Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding by clear and convincing evidence that the four children of Mother and Father were in circumstances of jeopardy as to each parent and that continued custody of the children by either parent was likely to cause them serious emotional or physical damage, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in relying on out-of-court statements made by the children; (2) under state and federal law, the evidence was sufficient to support the court's required factual findings by clear and convincing evidence that the children were in circumstances of jeopardy and that returning the children home would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage; and (3) the parents' argument that the evidence did not support the court's dispositional order was interlocutory and not cognizable here. View "In re Children of Danielle H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights, holding that Father's due process rights were infringed by ineffective assistance of counsel resulting in his parental rights being inappropriately terminated. On appeal, Father argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his court-appointed counsel failed assiduously to advocate for him throughout her representation. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Father's initial appointed counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, and because of that ineffective assistance, Father was prejudiced, and his parental rights were terminated. The Court remanded this case for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division to conduct initial preliminary assessment of Father as the first placement option for the child consistent with its policies and this opinion. View "In re E.Y.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Nancy Bergin a divorce from Daniel Bergin, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion in setting parental rights and responsibilities between the parties as to their three minor children and by denying Nancy's request for an order for protection from abuse. Specifically, the Court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in (1) granting Daniel primary residence of the children and final decision-making authority in regard to the children; (2) allowing an expert on parental alienation to testify; (3) declining to award Nancy continuing spousal support; and (4) denying Nancy's request for an order for protection from abuse. View "Bergin v. Bergin" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that evidence of a legal guardian's occasional methamphetamine use outside the legal guardian's home and while the child was in the care of another adult in the home does not support dependency jurisdiction under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b). The panel also held that there was no substantial evidence showing that the legal guardian abused methamphetamine, and no substantial evidence showed that the child was at risk of serious physical harm. Therefore, the court reversed the juvenile court's jurisdictional order. View "In re L.C." on Justia Law

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Mother C.W. and father J.C. appealed a juvenile court’s orders terminating parental rights and freeing the minor for adoption. The parents contended the juvenile court erred in failing to find the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption applied, and that the county and juvenile court failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After review of the specific facts of this case, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the parents’ first contention, but conditionally reversed and remanded the matter for further ICWA compliance. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law

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Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana, and seven individuals seeking to adopt Indian children filed suit against the United States, several federal agencies and officials, and five intervening Tribes, raising facial constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the 2016 administrative rule (the Final Rule) that was promulgated by the Department of the Interior to clarify provisions of ICWA. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims; the ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress's unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. The court also held that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency's interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. View "Brackeen v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court refusing to terminate Mother's parental rights on the ground that termination was not in the children's best interests, holding that the court's conclusion that the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) failed clearly and convincingly to show that termination was in the children's best interests was not contrary to law. Specifically, the trial court found that the children shared a strong bond with Mother, that DCS would struggle to find adoptive homes for the children, and that Mother had made progress complying with the requirements of her parent-participation plan. On appeal, the guardian ad litem argued that Mother's parental rights should be terminated because she had not yet found suitable housing for herself and her children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in concluding that the guardian ad litem failed to show that the trial court's decision was contrary to law. View "M.I. v. K.H." on Justia Law

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Daughter was born in 1994. In 1995, following a request by Mother for child support in a civil paternity action in which Father participated, the court ordered Father to pay $360 per month. The Santa Clara County Department of Child Support Services did not participate in that paternity action. Father was incarcerated in 1998-2005 and never sought to modify, quash, or otherwise terminate the 1995 child support order. In 2004, Mother sought the Department's assistance in enforcing child support. In 2015, the Department filed a notice of motion and requested a hearing for the purpose of increasing Father’s monthly payment to liquidate his arrears. Father, for the first time, informed the Department and the court that he had been incarcerated. In 2016, the court granted the Department’s motion to increase Father’s monthly payments but, on its own motion, awarded Father “equitable credit” for his period of incarceration. Invoking its authority under Family Code section 290, the court reduced the amount owed in child support by approximately $70,000. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the trial court lacked authority to retroactively adjust Father’s arrears. Although legislation enacted in 2010 and 2015 suspended the accrual of child support for incarcerated parents, the statutes do not apply retroactively. View "S.C. v. G.S." on Justia Law

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A father appealed a superior court’s denial of his motion to modify child support, arguing his house arrest while awaiting trial on federal charges should have been considered involuntary unemployment for purposes of calculating child support. He also argued remand is necessary for an evidentiary hearing and for the superior court to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law. Because the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the father made a prima facie showing of a substantial change in circumstances that would entitle him to an evidentiary hearing, the case was remanded to the superior court to conduct an evidentiary hearing. View "Schwier v. Schwier" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a mother and her three minor children, filed suit against two employees of the state's child protective services agency, claiming a constitutional violation based on defendants' taking of the three children from their mother's custody under a temporary removal order. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because there was no constitutional violation. In this case, there was an adequate basis for the issuance of the temporary conservatorship order and therefore there was no Fourth Amendment violation based on the Protective Services employee's affidavit. Furthermore, there was no vicarious liability that applied to the Protective Services supervisor and the claim was properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Marks v. Hudson" on Justia Law