Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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At issue in this case was whether a superior court erred in it affirmed a Court of Common Please Criminal Division's decision overturning a Montgomery County District Attorney (DA) decision. The DA had disapproved the private criminal complaint of Luay Ajaj (Father) against Saja Ibrahim Abdulkareem Al Rabeeah (Mother) for violations of 18 Pa. C.S. § 2904(a) (interference with custody of children), and 18 Pa. C.S. § 2909(a) (concealment of whereabouts of a child). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the proper standard of review courts should apply when reviewing a disapproval decision under Rule of Criminal Procedure 506(B)(2) was: if the private complainant demonstrated that the disapproval decision amounted to bad faith, occurred due to fraud, or was unconstitutional. Applying that standard of review here, the Court concluded Father failed to demonstrate that the DA’s decision to disapprove the Complaint amounted to bad faith, occurred due to fraud, or was unconstitutional, and, consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order. View "In Re: Private Comp. Filed by L. Ajaj" on Justia Law

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Child K.N.L. (born 2010) was adjudicated dependent and committed to the custody of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2015. The parental rights of the child’s biological parents were terminated involuntarily in 2017. The juvenile court vacated the custodial and visitation rights of the child’s former caregiver, R.B.P., who had been the legal guardian at the time she entered foster care. In 2018, with the support and consent of DHS, the child’s foster parent filed a report of intention to adopt and petition to adopt the child. Prior to the finalization, the child’s biological maternal aunt, D.M., moved to intervene in the adoption matter as well as her own petition to adopt the child. Appellant T.B., the adult child of the former guardian R.P.B., also sought to intervene and to adopt the child. The child was removed from the pre-adoptive foster home and the foster parent requested to withdraw her pending adoption petition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review of this matter to determine whether the juvenile court erred when it denied appellant standing — based on in loco parentis status — to intervene in the adoption of the child, and concluded the juvenile court did err. The court interpreted and applied relevant Adoption Act provisions strictly, as principles of limitation on standing in an adoption action, in contravention of 23 Pa.C.S. §2312 and the applicable case law, rather than assessing whether appellant demonstrated a genuine and substantial interest in having a formal, permanent parental role in the child’s life as a result of the in loco parentis status he pleaded. " The Supreme Court remanded this case to the adoption court to consider appellant's standing anew in light of the proper standards. View "In the Int. of: K.N.L." on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether certain life insurance and individual retirement account (IRA) proceeds that Johanna Goodwin (Wife) acquired as sole beneficiary prior to the dissolution of her marriage to Scott Goodwin (Husband) fell within the purview of Section 3501(a)(3) of Pennsylvania's Divorce Code. The Supreme Court held that, under the circumstances presented here, such proceeds constituted “gifts” as the term was used in Section 3501(a)(3), and, thus, they were excluded from the marital estate for equitable distribution purposes. Because the Superior Court reached the same conclusion, the judgment of that court was affirmed. View "Goodwin v. Goodwin" on Justia Law

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Mother J.B., lived with her two young children (“Y.W.-B” and “N.W.-B”) and the children’s father (“Father”) in Philadelphia. In 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (“DHS”) allegedly received a general protective services report (“GPS report”) from an unidentified source alleging possible neglect by Mother. Although DHS referenced this GPS report several times at the evidentiary hearing and used it to refresh its sole witness’s recollection, it inexplicably never introduced it into evidence. The proceedings revealed the allegation suggested Mother was homeless and failed to feed one of her children during a single eight-hour period. DHS used this allegation as grounds to enter and inspect the family residence. The issue for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether DHS established sufficient probable cause for the trial court to issue the order permitting entry into the home without consent. To this, the Court concluded DHS did not establish probable cause, and thus reversed the order of the Superior Court holding to the contrary. View "In the Interest of: N.W.-B." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in quashing the notice of appeal filed by the Family Court of the Court of Common Pleas of the First Judicial District (the Family Court) on the basis that the trial court’s order was not an appealable collateral order under Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 313. Because the Court concluded the trial court’s order denying summary judgment on sovereign immunity grounds was a collateral order, appealable as of right under Rule 313, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "Brooks v. Cole, et al." on Justia Law

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The trial court in this case denied a county agency’s petitions to terminate involuntarily the parental rights of a mother. The agency appealed to the Superior Court, which reversed the trial court’s order and effectively terminated the mother’s parental rights to two of her children. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the mother’s petitions for allowance of appeal to consider two issues: (1) whether the Superior Court’s decision conflicted with the Supreme Court's decision in In re R.J.T., 9 A.3d 1179 (Pa. 2010); and (2) whether the Superior Court erred by substituting its judgment for that of the trial court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court exceeded its standard of review. "Rather than examining the record to determine whether it supports the trial court’s conclusion that the various conditions that led to the Children’s removal from Mother’s custody no longer continue to exist, the intermediate court focused exclusively on one condition that led to the Children’s removal, i.e., Mother’s mental health issues, and searched the record to support its view that Mother has failed to address this condition adequately. Because the Superior Court erred by substituting its judgment for that of the trial court, we vacate the Superior Court’s judgment and reinstate the trial court’s order." View "In the Interest of: S.K.L.R." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review of a Superior Court’s decision to invalidate the involuntary termination of a father’s parental rights. The child’s mother voluntarily relinquished her own rights, but continued to reside with the pre-adoptive maternal grandparents and maintain her parental role. The panel viewed the matter to involve unlawful custody gamesmanship in conflict with the Supreme Court's decision in In re Adoption of M.R.D., 145 A.3d 1117 (Pa. 2016). Although the Supreme Court found no direct conflict between the proposed adoption and M.R.D., and disapproved of the Superior Court’s holding to the contrary, the Supreme Court affirmed the panel’s disposition on the alternative grounds. View "Adoption of C.M." on Justia Law

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In the pendency of divorce proceedings, Appellee and her husband entered into agreement governing the shared custody of their five-year-old child. Appellee repeatedly and intentionally violated this custody agreement, eventually absconding with the child ultimately to Florida, where the child remained for forty-seven days separated from her father. Appellee claimed the father was abusive, her attempts to secure assistance from the local children and youth agency had been rebuffed, and she had no option but to remove the child from the father’s care. Appellee was apprehended and charged with interference with custody of children. At trial, the Commonwealth presented testimony from the father, a clinical psychologist, a social worker, and a detective to the effect that Appellee’s allegations were false and/or unfounded. Appellee said she had been advised by a nanny the child had disclosed an incident of offensive touching by the father, and that subsequently the child repeatedly made statements to Appellee personally which were indicative of abuse. Appellee also presented the nanny’s corroborative testimony, and her cousin attested the child had apprised her of inappropriate touching too. The Pennsylvania Legislature prescribed that a defendant was innocent of the crime of “interference with custody of children” when he or she believed that intrusive actions were necessary to spare the subject child from danger. Appellee was convicted as charged and sentenced; in post-conviction proceedings, the Superior Court reversed sentence and ordered a new trial. The Commonwealth contended that the belief element of the offense should have been construed to encompass only beliefs that were held reasonably. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Commonwealth’s arguments "are too tenuous to be credited." The Superior Court judgment was affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. H.D." on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether, under the Pennsylvania Adoption Act, an attorney could act as both guardian ad litem and legal counsel for a minor child, in the context of a petition for termination of parental rights, where counsel did not expressly inquire into the child’s preferred outcome of the termination proceedings. In these unique circumstances, the Court found the attorney was able to fulfill her professional duties and act in both roles. Thus, the Court affirmed the Superior Court order, which affirmed the termination of parental rights in this case. View "In Re: P.G.F." on Justia Law

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Upon completion of an investigation of a report of child abuse, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) or its designated county children and youth agency (county agency) categorizes the investigated report as “indicated,” “founded,” or “unfounded.” When a report of child abuse was substantiated as either indicated or founded, or amended from indicated or founded, the named perpetrator is provided with notice of the status, including the effect of a substantiated report upon future employment opportunities involving children, and the individual’s name was added to the statewide child abuse database where it could remain indefinitely. On July 6, 2017, the county agency filed two identical indicated reports (CPS reports) identifying J.F. as a perpetrator of abuse of her fifteen-month-old twin children. While her administrative appeal of the CPS reports was pending, J.F. entered into an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for both criminal counts of endangering the welfare of children. As a result of J.F.’s entry into ARD, the county agency changed the status of the CPS reports from “indicated” to “founded,” then filed a motion to dismiss J.F.’s administrative appeal, attaching the criminal court docket, and averring the factual circumstances of the ARD were the same as the CPS reports which authorized the county agency to change the reports’ status to founded. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether J.F., seeking to challenge the founded report, was entitled an administrative hearing. The Court held that in the absence of another appropriate forum to challenge DHS’s adjudication of child abuse in a recorded evidentiary hearing, a named perpetrator in a report designated as “founded” based upon the perpetrator’s voluntary entry into an accelerated rehabilitative disposition was entitled to an administrative hearing. View "J.F. v. Department of Human Services" on Justia Law