rhode Island was the children's home state at the time the proceedings were commenced, and no other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in the act. The UCCJEA treats a foreign country as if it were a state of the United States for the purpose of applying its provisions. The Court also noted that the Australian court had declined to exercise jurisdiction over the case, further supporting the Family Court's jurisdiction.The Court also rejected the defendant's argument that the Family Court should not have issued orders regarding child support and custody without first making a jurisdictional finding, noting that the defendant himself had filed a motion for custody, participated in mediation, and submitted a form prior to a hearing on child support. The Court concluded that the hearing justice did not err in finding that the Rhode Island Family Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter.Finally, the Court concluded that the hearing justice erred in not ruling on the defendant's emergency motion for temporary orders, apparently seeking visitation with the children during the summer, because at the time, no order had been entered divesting the Family Court of jurisdiction, and no appeal had been filed. The matter was remanded to the Family Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Fitzgerald v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the defendant, Laurie Cronan, challenged a divorce judgement entered by the general magistrate of the Family Court. She primarily disputed the magistrate's authority to preside over the contested divorce trial. Additionally, she disagreed with the magistrate's decisions regarding the distribution of the marital estate, the valuation of premarital assets, and the denial of her request for alimony.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the decision of the Family Court. The court found that the issue of the magistrate's authority could have been raised at the trial level but wasn't, hence it was waived on appeal. Regarding the distribution of marital assets, the court found that the general magistrate did not err in determining the value of the plaintiff's equity interest in his medical practice based on the binding shareholder agreement, rather than its fair market value. The court also upheld the general magistrate's decision to deny the defendant's request for alimony, finding that he properly considered all requisite statutory elements and that the defendant would be financially independent and self-sufficient without alimony. Lastly, the court found no error in the general magistrate's valuation of the plaintiff's premarital assets. View "Cronan v. Cronan" on Justia Law

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This case involves the appeal of a Superior Court judgment in favor of the intervenor, Isabel DaPina Costa, following the grant of her motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff, Clara Martins, is the mother of Orlando A. Da Cruz who died in 2008. His death certificate referred to Costa as his spouse, but Martins disputed this, claiming Costa was merely Da Cruz's "live-in girlfriend". Martins filed a complaint in Superior Court in 2019 seeking to amend her son's death certificate. Costa intervened, arguing that the applicable statute of limitations, under G.L. 1956 § 9-1-13(a), had expired. The Superior Court granted Costa's motion for summary judgment, and Martins appealed.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. On appeal, Martins argued that her claim was not a civil action and therefore not subject to the statute of limitations under § 9-1-13(a). She pointed to another statute, G.L. 1956 § 23-3-21, which governs the correction and amendment of vital records, as the controlling statute for her claim. However, the Court found that Martins had not raised this argument at the lower court level, and thus it was not preserved for appellate review. Even if it had been preserved, the Court would have held that § 9-1-13(a) applies to her claim.The Court noted that while some requests to amend vital records may not be subject to a statute of limitations, not all such requests require the commencement of a civil action. In this case, Martins had commenced a civil action by filing her complaint in Superior Court, and as such, her claim was subject to the statute of limitations under § 9-1-13(a). Therefore, her complaint was barred by this statute. View "In re Da Cruz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the family court trial justice affirming the decision and order entered by the General Magistrate of the family court granting Plaintiff's motion to relocate permanently to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the parties' minor child, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff filed this action and an ex parte motion seeking temporary custody and physical possession of the parties' child. The court granted the motion, after which Plaintiff filed a verified emergency motion to relocate to Massachusetts. The family court granted the emergency motion to relocate. The general magistrate granted the motion to relocate, and the family court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the family court did not erroneously affirm the general magistrate's decision and order concluding that allowing Plaintiff to relocate permanently to Massachusetts was in the child's best interests. View "Dawson v. Ojeda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Mother's parental rights with respect to her daughter (Child), holding that the trial justice did not err in finding by clear and convincing evidence that the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) made reasonable efforts to achieve reunification between Mother and Child.DCYF filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights on the grounds that she and Father were unfit to parent Child under R.I. Gen. Laws 15-7-7(a)(2)(i) and (a)(3). After a trial, the trial justice granted DCYF petition to terminate Mother's parental rights, determining that DCYF met its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it employed reasonable efforts to achieve reunification. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not clearly error or overlook or misconceive material evidence in determining that DCYF made reasonable efforts to achieve reunification. View "In re R.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the orders of the family court reopening a divorce case finalized by the family court more than two decades ago and awarding Steven Capaldi a portion of his pension to Anne Farrer, holding that the trial justice's decision granting Anne's motion for relief was incorrect as a matter of law.In 1993, the family court entered final judgment in the underlying divorce case. In 2017, Anne filed a motion for post-judgment relief seeking an award of one-half interest in the marital portion of Steven's pension on the ground that Steven "concealed" the pension at the time of the divorce. The trial justice granted relief. The Supreme Court vacated the decision below, holding that the statute of limitations in R.I. Gen. Laws 9-1-17 barred Anne's belated request to reopen the final judgment. View "Capaldi v. Capaldi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the family court determining and assigning marital property, sanctioning Defendant $50,000, and ordering a $16,000 credit to Plaintiff, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.In 2000, the parties in this case married, and in 2017, the parties initiated divorce proceedings based on irreconcilable difference. At issue before the Supreme Court was the trial court's determination and equitable distribution of marital assets. After an eight-day trial, the trial justice issued a bench decision. Defendant appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice (1) did not err in the determination and assignment of marital assets; (2) did not err in the imposition of sanctions; and (3) did not abuse her discretion in ordering a $16,000 credit to Plaintiff. View "DiDonato v. DiDonato" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Father's parental rights to his daughter, R.M., holding that Father was not entitled to relief as to his arguments on appeal.The Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Father based on his incarceration and the child's placement the care of DCYF for more than twelve months. The trial justice ultimately determined that DCYF had met its burden of proof for the termination of parental rights petition by clear and convincing evidence and that termination of Father's parental rights was in the best interests of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err in (1) its finding as to parental unfitness; (2) finding that DCYF made reasonable efforts to "encourage and strengthen the parental relationship"; and (3) determining that it was in R.M.'s best interests for Father's parental rights to be terminated. View "In re R.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court in favor of Mother and permitting Mother to vaccinate the parties' two minor children for COVID-19 consistent with the recommendation of the children's pediatrician, holding that there was no error.In 2020, the family court entered a final judgment of divorce between the parties setting forth provisions governing the children's custody and visitation, including the provision that "[n]either party shall unreasonably withhold his or her consent to medical treatment for the children or the administration of medication recommendation by the pediatrician of the children." In 2022, Plaintiff filed a motion for relief after final judgment seeking the court's permission to vaccinate the children for COVID-19, consistent with the pediatrician's recommendation. The trial justice allowed the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice's factual findings did not overlook or misconceive any aspect of the matter, nor were they otherwise clearly wrong. View "Nagel v. Nagel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court issued pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 15-7-7(a)(3) terminating Father's parental rights to his son, J.B. holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.The Department of Children, Youth, and Families filed a petition in the family court to terminate the parental rights of Father based on two grounds of unfitness. After a trial, the trial justice found clear and convincing evidence that Father was not a fit parent who could care for J.B. immediately and that it was in J.B.'s best interests to terminate Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that competent evidence supported the findings of the trial justice that Father was an unfit parent pursuant to section 15-7-7(a)(3) and that termination of Father's parental rights was in J.B.'s best interests. View "In re J.B." on Justia Law