Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
After an allegation that Bush had choked his son, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) began an investigation. Bush’s then-wife, Erika, obtained a court order suspending Bush’s parenting time. Bush filed a federal lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of himself and his children, alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and claiming that DCFS employees’ conduct set off events culminating in a state court order infringing on his and his kids’ right to familial association.The district court dismissed, finding that Bush and his children lacked standing to bring a constitutional challenge to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and that the Younger abstention doctrine barred the court from ruling on the remaining constitutional claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.. Bush failed to allege facts sufficient to establish standing for his First Amendment claim. Adhering to principles of equity, comity, and federalism, the court concluded that the district court was right to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over the remaining claims. View "J.B. v. Woodard" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff's mother married a U.S. citizen in 1999 and divorced him in 2004 because of his violent behavior. Plaintiff had run away the year before, when she was 15, to escape the abuse. At issue is whether, after the divorce, plaintiff remained a "child" of her mother's ex-husband. Plaintiff's mother died shortly after the divorce and could not file a petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on plaintiff's behalf. Plaintiff had to petition on her own behalf, and the agency rejected her application because a self-petition may be filed only by someone who "is the child" of an abusive U.S. citizen. Because, in the agency's view, plaintiff lost stepchild status in 2004, and only a person who "is" a child of an abusive parent may seek relief, the agency denied her application. However, the agency and the district court, relying on Matter of Mowrer, 17 I&N Dec. 613, 615 (1981), both concluded that even after divorce, a person remains a stepchild as long as "a family relationship has continued to exist as a matter of fact between the stepparent and stepchild."The Seventh Circuit held that, in the context of VAWA, "stepchild" status survives divorce. The court explained that someone who is a stepchild during a marriage remains one after divorce, when termination of "stepchild" status would defeat application of the substantive rule that abused stepchildren are entitled to an immigration benefit. The court clarified that Mowrer does not interpret VAWA. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Arguijo v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law

by
When Indiana officials determine that a child is suffering abuse or neglect, they initiate the Child in Need of Services (CHIN) process. Lawyers are automatically appointed for parents but not for children in the CHINS process. The plaintiffs, children in the CHINS process, claimed that they are entitled to counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing “Younger” abstention. While declining to decide that Younger would mandate abstention in all CHINS cases, the court reasoned that principles of comity entitle states to make their own decisions. Because children are not automatically entitled to lawyers, as opposed to the sort of adult assistance that Indiana routinely provides, it would be inappropriate for a federal court to resolve the appointment-of-counsel question in any of the 10 plaintiffs’ state proceedings. A state judge may decide to appoint counsel or may explain why counsel is unnecessary. View "Nicole K. v. Stigdon" on Justia Law

by
Mayle, a self-proclaimed Satanist, is a follower of The Law of Thelema, a set of beliefs developed in the early 1900s by Aleister Crowley. As part of this religion, Mayle participates in what he calls “sex magick rituals” that he believes violate Illinois laws forbidding adultery and fornication. He claims that he reasonably fears prosecution for practicing his beliefs. He also says that he wants to marry more than one person at the same time and that if he were to do so, he would violate an Illinois law against bigamy. Mayle’s first challenge to the laws was dismissed. Mayle did not appeal, but the next year he filed another suit challenging the same statutes.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the second suit, first rejecting a challenge to the district court’s grant of a two-day extension to allow Mayle to file a notice of appeal. Mayle’s bigamy claim was precluded by the 2017 final judgment on the merits. Mayle lacked standing to challenge the state’s adultery and fornication laws because he still showed no reasonable fear of prosecution; those laws are no longer enforced. View "Mayle v. Illinois" on Justia Law

by
Under Ind. Code 31-14-7-1(1), a husband is presumed to be a child’s biological father; both spouses are listed as parents on the birth certificate and the child is deemed to be born in wedlock. There is no similar presumption with respect to a same-sex couple. The district court issued an injunction requiring Indiana to treat children born into female-female marriages as having two female parents, who must be listed on the birth certificate. Because Indiana lists only two parents on a birth certificate, this prevents the state from treating as a parent the man who provided the sperm but requires that one spouse, who provided neither sperm nor egg, be identified as a parent. The court reasoned that Indiana lists a husband as a biological parent (when a child is born during marriage) even if he did not provide sperm, and must treat a wife as a parent even if she did not provide an egg. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding, Pavan v. Smith, that same-sex and opposite-sex couples must have the same rights with respect to the identification of children’s parentage on birth certificates. Indiana’s statutory presumption violates the Constitution. The court rejected the state’s arguments that the statutory presumption is rebuttable. View "Henderson v. Box" on Justia Law

by
Jack and Angela Howser decided that Angela’s estranged daughter, Jade, was failing to provide a suitable home for Jade’s four-year-old daughter, E.W. After unsuccessfully attempting to blackmail Jade, they enlisted the local police, the sheriff’s office, the county prosecutor, and a private investigator to help them. The group agreed that they would arrest Jade while Jade’s husband (Josh) was out of the house so that the Howsers could take the child. After midnight on Sunday night, a caravan of the sheriff, a deputy, the Howsers, and the private investigator set out for Jade’s home to arrest her for writing Angela a $200 check that had bounced. Once Jade was in handcuffs, an officer gave Jack the all-clear to come inside. The sheriff did not allow Jade to designate a custodian for E.W. or obtain her consent to giving E.W. to the Howsers. Jade sued the Howsers under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for conspiring with state officials to violate her due process right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of her child. A jury returned a verdict in her favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict and upholding the magistrate judge’s pretrial decision to exclude unfavorable information about Jade and Josh. The court upheld an award of $970,000 in damages. View "Green v. Howser" on Justia Law

by
Alden and his ex-wife shared custody of their children. Alden’s ex-wife complained that Alden was trying to turn the children against her. The court-appointed psychologist, Gardner, evaluated the children, concluded that Alden was using “severe alienation tactics,” and recommended that the court limit Alden to supervised visitation and give full custody of the children to their mother. The court terminated Alden’s custody and ordered all of Alden’s visitation to be supervised. The Appellate Court affirmed. After three unsuccessful attempts to change the decision in state court, Alden filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Gardner, challenging the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act as permitting state courts to take parents’ constitutionally-protected speech into consideration when deciding the best interests of the child and treating parents differently based on whether they are divorced. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Alden could challenge the Act in his state custody proceedings. The court stated: “This is abusive litigation. Alden, a lawyer representing himself, seems determined to continue the child-custody litigation in another forum even if that means exposing an innocent person such as Gardner to travail and expense. He concedes—indeed, he trumpets—that he has sued someone who he knows is not responsible for enforcing the state’s child-custody laws” and referred the matter to Illinois authorities for determination of whether Alden’s misuse of the legal process calls into question his fitness to practice law. View "E.A. v. Gardner" on Justia Law

by
During child-custody proceedings, Nixon accused her ex-husband G.G. of physically and sexually assaulting their daughter, S. An Illinois judge limited G.G.’s parental rights to visitation in the presence of another adult while the allegations were being investigated. Nixon concluded that the judge would terminate her parental rights and give G.G. full custody of S. so she left for Canada with S. and remained there even after learning that the judge had given G.G. sole custody. Nixon was convicted of international parental kidnapping, 18 U.S.C.1204, and sentenced to 26 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is an affirmative defense that “the defendant was fleeing an incidence or pattern of domestic violence.” Nixon presented evidence that G.G. physically and sexually abused S but S professed love for her father and fear of being alone with her mother. She expressed regret at allowing her mother to persuade her to accuse her father falsely. Nixon did not carry her burden on this defense. The court rejected claims of emotional abuse; the statute speaks of “domestic violence” and requires the defendant to show real domestic violence, not just a belief that violence occurred. Selling a beloved house, demeaning language, failing to provide adequate financial support do not constitute “violence.” View "United States v. Nixon" on Justia Law

by
Henricks owned a towing business, an auto body shop, and a vehicle dealership, which he used to defraud insurance companies by filing fraudulent claims. Henricks’s wife, Catherine, worked at the companies sporadically and was an officer of two of them and a member of the other. She opened bank accounts and signed loan documents on behalf of the companies. Henricks pleaded guilty to mail fraud and immediately began to hide assets. He was sentenced to imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution of $1,306,608.72. Catherine filed for divorce and for bankruptcy. Catherine entered an appearance as an interested person in Henricks’s criminal case. The district court found that Henricks had defaulted on his restitution payments and that the divorce was a sham, then determined the parties’ interests in properties so that Henricks’s property could be directed toward restitution. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court had jurisdiction under the Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act to decide the parties’ property interests in Henricks’s criminal case and did not violate Catherine’s due process rights. The court, however, improperly relied upon post‐judgment conduct instead of determining the parties’ property interests as of the date of the judgment lien. Whether the divorce was a sham was relevant to whether Henricks’s defaulted on restitution, but is irrelevant to the parties’ ownership interests on the judgment date. View "Henricks v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Timothy and Belva Thorpe bought an Illinois house as joint tenants in 1987. They lived in that home until after Belva filed for divorce in October 2012. Timothy filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2013. A month later, an Illinois divorce court awarded Belva the marital home. At the moment Belva filed for divorce, section 503(e) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act granted Timothy and Belva contingent rights in the entire house. The bankruptcy estate acquired Timothy’s half-interest in the marital home at the moment he declared bankruptcy. The district court held that Timothy’s estate took his half-interest subject to Belva’s contingency so that the divorce court’s award divested the estate of any right to the house. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the trustee’s argument based on the second sentence of section 503(e), which provides that contingent interests in marital property “shall not encumber that property so as to restrict its transfer, assignment or conveyance.” The plain statutory text demonstrates that the bankruptcy estate took Timothy’s half-interest in the marital home subject to Belva’s contingent interest. View "Reinbold v. Thorpe" on Justia Law