Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two children, holding that the district court err and that Father did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred when it allowed the children's guardian ad litem (GAL) to question witnesses at Father's termination hearing, but despite the error, the district court properly terminated Father's parental rights without consideration of the information learned from the GAL's examination of the witnesses; (2) the Department of Public Health and Human Services provided reasonable efforts to reunify Father with the children; (3) the district court did not err in terminating Father's parental rights; (4) the district court did not err in extending temporary legal custody of the children to the Department; and (5) Father did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel because he failed to indicate how the alleged claim prejudiced his substantial rights. View "In re B.F." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court awarding custody of a child to an individual standing in loco parentis and, in this opinion, refined the standard for an exceptional case where a child's best interests can negate the parental preference principle.Father was awarded physical custody of Child. Mother later filed a complaint to modify child custody seeking to be awarded sole physical custody. After being allowed to intervene, Jo filed a complaint alleging that she was Child's primary caretaker and that she stood in loco parentis over Child. After a trial, the court placed legal and physical custody with Jo. Mother appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion by awarding custody to Jo rather than to Mother. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, holding (1) when a fit parent has not forfeited her or his superior right to custody, the best interests of the child will negate the parental preference principle only in an exceptional case; and (2) an exceptional case requires proof of serious physical or psychological harm or a substantial likelihood of such harm. View "State ex rel. Tina K. v. Adam B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the juvenile court terminating Father's parental rights to his child, holding that Father was not unfairly penalized for working too hard.After the child was removed from Mother's custody and was adjudicated in need of assistance Father received services. Father worked two full-time jobs on weekdays from 6 a.m. until midnight and lacked a driver's license or the ability to get a driver's license. The juvenile court terminated Father's parental rights to the child under Iowa Code 232.116(1)(h). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the State proved the child had been removed from the physical custody of the child's parents and that the child could not be placed in Father's custody at the time of the termination hearing; and (2) termination was in the child's best interests. View "In re Z.P." on Justia Law

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George Ray, Sr., and Johnnita Ray were divorced on the ground of irreconcilable differences, and the chancery court decided issues of property settlement. George appealed, arguing that the chancellor erred by not crediting him for supporting Johnnita’s children, by finding him solely responsible for their joint debt, and by including his military-retirement income into the alimony determination. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment. View "Ray v. Ray" on Justia Law

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The "[Indian Child Welfare Act] ICWA and [Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act] WICWA were enacted to remedy the historical and persistent state-sponsored destruction of Native families and communities. . . . The acts provide specific protections for Native children in child welfare proceedings and are aimed at preserving the children’s relationships with their families, Native communities, and identities. The acts also require states to send notice to tribes so that tribes may exercise their independent rights and interests to protect their children and, in turn, the continuing existence of tribes as thriving communities for generations to come." At issue in this case was whether the trial court had “reason to know” that M.G and Z.G. were Indian children at a 72-hour shelter care hearing. The Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court had “reason to know” that a child was an Indian child when a participant in the proceeding indicates that the child has tribal heritage. "We respect that tribes determine membership exclusively, and state courts cannot establish who is or is not eligible for tribal membership on their own." The Court held that an indication of tribal heritage was sufficient to satisfy the “reason to know” standard. Here, participants in a shelter care hearing indicated that M.G. and Z.G. had tribal heritage. The trial court had “reason to know” that M.G. and Z.G. were Indian children, and it erred by failing to apply ICWA and WICWA standards to the proceeding. View "In re Dependency of Z.J.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's denial of Appellant's petition for guardianship of her nephew, holding that the district court evaluated under the incorrect standard Appellant's request for predicate factual findings necessary for an individual to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security.In her petition, Appellant requested that the district court make the predicate factual findings for an individual to apply for SIJ status, including a finding that reunifying her nephew with his mother in his country of origin was not viable due to abuse or neglect. The district court denied the request after applying the heightened standard of proof applicable in proceedings for the termination of parental rights under Nev. Rev. Stat. Chapter 128. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a party requesting predicate factual findings under Nev. Rev. Stat. 3.2203 need only show that such findings are warranted by a preponderance of the evidence. View "In re Guardianship of B.A.A.R." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's dispositional order removing son and daughter from father's custody. The court heeded the holding of Conservatorship of O.B. (2020) 9 Cal.5th 989, 995–996, establishing that when a statute requires a fact to be found by clear and convincing evidence, and when there is a substantial evidence challenge, the reviewing court must determine whether the record contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could find the existence of that fact to be highly probable.In this case, the court held that a reasonable trier of fact could have found it highly probable that placement of the minors with father would pose a substantial risk of them being harmed by exposure to future domestic violence, and that there were no reasonable means to protect the minors without removal from father's physical custody. The court rejected father's arguments to the contrary and his argument that the juvenile court's failure to state the facts it relied upon is reversible error. Because the last incident of domestic violence involving father was so dangerous and troubling, it is not reasonably probable that the juvenile court would have reached a different conclusion if it stated the facts it relied upon. View "In re V.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dissolving Wife's marriage to Husband and distributing the marital estate, holding that the circuit court did not err in awarding a marital 401(k) account of uncertain value to Husband.On appeal from the circuit court's apportionment of the marital estate, Wife argued that the circuit court legally erred and abused its discretion in awarding the 401(k) account to Husband in light of Husband's marital misconduct. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Wife did not carry her burden to show that the asset and debt division was unfair under the circumstances or that the circuit court committed reversible error. View "Lollar v. Lollar" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals remanding this termination of parental rights case to the juvenile court after clarifying the analysis the juvenile court should have applied when interpreting the termination statute, holding that the court of appeals did not err.The juvenile court found multiple grounds for terminating Father's parental rights and then, in compliance with the statutory framework, concluded that termination was in the children's best interests. The juvenile court then addressed the recent legislative mandate set forth in Utah Code 78A-6-507(1) that termination occur only when it is "strictly necessary" to terminate parental rights. On appeal, Father argued that the juvenile court misinterpreted the "strictly necessary" requirement. The court of appeals clarified the analysis the juvenile court should have employed and remanded the case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err in disavowing the "almost automatically" language in its case law; (2) the court of appeals properly found that the Termination of Parental Rights Act requires that termination be strictly necessary for the best interests of the child; and (3) the juvenile court should revisit the petition and apply the interpretation of the Act set forth in this petition. View "In re B.T.B." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's finding that placing 12 year old daughter out of state with father would be detrimental to her emotional well-being. The court held that substantial evidence supports the juvenile court's detriment finding where the evidence shows that, among other things, daughter is strongly attached to her mother, half brother, and maternal family; they are loving; daughter is thriving in her grandmother's home; she sees mother daily and wants to reunify with her; and she has many friends, enjoys school, and is excelling academically. The court explained that a court properly may decline placement with a safe and nonoffending parent if that placement would be detrimental to the child's emotional well-being. View "In re A.C." on Justia Law