Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
In re Adoption of M.A.
In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Utah considered the appeal of Marianne Tyson who sought to access her sealed adoption records from 1978, in order to learn more about her birth parents' medical histories and any potential health risks. The district court had denied Tyson's petition, interpreting "good cause" as requiring more than a generalized desire to obtain health or genetic information unrelated to a specific medical condition of the petitioner. The district court also held that Tyson's reasons for wanting access to adoption records did not outweigh her birth mother's interest in privacy.The Supreme Court of Utah disagreed with the district court's interpretation of "good cause" and its application of the balancing test. The Supreme Court noted that the legislature did not define "good cause" in the statute and did not impose additional requirements to establish "good cause". The Court held that the district court erred in interpreting the statute to require something more than a general desire to know one's medical history. The Supreme Court also found that the district court did not properly balance the interests under the Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 107, as it focused solely on the birth mother’s privacy interests and did not consider Tyson's reasons for wanting to see her adoption records.The case was remanded back to the district court to reassess Tyson's petition under the correct standard. The district court must evaluate Tyson's petition under a correct interpretation of "good cause" and conduct a proper balancing test, giving weight to both the birth mother’s privacy interests and Tyson's reasons for wanting to see her adoption records. View "In re Adoption of M.A." on Justia Law
In re C.D.S.
The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals dismissing as untimely Mother's appeal from the juvenile court's termination of the parental rights of Mother and Father, holding that Mother's time to file a notice of appeal was extended in this case.After a hearing, the juvenile court terminated entered an order terminating Father's and Mother's parental rights to their two children. Father timely filed his notice of appeal, but the court of appeals determined that Mother's appeal was not filed within fifteen days of the termination order, as required by Utah R. App. P. 52(a). The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that Utah R. App. P. 52(c), together with Father's appeal, extended Mother's time to file a notice of appeal. View "In re C.D.S." on Justia Law
Scott v. Benson
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court concluding that the parties' signed voluntary declaration of paternity (VDP) should be set aside because of the parties' fraud and a mutual mistake but that Taylor Scott should nevertheless be adjudicated the child's father, holding that there was no error.Sarah Benson and Taylor Scott, an unmarried couple, signed a VDP representing that Scott was the father of Benson's child when both parties know that Scott was not the child's biological father. When Benson later cut off contact between Scott and the child Scott filed a complaint seeking joint legal and physical custody. In response, Benson challenged the VDP. The district court set aside the VDP but concluded that, under the Utah Uniform Parentage Act, Scott should be adjudicated to be the child's father. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in looking to the factors set forth in Utah Code 78B-16-608 to disregard the genetic test results that would have excluded Scott as the child's father. View "Scott v. Benson" on Justia Law
Kingston v. Kingston
The Supreme Court remanded this case in which the district court prohibited Father from encouraging his children to adopt the teachings of any religion without Mother's consent, holding that Father had a fundamental right to encourage his children in the practice of religion and that the district court's prohibition was not narrowly tailored to address the harms identified by the court.When they married, Father and Mother were both members of the Order, a polygamous religious community. Based on the parties' inability to agree on decisions regarding their four children, the district court granted sole legal custody to Mother and prohibited Father from encouraging the children to adopt the teachings of any religion. The Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court, holding (1) parents have a fundamental right to encourage their children in the practice of religion, and this right is not dependent upon legal custody; (2) strict scrutiny applies to this case; and (3) the district court's prohibition is not narrowly tailored to address the identified harms. View "Kingston v. Kingston" on Justia Law
In re A.B.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the juvenile court's determination that Mother had neglected A.B. and award of custody to Aunt and Uncle, holding that Aunt and Uncle were not entitled to relief on any of their allegations of error.Mother left A.B., her daughter, for nearly one year in the care of Aunt and Uncle. When Mother came to take A.B. back, Aunt and Uncle filed for custody, alleging that Mother had abused and neglected A.B. The juvenile court determined that A.B. had been neglected by Mother and awarded custody to Uncle and Aunt. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the juvenile court had erred in its neglect determination. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals (1) applied the appropriate standard of review; (2) did not err in reversing the neglect determination; and (3) did not err in declining to affirm on the alternative ground of abuse. View "In re A.B." on Justia Law
Taylor v. Taylor
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying David Taylor's motion to invalidate an arbitration award in this divorce case on the grounds that it was contrary to public policy to arbitrate divorce actions or, alternatively, arguing that the arbitrator had manifestly disregarded the law, holding that there was no error.After litigating their divorce for a year, David asked Jill to arbitrate. After the arbitrator issued his decision, David filed a motion to invalidate the award under Utah Uniform Arbitration Act 78B-11-107, arguing that the arbitration agreement was not valid or binding in the divorce context for policy reasons. The district court denied David's request and confirmed the arbitration award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) having participated in arbitration without objection, David was barred from relying on section 78B-11-107 to contest the arbitration award; and (2) there was no reason to invalidate the arbitration award for manifest disregard of the law. View "Taylor v. Taylor" on Justia Law
In re J.L.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and vacated in part the juvenile court's order terminating the parental right of Parents, holding that the juvenile court's opinion was too affected by legal error to merit deference on appeal.After a hearing on the termination of parental rights, the juvenile court entered an order terminating the parental rights of both Mother and Father. The court found that both parents were unfit and had neglected the children and that termination was strictly necessary in the best interest of the children. After the adoptive placement with the uncle failed, the parents filed motions for post-judgment relief. The juvenile court denied the motions. The Supreme Court reversed and vacated in part, holding that remand was required for a new best interest determination under the law as clarified in this opinion. View "In re J.L." on Justia Law
Rosser v. Rosser
In this divorce case, the Supreme Court primarily affirmed in part the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court holding Ronald Rosser in contempt for deliberately deceiving Holly Rosser, holding that the district court's contempt order did not include sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law to hold Ronald in contempt.In reversing, the court of appeals held (1) Ronald's deceptive conduct did not amount to statutory contempt as a matter of law because it was directed at Holly, rather than at the court; and (2) under Utah Code 78B-6-301(4), deceitful conduct during litigation does not rise to the level of contempt unless it is directed at the court. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' vacatur of most of the district court's contempt order, holding that the court of appeals (1) correctly reached the interpretation and application of the contempt statute in this case; but (2) erred in reading subsection (4) of the statute to reach only deceit directed at the court because the statute includes deceit in respect to a court's proceedings. View "Rosser v. Rosser" on Justia Law
In re Estate of Heater
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that Gina Kirkland, Garret Heater (Garret), and John Carlon were the heirs to the estate of John Clifford Heater (Heater), holding that the district court did not err in determining that Carlon was an heir.During the ongoing litigation between Garret and Kirkland regarding the administration of Mr. Heater's estate, Carlon intervened, claiming that Heater was his biological father and that he, therefore, was an additional heir the estate. After genetic testing proved Carlon to be Heater's son, the district court entered an order naming Kirkland, Garret, and Carlon as the heirs to Heater's estate. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Carlon established a parent-child relationship with Heater in this case; and (2) the court of appeals did not err in affirming the district court's ruling that Heater was Carlon's natural father and the order naming Carlon as one of Heater's heirs. View "In re Estate of Heater" on Justia Law
In re E.R.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that the termination of Mother's parental rights was not against the clear weight of the evidence, holding that the court of appeals did not err.The juvenile court found that there were statutory grounds to terminate Mother's parental rights to her child and determined that it was in the child's best interest to do so. The court determined that it was "strictly necessary" to terminate Mother's parental rights. On appeal, Mother argued that the juvenile court failed to give adequate consideration to reasonable alternatives to termination, as required for the "strictly necessary" inquiry. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly applied the standard of review set forth in State ex rel. B.R., 171 P.3d 435 (Utah 2007), to the juvenile court's best interest determination, and Mother identified no other basis for reversal. View "In re E.R." on Justia Law