Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Dakota Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's property division order in this divorce proceeding, holding that the court abused its discretion in excluding farmland Wife purchased with Husband from the marital estate.A relative of Husband sold the farmland at issue to the parties at a discounted purchase price. Because of the discount the circuit court determined that the transfer was a partial gift solely to Husband. Wife appealed, arguing that the circuit court abused its discretion by excluding $1,526,000 of the farm's appraised value from the marital estate. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court applied a rule that would conclusively prevent the entire value of the farm from ever being considered marital property regardless of Wife's contributions, and that the rule is in irreconcilable tension with existing decisional law. View "Field v. Field" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court holding James Farmer in contempt for his failure to follow the terms and conditions of the parties' property settlement agreement and finding that James owed Lori Farmer $331,184.81, holding that the circuit court did not err.The settlement agreement was incorporated with the parties' 2014 judgment and decree of divorce. After a hearing, the circuit court held James in contempt for failing to failure the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement. To satisfy his debt and to purge himself of contempt, the circuit court ordered James to convey to Lori his ownership interests in certain properties and his membership interests in certain entities. The court further ordered James to pay Lori's attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err in holding James in contempt; (2) did not improperly modify the parties' property settlement agreement; and (3) did not err in awarding Lori attorney fees and costs. View "Farmer v. Farmer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court holding that David Leedom's obligation to pay Cindy Leedom monthly alimony in the amount of $3,000 was continuing until modified by the court, that David pay Cindy the accrued alimony of $87,000, and that David's ongoing alimony obligation was $1,750 per month, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.In 2004, the divorce court ordered David to pay Cindy $3,000 in monthly alimony. In 2017, after he reached the age of social security eligibility, David stopped paying alimony. Cindy filed a motion to restore alimony, alleging that David was obligated to pay lifetime alimony of $3,000 monthly. The circuit court ordered David to pay the accrued alimony of $87,000 to Cindy and reduced David's ongoing alimony obligation to $1,750 per month. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err by determining that the original alimony award did not terminate upon David reaching the age of social security eligibility; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it modified the terms of the alimony obligation. View "Leedom v. Leedom" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court dismissing an out-of-state subpoena proceeding as moot, holding that the circuit court properly dismissed the proceedings.During a divorce proceeding in Connecticut between Donald Netter and Stephanie Netter, Stephanie served an out-of-state subpoena duces cecum on South Dakota Trust Company LLC (SDTC) seeking information from certain South Dakota trusts administered by SDTC. Stephanie later filed a motion for a protective order and scheduled a hearing with the South Dakota circuit court because the SDTC and Stephanie were unable to reach an agreement concerning the terms of a protective order for the information sought. SDTC requested additional protections. Before the hearing, Stephanie sought to withdraw the subpoena and the motion for protective order, indicating that the subpoena was no longer necessary. The circuit court allowed Stephanie to withdraw her motion for protective order and dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction and on mootness grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the dispute relating to the out-of-state subpoena was the sole controversy before the circuit court and because Stephanie withdrew her subpoena, there was no longer a dispute before the circuit court, and the matter was moot. View "Netter v. Netter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that the validity of a trust's spendthrift provision prohibiting direct payments of Cleopatra Cameron's child support obligation to her ex-husband, Christopher Pallanck, was recognized by South Dakota law, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion.Cleopatra was a beneficiary of a trust containing spendthrift provisions established by her father. When Christopher filed for divorce, the California family court joined the trust in the divorce action. The family court ordered direct payments from the trust to Christopher. Citing a particular feature of California trust law a California family court previously ordered direct payments of Cleopatra's child support obligation from the trust as part of the couple's divorce. After the situs of the trust was moved to South Dakota Cleopatra sought a declaration as to whether the trust was prohibited from making child support payments directly to Christopher. The circuit court concluded that the trust was prohibited from making child support payments directly to Christopher. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court was not required to submit to the California order compelling direct payments form the trust when the self-executing enforcement was prohibited by South Dakota law. View "In re Cleopatra Cameron Gift Trust" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court dividing marital property, awarding spousal support and attorney fees to Kathleen Taylor in the underlying action for divorce, and levying contempt orders against Bruce Taylor in the proceedings, holding that the spousal support awards and the award of attorney fees must be reversed and remanded.Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in dividing the marital assets; (2) the court abused its discretion by failing to reconsider the interim support order and by maintaining the order until the court rendered its decision seven months after trial; (3) the circuit court did not err in finding Bruce in contempt of court; and (4) the circuit court's award of attorney fees to Kathleen was an abuse of discretion because the award was not based upon an itemized statement of fees provided by Kathleen. View "Taylor v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting Father's motion to modify custody to award him primary physical custody of the parties' minor children, holding that the record supported the court's decision to award primary physical and legal custody to Father.In 2014, the circuit court entered a judgment and decree of divorce based on irreconcilable differences. The judgment and decree incorporated the parties' stipulation providing that Mother would have primary physical custody of the parties' children. In 2016, Father filed a motion for primary physical custody of the children. The circuit court held that the best interest of the children would be served by modifying the judgment and decree of divorce to award primary physical and legal custody of the children to Father. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) had subject matter jurisdiction to determine custody; (2) did not err in concluding that Father did not have a history of domestic abuse; (3) did not err in determining that Father overcame the presumption under S.D. Codified Laws 25-4-45.5; and (4) did not abuse its discretion in awarding primary physical custody to Father. View "Shelstad v. Shelstad" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court granting the Oglala Sioux Tribe's motion to transfer jurisdiction of an abuse and neglect proceeding to tribal court, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion when it granted the Tribe's motion to transfer without hearing the testimony of the child's physician.After the child in this case was born, the State alleged that the child was abused or neglected. At the outset of what was to have been the final disposition hearing, the Tribe orally moved to transfer the abuse and neglect case to tribal court. The circuit court ultimately granted the Tribe's motion to transfer. The child's counsel appealed, challenging the circuit court's order transferring jurisdiction to tribal court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion when it granted the Tribe's motion to transfer without hearing the testimony of the child's physician, who was present in the courtroom. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the Tribe's motion for transfer anew. View "In re Interest of E.T." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the decision of the South Dakota Retirement System (SDRS) denying Debra Lee Anderson’s application for survivor spouse benefits under Deborah Cady’s retirement plan with the SDRS, holding that Anderson was not entitled to receive survivor benefits.Anderson and Cady both worked for the Rapid City Police Department. In 2012, Cady retired from the department. In 2015, Anderson and Cady married. In 2017, Cady died. Anderson applied for survivor spouse benefits, but the SDRS denied the application because Anderson and Cady were not married at the time of Cady’s retirement and because Anderson did not meet the definition of a “spouse” under S.D. Codified Laws 3-12-47(80). The South Dakota Officer of Hearing Examiners and circuit court both affirmed the SDRS. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under the relevant statutes, Anderson could not meet the definition of “spouse” and therefore was not entitled to Cady’s survivor benefits under South Dakota law; and (2) there was no discrimination on the basis of Anderson’s gender or sexual orientation. View "Anderson v. South Dakota Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court dismissing this divorce action between Charlotte Anderson and Arthur Anderson, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that Arthur’s death deprived it of jurisdiction to act.After Charlotte brought this action, the parties informed the court that all issues associated with the divorce had been stipulated to. As relevant to this appeal, the parties agreed that the judgment and decree of divorce would be entered nunc pro tunc to March 1, 2018 and apply retroactively to December 31, 2017. The stipulation was read into the record, and the court orally bound the parties to the stipulation, but before the decree was entered, Arthur died. The circuit court dismissed the divorce action, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to enter a decree of divorce because Arthur’s death had dissolved the marriage. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Arthur’s death abated the jurisdiction of the circuit court to enter a nunc pro tunc decree. View "Andersen v. Andersen" on Justia Law