Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's appeal from the judgment of the court of appeals, denied Plaintiff's motion for sanctions, and sanctioned Plaintiff pursuant to Va. Code 8.01-271.1, holding that Plaintiff's jurisdictional statement did not satisfy Rule 5:17(c)(2) and that Plaintiff's conduct merited sanctions.This appeal was the latest in a series of "habitually frivolous" litigation Plaintiff initiated against Plaintiff as a part of a continual effort to contest child custody, visitation, and support orders. The appeal challenged the court of appeals' judgment affirming the trial court's (1) denial of a series of motions filed by Plaintiff, (2) determination of the amount of attorney's fees to award Defendant in connection with litigation related to the custody and visitation of the parties' children, and (3) award of additional fees to Defendant. The Supreme Court held (1) Plaintiff's jurisdictional statement did not satisfy Rule 5:17(c)(2); (2) Plaintiff's conduct warranted the sanction of Plaintiff paying Defendant's reasonable attorney's fees in costs; and (3) Plaintiff shall be prohibited from filing in the Supreme Court any pleading or paper against Defendant without obtaining the services of a practicing Virginia attorney or obtaining leave of the Court to file any pro se pleading. View "Barrett v. Minor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting Defendants' demurrers to Plaintiff's claims alleging that various professionals who participated in custody and visitation proceedings tortiously interfered with her parental rights, holding that the tort of interference with parental rights did not extend to the facts alleged by Plaintiff.Plaintiff, the mother of three children, challenged the proceedings resulting an order awarding sole legal and physical custody of the children to their father. In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged tortious interference with parental rights and defamation. Plaintiff alleged that professionals such as the children's guardian ad litem, counselors, and therapists conspired, lied, and acted maliciously to deprive her of the rightful custody of her children. Plaintiff further alleged that one of the therapists defamed her. The circuit court granted the defendants' demurrers to the claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the allegations made in the complaint did not give rise to a cause of action for tortious interference with parental rights; and (2) the circuit court properly dismissed the defamation claims against the therapist. View "Padula-Wilson v. Landry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court ruling that a pension distribution order was not inconsistent with the final decree of divorce in this case, and therefore declining to amend the pension distribution order under Va. Code 20-107.3(K)(4), holding that there was no reversible error in the court of appeals' judgment affirming the circuit court's ruling.The same day it entered the decree the circuit court entered an order entitled "Order Dividing Military Pension" (ODMP). Both parties signed the decree and the ODMP. Wife later filed motions to reopen the proceeding and for entry of an order amending the ODMP, arguing that the ODMP impermissibly altered the distribution made in the decree. The circuit court declined to amend the ODMP on the grounds that the ODMP was not inconsistent with the decree. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in interpreting section 20-107.3(K)(4) in denying Wife's motion to amend the decree. View "Jackson v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court that denied a request to retroactively modify a pendente lite spousal support award, holding that the circuit court has authority to retroactively modify a pendente lite spousal support award and that the circuit court here abused its discretion in its consideration of the motion to reconsider the pendente lite spousal support award and resulting arrearage that it initially awarded in this case.Kathryn Tawes filed a complaint for divorce against James Everett and filed a motion for temporary spousal support, moving for a pendente lite hearing on the matter. The circuit court entered a pendente lite order. In the final divorce decree the circuit court ordered Everett to pay spousal support, declined to modify the pendente lite order retroactively, and ordered Everett to pay pendente lite spousal support arrearage. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion in refusing to reconsider modifying the pendente lite spousal support award amount. View "Everett v. Tawes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court holding that the juvenile and domestic relations district court (JDR court) had no jurisdiction to modify an award of child support, holding that the JDR court had jurisdiction to enter the order.After Spear and Nawara Omary were divorced by an order of the circuit court. Later, thee Department of Social Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement filed a motion in the JDR court to modify the child support order. The JDR granted the motion. Omary appealed, arguing that the JDR court did not have jurisdiction to enter the order. The circuit court agreed and vacated the order. Spear appealed, arguing that the JDR court did have jurisdiction because he had previously withdrawn an appeal from the JDR court to the circuit court, and therefore, remand happened automatically by operation of law. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Va. Code 16.1-106.1(F), by operation of law, effects an automatic remand whenever a circuit court enters an order noting the appellant's withdrawal of an appeal from the JDR court; and (2) therefore, the circuit court, not the JDR court, had jurisdiction to modify the child support order. View "Spear v. Omary" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the circuit court sustaining the a plea of res judicata and dismissing this breach of contract action.In his plea of res judicata, Defendant argued that Plaintiff was barred from bringing the contract action because she had sought identical relief in a show cause petition in a divorce action, which was still pending, and the circuit court had dismissed that petition in the show cause order, which Defendant argued was a final order. The circuit court sustained Defendant’s plea and dismissed the contract action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was no final order regarding the claim that Defendant was attempting to preclude by his assertion of res judicata, and therefore, res judicata did not bar Plaintiff’s contract action. View "Kellogg v. Green" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the circuit court sustaining the a plea of res judicata and dismissing this breach of contract action.In his plea of res judicata, Defendant argued that Plaintiff was barred from bringing the contract action because she had sought identical relief in a show cause petition in a divorce action, which was still pending, and the circuit court had dismissed that petition in the show cause order, which Defendant argued was a final order. The circuit court sustained Defendant’s plea and dismissed the contract action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was no final order regarding the claim that Defendant was attempting to preclude by his assertion of res judicata, and therefore, res judicata did not bar Plaintiff’s contract action. View "Kellogg v. Green" on Justia Law

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Contrary to the conclusions of the lower courts in this divorce case, Richard Levick’s marriage to Deborah MacDougall was not voidable or void ab initio, and therefore, the circuit court had authority to distribute the marital assets consistent with the marital agreement and to continue its adjudication of the divorce proceeding.During a divorce proceeding ten years after the marriage of the parties, Levick asserted for the first time that his marriage to MacDougall was void ab initio, and therefore, he could repudiate a marital agreement requiring him to pay spousal support and to distribute the marital assets. The circuit court agreed and ruled that the marriage was void ab initio. The court of appeals reversed in part, concluding that the marriage was merely voidable, not void ab initio. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Levick failed to rebut the strong presumption favoring the validity of his marriage. View "Levick v. MacDougall" on Justia Law

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Samantha Cucco filed for divorce from Michael Luttrell. The circuit court entered a final decree of divorce that incorporated a Property, Custody, and Support Settlement Agreement (the PSA) executed by the parties. Pursuant to the PSA, the divorce decree provided that Luttrell’s monthly spousal support payments to Cucco would terminate “as a result of action by the Court taken pursuant to [Va. Code 20-109]…relative to cohabitation.” Luttrell later filed a motion for adjustment of spousal support, alleging that Cucco had been cohabiting continuously with her fiancee for at least one year. In response, Cucco argued that because her relationship was with another woman, she was not “cohabiting” within the meaning of section 20-109(A). The circuit court concluded that only opposite-sex couples could cohabit for purposes of section 20-109(A), denied Luttrell’s motion, and awarded Cucco attorney’s fees pursuant to the cost-shifting provision in the PSA. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and vacated the award of attorney’s fees, holding that the Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that same-sex couples cannot “cohabit” for purposes of section 20-109(A). Remanded. View "Luttrell v. Cucco" on Justia Law