Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals panel reversing the decision of the district court denying Father's motion to modify residential custody of his daughter, J.F., holding that the panel's decision presented plain error by making its own factual findings after reweighing the evidence and reaching the conclusion of which parent should have residential custody.In 2012, Father filed a motion for temporary order of parenting time alongside a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. The district court awarded joint legal custody to the parents, primary residency with Mother, and reasonable parenting time with Father. In 2017, Father moved to modify residential custody of J.F., arguing that J.F. should live with him in Pennsylvania rather than in Kansas with Mother. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals panel reversed after finding error with two of the district court's findings. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the panel reweighed the evidence and made its own factual findings upon which it found the district court abused its discretion; and (2) even in light of the holding that the district court erred in concluding that Mother would be financially unable to exercise parenting time out of state, the panel's remedy of a custody change was inappropriate. View "State ex rel. Secretary, Department for Children & Families v. M.R.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's judgment on the pleadings dismissing Wife's Rule 74.06(b) motion to set aside, for fraud, the judgment of dissolution of her marriage to Husband or, alternatively, the property division portion of the judgment, holding that the circuit court erred.Before the circuit court ruled on Wife's Rule 74.06(b) motion Husband died, and the personal representative of his estate was substituted as the respondent. The circuit court sustained the personal representative's motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that Wife's Rule 74.06(b) motion was moot because (1) Husband's death abated and rendered the motion moot, and (2) the relief sought in the motion could not be granted. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the circuit court erred in (1) finding that Husband's death abated the proceedings on Wife's Rule 74.06(b) motion; and (2) finding that meaningful relief was unavailable under Rule 74.06(b). View "Olofson v. Olofson" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this case to address a concern about inconsistent practices among the three divisions of the Washington Court of Appeals in creating case titles in dependency and termination proceedings. Inconsistency in the use of parties’ names in such case titles has been an issue among Washington appellate courts. While all three divisions generally use initials in place of children’s names, Division One routinely added parents’ full names to case titles along with their designation as “appellant.” Division Two often changed case titles to designate appealing parents, but used parents’ initials rather than their names. And Division Three typically did not include the names or initials of appealing parents. In this case, Division One followed its typical practice by changing the case title from that created in the superior court to add the mother’s full name and replace the child’s name with initials, while retaining the child’s birth date. The Supreme Court concluded this practice was inconsistent with RAP 3.4 and the 2018 Court of Appeals General Order. Accordingly, the case was remanded with instructions for the Court of Appeals to revise the case title in accordance with the court rule and general order. View "In re Welfare of K.D." on Justia Law

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Nicholas Froehlich appealed an amended judgment entered on September 7, 2018, and an interim order entered on August 25, 2020. Because the appeal of the amended judgment was untimely and the interim order was not an appealable order, the North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Froehlich v. Froehlich, et al." on Justia Law

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Jennifer Williams appealed a second amended divorce judgment, arguing the district court failed to make findings supporting its modification of parenting time. She also contended the court erred when it terminated a parenting coordinator, and the court violated her right to due process when it removed a specific provision of the judgment without a request from either party. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Williams v. Williams, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the final dispositional order of the circuit court terminating the parental rights of Mother and Father, the biological parents of C.R.W., holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.C.R.W. was the subject of an abuse and neglect proceeding before the circuit court. C.R.W. was considered an Indian child under the Indian Child Welfare Act pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1903(4), and the Oglala Sioux Tribe intervened in the proceeding. The Tribe moved to disqualify C.R.W.'s attorney on the grounds that the attorney had a conflict of interest with C.R.W. The circuit court denied the motion. During the proceedings, Mother and the Tribe moved to transfer the case to tribal court, but the motion was denied. After the parents' parental rights were terminated, Mother and the Tribe appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err when it denied the Tribe's motions to disqualify C.R.W.'s attorney; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother's motions to transfer jurisdiction. View "In re C.R.W." 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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M.M. appealed a judgment denying his petition to establish a parental relationship with his biological son (Child). M.M. filed the petition after he learned, when Child was two years old, that he was Child’s biological father. M.M. alleged he was entitled to status as a presumed father under the principles of due process and equal protection set forth in Adoption of Kelsey S., 1 Cal.4th 816 (1992) for unwed fathers who were prevented by the mother or by a third party from establishing presumed father status. M.M. did not dispute the parental status of T.M., who was married to Child’s mother (Mother), listed on Child’s birth certificate as the father, and signed a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage at the Child’s birth. However, M.M. contended he should be accorded status as Child’s third parent pursuant to Family Code section 7612 (c). The Court of Appeal concluded that even assuming that M.M. was entitled to presumed parent status, the trial court properly determined that M.M. should not have been adjudged a third parent due to his lack of an existing relationship with Child. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "M.M. v. D.V." on Justia Law

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Juvenile N.M. appealed the family division’s order granting the request of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to place him in an out-of-state secure facility. Juvenile argued he was entitled to an independent, second evidentiary hearing, pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5291(d), on the question of whether he should be placed in the secure facility. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded section 5291(d) was inapplicable in the post-disposition phase of this case, and therefore denied the request. Insofar as juvenile made no other arguments in support of his appeal, the appeal was dismissed. View "In re N.M., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether, under the facts of this case, plaintiff Leah Coleman, the victim of a violent assault by social worker Sonia Martinez’s patient, could bring a negligence claim against Martinez. Martinez’s patient, T.E., suffered two violent episodes prior to her treatment with Martinez. Coleman worked for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) and was tasked with ensuring the welfare of T.E.’s children when the children were removed from T.E.'s care after her hospitalization following her second violent incident. In a letter to Coleman dated October 1, 2014, Martinez stated that T.E. had been compliant during her sessions and with her medication and was ready and able to begin having unsupervised visits with her children with the goal of reunification. At her deposition, Martinez acknowledged the inaccuracy of representing that T.E. did not exhibit psychotic symptoms in light of what she and the group counselor had seen. During a November 7 appointment, Martinez disclosed to T.E. Coleman’s report of T.E.’s hallucinations. T.E. “became upset” and “tearful,” denied any psychotic symptoms, and reiterated her goal of regaining custody of her children. Later that day, T.E. called DCPP and spoke with Coleman. During their conversation, T.E. referenced her session with Martinez, denied that she was experiencing auditory hallucinations, and stated she did not understand why such a claim would be fabricated. Coleman advised T.E. to seek advice from an attorney as DCPP would “maintain that she [was] not capable of parenting independently due to her mental health issues.” Six days later, T.E. made an unscheduled visit to DCPP offices, where she stabbed Coleman twenty-two times in the face, chest, arms, shoulders, and back. Coleman filed a complaint against Martinez, alleging that Martinez was negligent in identifying her to T.E. as the source of information about T.E.’s hallucinations, and that T.E.’s attack was a direct and proximate result of Martinez’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Martinez, finding no legal duty owed to Coleman under the particularized foreseeability standard set forth in J.S. v. R.T.H., 155 N.J. 330 (1998). The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Martinez had a duty to Coleman under the circumstances here. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Coleman v. Martinez" on Justia Law