Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wyoming Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to three of her minor children pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. 14-2-309(a)(iii) and (v), holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the court's determination. While the district court found clear and convincing evidence supported termination of Mother's parental rights under both section 14-2-309(a)(iii) and (v) the Supreme Court needed determine only whether clear and convincing evidence supported one of the bases for termination. The Court affirmed the district court's finding of clear and convincing evidence to support termination under section 14-2-309(a)(v), holding that the district court's decision finding Mother unfit was supported by clear and convincing evidence. View "Dunlap v. State, Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant's divorce action against Appellee on the grounds of improper venue and/or forum non conveniens, holding that the district court erred by dismissing the action for improper venue and did not apply the correct test when it dismissed for forum non conveniens. The parties married in North Carolina in 1989. In 2018, Appellant filed a complaint for divorce in the district court in Fremont County, Wyoming, where he lived. Appellee filed a motion to dismiss the Wyoming action pursuant to Wyo. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3), claiming that Wyoming was an improper venue for the divorce and/or forum non conveniens. The district court granted Appellee's motion. In doing so, the court followed the Supreme Court's decision in West Texas Utilities Co. v. Exxon Coal USA, Inc. 807 P.2d 932 (Wyo. 1991). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court's analysis was inadequate. Consequently, the Court adopted the two-stage test for forum non conveniens from Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501 (1947), and directed the district court to apply that test on remand. View "Saunders v. Saunders" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Tanya Knell's application for issuance of a writ of continuing garnishment of Bruce Knell's wages and enforcing the writ, holding that the garnishment exceeded the limits on creditor garnishments. Tanya applied for a writ of garnishment against Bruce's earnings for amounts owing under a property division ordered by the district court. The district court ruled that the garnishment was enforceable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a support order must be treated as a garnishment, and therefore creditor judgment garnishments may be imposed only to the extent support garnishments do not exceed the general twenty-five percent limit; and (2) because Bruce's support garnishment was approximately forty-two percent of his disposable earnings the district court erred in enforcing additional garnishment for the property settlement debt to Tanya. View "Knell v. Knell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting Father's petition to modify custody and awarding Father primary physical custody of the parties' four-year-old son, holding that the district court abused its discretion when it ignored certain material factors in determining that modification of the original order was warranted. After a trial, the district court found that Mother's move from Buffalo, Wyoming to Plains, Montana constituted a material change in circumstances and that it was in the child's best interests to grant Father primary physical custody. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion determining that a material change in circumstances justified reopening its prior custody order; but (2) the district court abused its discretion when it determined that transferring custody to Father was in the child's best interests. View "Ianelli v. Camino" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Father's complaint to modify custody claiming a material change in circumstances, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that no material change of circumstances occurred. In 2014, Father filed a petition to establish paternity, custody and support with regard to a child born in 2013. Mother and Father filed a stipulated agreement establishing joint legal custody with Mother having primary residential custody. The stipulation contained a visitation schedule and child support calculations. In 2017, Father filed a complaint to modify the order on custody and visitation. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court concluded that no material change in circumstances occurred since the entry of the order approving stipulation on paternity, custody and visitation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "Smith v. Kelly" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denial of Father's Wyo. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) motion for relief from an income withholding order and the district court clerk's assessment of an $85 fee pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. 5-3-206(a)(vii), holding that the district court did not err in denying the motion and that the filing fee was statutorily required. Relying on Rule 60(b)(6), Father filed a pro se motion asking the district court to relieve him from the income withholding order. No responsive pleading was filed, and the district court did not rule on Father's motion for relief. Therefore, Father's motion was "deemed denied" under Rule 6(c)(4). Father appealed, and the district court charged the $85 fee required by section 5-3-206(a)(vii). On appeal, Father argued that the mandatory minimum child support was unconstitutional and that the $85 fee was not properly assessed when no transcripts were requested. The Supreme Court summarily affirmed the denial of Father's Rule 60(b) motion seeking relief from the income withholding order and held that section 5-3-206(a)(vii) required a filing fee of $85 for Father's appeal even though no transcript of testimony was included in the designated record. View "MSC, II v. MCG" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of district court awarding primary custody of the parties' two children and child support to Mother, holding that the district court abused its discretion by ordering child support without obtaining sufficient information about Father's income. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court abused its discretion when it calculated the amount for child support based on a misunderstanding of the evidence establishing Father's income; and (2) Father's argument that the district court's time limits for presenting at trial deprived him of a meaningful opportunity to testify and cross-examine witnesses failed because Father's assertions were insufficient to explain how the district court's restriction on the time he had violated due process or his fundamental right to associate with his children. View "Lemus v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over custody of a child, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court granting Mother's motion to strike Father's motion for an order relinquishing permanent child custody jurisdiction to the tribal court, holding that the district court properly concluded that it retained exclusive continuing jurisdiction to make permanent custody determinations regarding the child. The district court granted Mother primary custody of the parties' child. Father, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, kept the child on the South Dakota reservation and refused to relinquish custody to Mother. Father sought orders from the district court and the trial court transferring jurisdiction over the custody matter to the tribal court. The tribal court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction because the custody action was pending in the district court and Mother was not a tribal matter. In the district court, Father argued that the tribal court acquired jurisdiction over the custody matter by issuing emergency child custody and/or protection orders. The district court granted Mother's motion to strike Father's motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly concluded that it retained exclusive continuing jurisdiction to make permanent custody determinations regarding the child. View "Mitchell v. Preston" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court enforcing the terms of Appellant's divorce decree at the request of her late ex-husband's estate, holding that there was no error in the district court's decision. On appeal, Appellant argued that the district court erred by not modifying the terms of the divorce settlement agreement and the divorce decree, erred in failing to apply laches, and erred in concluding that Appellant was not entitled to storage fees or mortgage contributions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly determined that a divorce agreement that has merged into a divorce decree cannot be modified by oral agreement of the parties, and Acton v. Acton, 406 P.3d 1279 (Wyo. 2017) is overruled because it states otherwise; (2) Appellant failed to demonstrate that she was entitled to relief from the decree under Wyo. R. Civ. P. 60(b); (3) Appellant could not use the doctrine of laches to prevent enforcement of the judgment; and (4) the district court properly held that Appellant was not entitled to storage fees or mortgage contributions. View "Meiners v. Meiners" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s rights to her three children, holding that the evidence clearly and convincingly established that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated. The district court found that the State presented clear and convincing evidence proving the statutory grounds for termination of Mother’s parental rights under both Wyo. Stat. Ann. 14-2-309(a)(iii) and (v). On appeal, Mother challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to establish the statutory requirements for termination of her parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record supported the district court’s finding that each of the requirements for termination was proven by clear and convincing evidence. View "Swenson v. State, Department of Family Services" on Justia Law