Iowa. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds ex rel. State, 915 N.W.2d 206 (Iowa 2018). Iowa statute requiring that a woman wait a mandatory seventy-two hours to receive an abortion after initial consultation was challenged by health care provider. The supreme court held the statute required strict scrutiny review because it affected a fundamental right (right to abortion) and, as a result, violated substantive due process under the Iowa Constitution and equal protection.
Alaska. Dean S. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., 420 P.3d 1175 (Alaska 2018). Several months after consenting to the adoption of his children, Father motioned to withdraw his consent. The superior court denied the motion, determining that withdrawal of Father’s consent would not be in the children’s best interest. Father appealed. The appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision, finding sufficient evidence to support the conclusion of the lower court.
Matter of Adoption of E.H., 431 P.3d 1190 (Alaska 2018). Maternal grandparents and foster parents entered into a settlement agreement regarding children, which was incorporated into foster parents’ adoption decree. The grandparents moved to enforce the settlement agreement and vacate the adoption. Holding that the vacation of the adoption decree was warranted, the court noted that the foster parents did not challenge the court’s finding: namely, the foster parents’ misrepresentation of their intent to abide by the agreement’s visitation provisions.
Hawaii. W.N. v. S.M., 424 P.3d 483 (Haw. 2018). Both of the parties entered into a relationship in 2009 and decided to bring one of their granddaughters into the family and raise her as their own daughter. One of the parents legally adopted the child, and both of them assumed joint custody of the child. Upon dissolution of the relationship, the parent who legally adopted the child sought to take full custody. The court held that an evidentiary hearing is required on remand, statements by the child in visitation reports were not hearsay, and the exclusion of the psychologist’s progress notes about the former partner constituted abuse.
Indiana. E.B.F. v. D.F., 93 N.E.3d 759 (Ind. 2018). Mother’s consent was required for Stepmother to adopt a minor child. Mother had shared legal custody of her child, who primarily lived with his father and stepmother. (Child grew up with Mother but moved to Father’s after Mother became unemployed, drug dependent, and in an abusive relationship.) During year where Mother recovered from drug abuse, gained employment, and found housing, she had no contact with her child. One year and seven days after her last contact, Stepmother filed for adoption of the child without Mother’s consent due to a prerequisite year of no-contact requirement. The court found that while the prerequisite was met, Mother’s consent was required because her willingness to distance herself while recovering from addiction and noticeable progress were justifiable cause for her failure to communicate, and because Father and Stepmother blocked Mother’s attempts to communicate with her son.
Kansas. In re Adoption of C.L., 427 P.3d 395 (Kan. 2018). In 2016, Mother found out she was pregnant and gave birth on the same day. Mother opted to put the baby up for adoption through a nonprofit adoption agency. Mother relinquished her parental rights to the baby. The baby was placed with prospective adoptive parents, and a social work supervisor called the man believed to be the father of the baby to convince him to relinquish his parental rights as well. Father asked to meet the baby and was told by the social work supervisor that any meetings would be up to the adoptive parents. The prospective adoptive parents filed an adoption petition and requested termination of Father’s parental rights one day before Father filed a paternity action, which forced Father to close the paternity action. The court asked Father to take a paternity test, and Father was determined to be the father. Father was then asked why he had not attempted to support or contact his child despite not knowing about the pregnancy, not knowing the identity of the prospective adoptive parents, and not being informed of any way he could support or contact the child through the adoption agency. The lower court ultimately decided Father’s rights should be terminated because he failed to support or communicate with his child, and the adoption was processed. The Kansas Supreme Court reversed and remanded the decision because Father asked the social work supervisor about seeing the baby and prepared at home to support the child. Father had also attempted to establish paternity but was preempted from doing so when the prospective adoptive parents filed an adoption petition first, a petition he was not served with until three days before trial. The Kansas Supreme Court determined Father’s actions did not show he did not attempt to support or contact his child.
Maine. Adoption of Paisley, 178 A.3d 1228 (Me. 2018). Paisley was placed with a foster family while waiting for reunification with her mother. When reunification became unavailable, Paisley became available for adoption. The foster parents and the adoptive parents of two of Paisley’s siblings filed competing petitions for adoption. The foster parents were granted the adoption of Paisley, and the adoptive parents appealed. At issue was the whether the Department acted reasonably by not consenting to the foster parents adopting Paisley and whether the court abused its discretion in allowing expert witness testimony. The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court in favor of the foster parents because it was in Paisley’s best interests.
Adoption of Parker, 185 A.3d 51 (Me. 2018). Parker’s biological parents had their parental rights terminated. Parker’s paternal grandmother, Parker’s maternal grandmother, and Parker’s maternal grandfather and his wife filed competing petitions for adoption. Adoption was granted to Parker’s paternal grandmother and her partner even though the partner had not petitioned for adoption. The court vacated the adoption order because the adoption was granted jointly to the paternal grandmother and her partner when the partner did not file a petition for adoption. Because the adoption was granted jointly, it could not be severed in favor of the paternal grandmother and was remanded.
Mississippi. In re Adoption of D.D.H., No. 2016-CA-01530-SCT, 2018 WL 372381 (Miss. Jan. 11, 2018). Mother and putative father petitioned for the adoption of child by putative father. In the same petition, Mother and putative father also sought to allow child’s biological mother to retain parental rights. The lower court denied the petition on the grounds that putative father failed to join his wife in the petition as required by statute. The lower court also stated that the request that mother’s rights not be terminated was inconsistent with the purpose of the adoption statute. On appeal, the court affirmed, holding that the putative father was required to join his wife in the petition for adoption, but found that the statute did permit adoption of the child while the biological mother retained parental rights. The case was remanded with instructions to (1) enable the putative father’s wife to join the petition and (2) perform a best interest analysis regarding the adoption.
Nevada. Mulkern v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct. ex rel. Cty. of Clark, 429 P.3d 277 (Nev. 2018). A baby was born and subsequently placed into foster care. The infant had an older half-sister who had been adopted. The adoptive mother of the infant’s older half-sister sought adoptive placement, as did the infant’s current foster parents. There exists a rebuttable presumption that a dependent child’s placement with a sibling is in the child’s best interest. However, the lower court determined that rebuttable presumption did not apply here, reasoning that the infant’s older half-sister’s adoption had effectively severed the sibling relationship. The adoptive mother of the older half-sister appealed. On appeal, the court held that neither the language of the statute nor legislative intent indicates that adoption precludes application of the rebuttable presumption. Thus, the lower court was required to apply the rebuttable presumption in determining proper placement of the infant.
New Hampshire. In re Y.L., 190 A.3d 1049 (N.H. 2018). The lower court had interpreted the controlling adoption statute as prohibiting an unmarried man from adopting an adult child without altering legal parental status of adult child’s birth mother. Thus, the lower court denied the unmarried man’s adoption petition. On appeal, the state supreme court found the adoption statute, supported by a liberal interpretation of adoption law within the jurisdiction, authorized the proposed adoption arrangement, which was contemplated and consented to by the unmarried man, adult child, and birth mother.
Oklahoma. Cruce v. Asbell, 419 P.3d 204 (Okla. 2018). This case involves adoption of a child by a stepparent without consent of one of the biological parents. Stepfather of M.A.S. applied to adopt the child without the biological father’s consent. Mother introduced evidence that Father willfully failed to pay child support and did not attempt to maintain or establish a substantial and positive relationship with the child. On these grounds, Mother sought the adoption without consent. The district court declared that the child was indeed eligible for adoption even without the biological father’s consent on the grounds of the evidence provided by the mother. Father appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed the judgment. According to the Oklahoma statute, in order to seek adoption without consent of biological parent, the party who seeks to destroy the parent-child bond must establish with clear and convincing evidence “that an adoption without consent or termination of parental rights is warranted.” Oklahoma’s supreme court stated that the trial court erred in not holding a formal evidentiary hearing and that the evidence presented of unpaid child support and Father’s lack of positive relationship was not supported by the clear weight of clear and convincing evidence. Thus, the court vacated and remanded back to trial court.
South Carolina. Ex parte Carter, 813 S.E.2d 686 (S.C. 2018). Biological parents sought to revoke the mother’s consent to adoption of her two children based on allegations that her consent was involuntary and the product of duress, coercion, and extrinsic fraud. The parents relied on seven different family court judges regarding how to contest their consent and each time filed the suggested motions in a reasonable time. There was extrinsic fraud by the court and the attorney for the adoptive parents, who blocked the biological parents from being heard in court and continued with the adoption despite knowing there were pending motions on consent. When there is a claim of extrinsic fraud and the motion is filed in a reasonable time, the motion must be heard.
S.C. Dep’t of Soc. Serv. v. Boulware, 809 S.E.2d 223 (S.C. 2018). DSS placed a child with foster parents; upon TPR, DSS places the child with the aunt and uncle. Prior to DSS placing the child for adoption, the foster parents petitioned for adoption. The appellate court dismissed on grounds that the parents have no standing. The Supreme Court of South Carolina held that the foster parents have standing because they are residents of South Carolina and because they brought their adoption action (1) before DSS placed child for adoption but while child was placed in foster care with petitioners and (2) before DSS was vested with authority to consent to an adoption.
S.C. Dep’t of Soc. Serv. v. Smith, 814 S.E.2d 148 (S.C. 2018). Father is appealing the adoption of his daughter. Mother and Father were unmarried. Mother had a history of drug abuse, and there was not a stable home. Father surrendered himself in order to be out of jail in time to support the child. At the time, his release date was in 2016. He never contacted or supported the daughter. The trial court found that Father did not need to consent to the adoption because he was not a person who established or maintained parental rights to the extent his consent for the child’s adoption was required pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(A). The supreme court reviewed the termination of parental rights and discussed the standard for statutory grounds. The court held that the statutory grounds are met when the child is abandoned. “Terminating the parental rights of an incarcerated parent requires consideration of all of the surrounding facts and circumstances in the determination of willfulness. The voluntary pursuit of lawless behavior is one factor that may be considered but is generally is not determinative.”
S.C. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. v. Wilson, 344 S.C. 332, 340 (Ct. App. 2001). The court held that the father needed to make prior arrangements for the care of the child before surrendering himself. After determining that the father willfully abandoned and willfully did not contact the child, the court used a best interest analysis and granted adoption to the foster parents.
Wyoming. In re Adoption of L-MHB, 431 P.3d 560 (Wyo. 2018). This case overruled In re Adoption of Strauser, 196 P.2d 862 (Wyo. 1948); In re Adoption of AMD, 766 P.2d 550 (Wyo. 1988); JK ex rel. DK v. MK, 5 P.3d 782 (Wyo. 2000); and In re JWT, 104 P.3d 93 (Wyo. 2005). In In re Adoption of L-MHB, the Supreme Court of Wyoming held that when a party fails to furnish necessary consents and relinquishments with an adoption petition—although sometimes fatal to the petition—it does not deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction. In so holding, the court overruled prior case law to the contrary.
Alabama. Stephan v. Millennium Nursing & Rehab Ctr., Inc., No. 1170524, 2018 WL 4846501 (Ala. Oct. 5, 2018). As personal representative of the nursing home resident’s estate, the deceased resident’s adult daughter brought a wrongful death action against the nursing home. The court found that the resident, due to dementia, lacked capacity to contract at the time daughter signed, solely as a family member, the nursing home contract containing arbitration provision on his behalf. Despite this finding, the court held that the daughter failed to meet the burden of proving that resident’s dementia constituted permanent incapacity necessary to justify avoidance of an arbitration provision in the nursing home contract.
Assistive Reproductive Technology
Colorado. In re Marriage of Rooks, 429 P.3d 579 (Colo. 2018). The court held that in resolving a disagreement over a couple’s cryogenically preserved pre-embryos when that couple divorces, a court should first look to any existing agreement regarding the pre-embryos. If there is no agreement or the agreement lacks a divorce provision, then the court should try to balance both parties’ interests when awarding the pre-embryos. The court created a new balancing framework for allocating the pre-embryos in the absence of an agreement. In balancing those interests, courts should consider the intended use of the party seeking to preserve the pre-embryos; a party’s demonstrated ability, or inability, to become a genetic parent through means other than use of the disputed pre-embryos; the parties’ reasons for undertaking IVF in the first place; the emotional, financial, or logistical hardship for the person seeking to avoid becoming a genetic parent; any demonstrated bad faith or attempt to use the pre-embryos as unfair leverage in the divorce process; and other considerations relevant to the parties’ specific situation. However, courts should not consider whether the party seeking to become a genetic parent using the pre-embryos can afford a child. Nor shall the sheer number of a party’s existing children, standing alone, be a reason to preclude preservation or use of the pre-embryos. Finally, courts should not consider whether the party seeking to become a genetic parent using the pre-embryos could instead adopt a child or otherwise parent nonbiological children.
Iowa. P.M v. T.B., 907 N.W.2d 522 (Iowa 2018). A couple who intended to be parents of child born through a surrogate mother brought a breach of contract action after the birth mother refused to give the baby to the intended parents. The district court ruled that the contract was enforceable and terminated the parental rights of the surrogate mother and her husband and gave parental rights to the intended parents as well as sole permanent custody. The surrogate mother and her husband appealed, and the supreme court held that the agreement was not prohibited by statute and was not unenforceable as against public policy, and the surrogate mother’s due process and equal protection rights were not violated.
Mississippi. Strickland v. Day, 239 So. 3d 486 (Miss. 2018). A married same-sex couple conceived a child using artificial insemination. The couple subsequently separated. The lower court entered a judgment of divorce, finding that the nongestational mother acted as loco parentis, but anonymous sperm donor had parental rights, which must first be terminated; as such, the court reasoned that nongestational mother was precluded from being the child’s legal parent. The nongestational mother appealed. On appeal, the court determined that anonymous sperm donor is not a legal parent whose rights must be terminated. Further, the court found that the doctrine of equitable estoppel precluded the gestational mother’s challenge to the nongestational mother’s legal parentage, as there was ample evidence to show that the couple had jointly and intentionally agreed to raise the child. Reversed and remanded for custody determination.
Iowa. In re Marriage of Erpelding, 917 N.W.2d 235 (Iowa 2018). The wife filed an action to dissolve the marriage, requesting attorney fees; however, the parties were bound by a premarital agreement that stated that in the event of divorce or dissolution, neither party could seek attorney fees. The district court entered a finding on the issues of child custody, child support, spousal support, and property dissolution and held that the premarital agreement provision was enforceable. The wife appealed. The court of appeals reversed the denial of attorney fees only as to the child-related issues. The supreme court held that a premarital provision in which each spouse waived his or her ability to seek attorney fees was prohibited by statute, and public policy prohibits fee-shifting prohibitions on child custody issues.
Mississippi. Carter v. Davis, 241 So. 3d 614 (Miss. 2018). Lower court awarded the former wife attorney fees, as the suit was required to (1) enforce a child support order and (2) ensure the father’s compliance. On appeal, the court reversed the award of attorney fees, finding that the lower court did not determine that the father was in willful contempt. The appellate court decision was reversed by the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which held that a lower court need not find a party in willful contempt in order to award attorney fees to the party seeking to enforce a decree.
Alaska. Abigail C. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., No. S-16782, 2018 WL 2979464 (Alaska June 13, 2018). The superior court terminated the mother’s parental rights. The mother appealed the superior court’s finding that the Office of Children’s Services made reasonable efforts to reunite her with her child and that terminating her parental rights was in the child’s best interests. On appeal, the court held that the superior court was correct in its finding that terminating the mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child, due to the mother’s substance abuse issues.
Cora C. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., No. S-16798, 2018 WL 2979472 (Alaska June 13, 2018). The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) assumed emergency custody of an Indian child after receiving a report of medical neglect. The child was hospitalized for two-and-a-half months, and then placed with a foster family in the Anchorage area. The child’s maternal aunt requested that he be placed with her, but OCS denied her request because he needed medical services that were available only in Anchorage. The aunt appealed and requested a placement review hearing. Following the hearing, the court found that OCS had presented clear and convincing evidence of good cause to deviate from the Indian Child Welfare Act’s placement preferences, which prioritize placements with family members over other foster placements. The aunt appealed again. The court affirmed the decision of the superior court because it complied with the Indian Child Welfare Act and the right to due process.
Cyra v. Alaska, Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., No. S-166666, 2018 WL 3770025 (Alaska Aug. 8, 2018). Three children were taken into emergency custody by the Office of Children’s Services. Mother failed to engage in her case plan. Less than three months before trial, Mother attempted to address her alcohol problems, entering residential treatment at the Salvation Army Clitheroe Center. The superior court found that her efforts were “too little, too late” and terminated her parental rights. Mother appealed. The court found that the superior court was correct in ruling that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the children.
Edith A. v. Jonah A., No. S-16818, 2018 WL 6441612 (Alaska Dec. 7, 2018). Finding no controversy between the parents as to require mediation, the court found that the mother was not entitled to declaratory judgment; however, the mother’s allegations were sufficient to demonstrate the father’s serious lack of cooperation with medical guidance, which could result in harm to the child. Therefore, the mother was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on her motion for modification of joint legal custody.
Georgette S.B. v. Scott B., No. S-16687, 2018 WL 6441614 (Alaska Dec. 7, 2018). Father moved to modify a custody order in order to have sole custody of the children. The superior court awarded Father both sole legal and sole physical custody of the children and limited the mother to supervised visitation pending the children’s full engagement in therapy. Mother appealed. On appeal, the court held that (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the mother’s continued resistance to children’s therapy constituted a change in circumstances, (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that modification of custody was in children’s best interests, and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by limiting Mother to supervised visitation pending children’s full engagement in therapy.
Justin B. v. Alaska, Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., 234 P.3d 1245 (Alaska 2018). Father challenged the superior court’s decision to terminate his parental rights of two children. The Office of Children’s Services had concerns about Father’s homelessness, parenting abilities, substance abuse issues, mental health, and domestic violence. The court held that the superior court did not err by finding that Father failed to remedy the conduct and conditions to which he subjected the children. The court also held that the lower court did not err by finding that Office of Children’s Services made timely, reasonable efforts to reunify the family.
Louis W. v. Maria G., No. S-17010, 2018 WL 4631689 (Alaska Sept. 26, 2018). An unmarried couple gave birth to a son in 2012. In 2017, Mother moved to Oregon with son, without informing Father. Father filed a child custody action and the superior court granted Mother sole legal and primary physical custody of their son. Father appealed. The superior court found that Father: (1) committed multiple acts of domestic violence, (2) had a “pattern of coercive and controlling behavior,” and (3) had taken physically violent actions against Mother when he grabbed her by the hair and held the child, and when he burned her arm by pushing her against a woodstove. Father challenged the superior court’s findings in regard to the claims of domestic violence. The court affirmed, finding his suggestions of error meritless.
Moore v. McGillis, 408 P.3d 1196 (Alaska 2018). Mother moved to modify an existing custody arrangement with Father, seeking primary custody of their daughter and to have Father’s visitation rights and legal custody over his stepson terminated. Superior court denied the motion and terminated Father’s obligation to pay child support for the stepson. The mother appealed. On appeal, the court held that (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the Father’s new work schedule and family arrangements did not constitute substantial change in circumstances that warranted modifying Father’s existing custody arrangement with his daughter; (2) intervention of the stepson’s absent biological father amounted to change in circumstances as matter of law, and, thus, the trial court was required to consider stepson’s best interests in light of mother’s motion; and (3) Father was obligated to continue paying child support for his stepson, despite intervention of the stepson’s biological father.
Pingree v. Cossette, 474 P.3d 371 (Alaska 2018). Unmarried parents living in different towns could not agree on a permanent arrangement for shared custody of a minor child. Mother filed a complaint for primary physical custody during the school year, and Father counterclaimed for the same. Father was a commercial fisherman and was thus unavailable for two to three summer months each year. The superior court awarded primary custody to Father. The mother appealed. On appeal, the court held that (1) the superior court was not required to adopt or make specific findings as to custody investigator’s recommendation, (2) questionnaires completed by references for parents and submitted to custody investigator were inadmissible hearsay, (3) evidence was sufficient to support a finding that awarding primary physical custody to Mother during the school year would give Father only four weeks of primary physical custody during the summer, (4) evidence was sufficient to support a finding that Mother was resistant to having Father play an equal role in child’s life, (5) the superior court did not equalize parenting time at the expense of minor child’s best interests, (6) the superior court’s determination was not affected by its view on corporal punishment, and (7) the superior court properly considered the best interests of the child, given that her parents lived in different localities.
Weathers v. Weathers, 425 P.3d 131 (Alaska 2018). After Father was retired by his employer, Mother moved for modification of prior child custody order, pursuant to which she had primary physical custody of child except when Father was home from working overseas. The superior court modified custody to award Father physical custody of child fifty-nine percent of the year. The mother appealed. On appeal, the court held that (1) Mother was not denied due process as result of trial court’s reliance on grandparent involvement in making its determination on her motion; (2) the trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider, as part of its best interest analysis, that Father intentionally misled Mother about his return to work after his employment was terminated; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by assigning disproportionate weight to grandparent involvement as factor in Father’s favor when ruling on mother’s motion.
California. Bianka M. v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 5th 1004 (2018). The court held that if a minor child petitions for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, the court may proceed in equity and good conscience in the absence of one parent when the absent parent has received adequate notice and is beyond the personal jurisdiction of the court and, thus, cannot be joined as a party. Further, the court held that the action may proceed regardless of whether the court believes it was filed with an immigration-related motive.
Colorado. C.W.B., Jr. v. A.S., 410 P.3d 438 (Colo. 2018). The court held that foster parents lack standing to appeal a court’s ruling not to terminate a biological parent’s rights because the foster parents do not suffer an injury in fact—even when they want to adopt the child. The rights of the child are protected by the guardian ad litem and the Department of Social Services’ ability to appeal.
In re L.M., 416 P.3d 875 (Colo. 2018). After an adjudication of dependency or neglect has been entered, a county agency cannot seek to terminate parental rights through relinquishment procedures.
People v. G.S., 416 P.3d 905 (Colo. 2018). With limited exceptions, section 19-1-109(1) of the Colorado Children’s Code authorizes appeals of all orders in dependency or neglect proceedings that are “final judgments.”
Georgia. Beavers v. Provost, 822 S.E.2d 257 (Ga. 2018). Parents filed a habeas petition that sought to regain custody of their minor children taken without an order by the superior court. The parents challenged the removal, arguing the absence of an order in superior court made the removal improper. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed that the children should not have been removed without an order, but it indicated that a superseding order from the juvenile court with jurisdiction over the matter was properly entered. The court held that the parents were not entitled to habeas relief on their claim seeking to regain custody of their children.
Massachusetts. In re Child., 93 N.E.3d 1162 (Mass. 2018). This case is about the custody of children in the Department of Children and Families. A father filed an emergency motion for custody of children that were in the temporary custody of the Department. The motion was denied. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment because the father had not made the required showing that “review of the trial court decision cannot adequately be obtained on appeal from any final adverse judgement in the court or by other available means.”
Miller v. Miller, 88 N.E.3d 843 (Mass. 2018). This case concerns situations in which a parent has the right to remove a child from the United States and discusses which test should be used to evaluate the removal. In this case, husband brought a divorce action against wife, who counterclaimed, seeking sole custody of their child and the ability to remove the child from the country. The Probate and Family Court Department granted the wife’s request for physical custody and removal. The husband appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The court reasoned that, when there exists no prior custody order to guide a judge as to who had custody, the judge should perform a functional analysis to determine whether a “real advantage” exists or, in the alternative, the “best interest” test should apply in evaluating the removal.
Minnesota. Hansen v. Todnem, 908 N.W.2d 592 (Minn. 2018). This case involves modifications to a custody arrangement. After a parenting plan was established for a child between his mother and father, the father sought to modify the arrangement. He sought to provide care for the child before and after school while the child’s mother was working. The district court denied the motion because it was not in the son’s best interest. The father appealed, arguing that the district court failed to make detailed and specific findings on each factor listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.17(1)(a). The court of appeals and the supreme court affirmed. The supreme court held that the district court need only consider the relevant best-interest factors and was not required to make specific findings on every factor.
In re Custody of M.J.H., 913 N.W.2d 437 (Minn. 2018). A father of a child born out of wedlock sought to increase his parenting time to every other week. The parents had previously stipulated to an order that the mother would have sole physical custody, subject to the father’s parenting time. The district court determined that the motion was actually a motion to modify physical custody, and as a result, it applied the endangerment standard of Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv), which requires a prima facie showing that the current custody arrangement was a danger to the child. The court found that the father did not present a prima facie case that the mother subjected the child to endangerment and denied his motion. The court of appeals reversed. The supreme court then reversed the appellate court’s reversal in favor of the father because the supreme court determined that the modification was a de facto motion to modify physical custody and the endangerment standard did, in fact, apply. It held that the court should use a totality of the circumstances approach to determine whether the proposed modification would substantially change the custody arrangement. Some of the factors lower courts should look at include (1) the apportionment of parenting time, (2) the child’s age, (3) the child’s school schedule, and (4) the distance between the parties’ homes.
Mississippi. Griffin v. Griffin, 237 So. 3d 743 (Miss. 2018), reh’g denied. Father brought a divorce action after the mother was incarcerated. Physical and legal custody of the couple’s four daughters were awarded to the father. The lower court found that court-ordered, biweekly visits of the imprisoned mother were not in the children’s best interests. Physical visitation was to be at the father’s discretion, but the court did grant substantial phone visitation. The mother appealed. On appeal, the court affirmed. As a matter of first impression, the court recognized that incarceration alone is not sufficient to overcome the presumption that a noncustodial parent is entitled to visitation. The court concluded, however, that the lower court’s holistic determination that physical visitation was not in the best interests of the children warranted great deference.
Missouri. Bowers v. Bowers, 543 S.W.3d 608 (Mo. 2018). This is a case about child custody. An unmarried mother had a child, and subsequently married a man who was not the child’s biological father. The husband, although not the child’s biological father, was listed on the child’s birth certificate. The husband sought to have the marriage dissolved. He requested an award of joint physical and legal custody, as well as child support. The mother filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that her estranged husband was not the child’s biological father. The husband responded, alleging that the mother was statutorily barred from rescinding the paternity affidavit and filed a motion for third-party custody, pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.375.5 (2000). The circuit court found that the mother and biological father were unfit, unsuitable, and unable to be the child’s physical or legal guardians and awarded the husband third-party custody. The supreme court affirmed, holding that permitting a husband to seek third-party custody of a child in a marriage dissolution proceeding does not violate the mother’s due process rights, as the husband had been specifically invited to act as the child’s parent for years.
Nevada. Bautista v. Picone, 419 P.3d 157 (Nev. 2018). After numerous requests for modification, a parenting coordinator was assigned to help a set of parents make substantive changes to a custody arrangement. The mother then filed a request to modify custody on the grounds that the father was dating a minor. The court denied this request without an evidentiary hearing, appointed a new parenting coordinator, and granted the new parenting coordinator power to make temporary decisions on minor dispute resolution between the parties. The mother appealed. The Supreme Court of Nevada found that the lower court abused its discretion by delegating decision-making authority to the parent coordinator in making substantive changes to the custody plan. Additionally, the court held that the mother met her burden to show adequate cause, which warranted an evidentiary hearing on the request to modify custody. Thus, the court held that the lower court erred in denying her request.
New Hampshire. In re McAndrews, 193 A.3d 834 (N.H. 2018). Father appeals a lower court decision on the grounds that it conducted an improper inconvenient forum analysis leading to the dismissal of his parenting plan modification petition. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, as adopted by the New Hampshire state legislature, requires a meaningful consideration of all relevant factors before determining whether New Hampshire is an inconvenient forum. The lower court’s order lacked meaningful consideration of relevant factors, and the case was vacated and remanded.
In re Neal, 184 A.3d 90 (N.H. 2018). Purported father filed a motion to rescind paternity, seeking to rescind the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity executed at the child’s birth six years earlier. The lower court granted the motion on the grounds that the purported father had mistakenly believed himself to be the biological father, as the biological mother never disclosed the possibility that this might not be true. The mother sought reconsideration of the motion, arguing that the purported father was estopped from rescinding paternity because of his acts in a parental role after learning of the lack of biological connection, but her motion for reconsideration was denied. The mother appealed. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found the lower court properly exercised jurisdiction, that the mistake-of-fact standard was appropriately applied, and despite the purported father’s delay in moving to rescind paternity, it was not an error for the trial court to grant the motion.
New Mexico. Tue Thi Tran v. Bennett, 411 P.3d 345 (N.M. 2018). Upon de novo review, the court found that the original Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) was in effect at the time of the husband and wife’s divorce and therefore applied to the subsequent determination as to who was the child’s father. Under the original UPA, the child’s biological father had appropriately rebutted the marital presumption of paternity through use of biological evidence. The lower court’s subsequent stipulated order adopting a memorandum of understanding constituted an adjudication on the issue of paternity. While the order adopting the memorandum settled the issue of paternity, the memorandum did not confer parental rights onto the husband. The memorandum attempted to outline “co-parent” rights for the wife, husband, and biological father. However, the term “co-parent” is not recognized within marriage statutes or by the UPA; thus, husband was left as a third party with visitation rights, not a parent. Further stated that the fifteen-day term of imprisonment imposed by the lower court was not only an inappropriate remedial sanction for civil contempt of court but also an abuse of discretion.
Oklahoma. In re J.L.O., 428 P.3d 881 (Okla. 2018). The mother was a heroin addict and although she had claimed she had been clean since learning she was pregnant, the hospital staff noticed signs of heroin use while she was interacting with the infant. State took the child into their custody. At the parental termination hearing, the mother waived the right to a jury trial. She then appealed, stating that she did not knowingly waive jury trial because she was on prescribed methadone. She also claimed the state violated her Sixth Amendment right to confrontation by calling a witness via telephone at trial. The court held that the transcript of the trial judge verifying that the mother fully consented to waiving her right to jury trial was enough to show she waived her right knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. In the matter of the Sixth Amendment deprivation, the court held that the mother did not have a Sixth Amendment right of confrontation in child deprivation cases and parental rights termination proceedings, as the confrontation clause only applied to criminal cases. The full range of procedural safeguards that are applied in parental termination cases are based solely on due process. When the state introduces a witness via telephone, it is not a violation of due process rights because the appellant has the ability to conduct a cross-examination just as she would in person.
Pennsylvania. C.G. v. J.H., 193 A.3d 891 (Pa. 2018). The former same-sex partner of the biological mother was seeking legal and partial custody of the child that was born while the couple was still together. The biological mother filed a motion to dismiss for standing. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the motion to dismiss and stated that the former partner was not a parent to the child she sought to have partial custody over, and therefore did not have standing. The supreme court also ruled that existence of a bond prior to the couple’s split did not have to be examined by the family court in order to determine loco parentis to the child.
In re A.J.R.-H & I.G.R.-H., 188 A.3d 1157 (Pa. 2018). Child and Youth Services (CYS) filed petitions to terminate parental rights. At the hearing to do so, CYS introduced 167 exhibits in support of the termination of parental rights. The mother appealed on the ground that the exhibits should not have been admitted under the hearsay rule as they were not authenticated, they were used for the truth of the matter asserted, and the medical opinions within the 167 exhibits did not fall under a hearsay exception. The superior court affirmed, stating that the error of the trial court was harmless. The supreme court held that the superior court erred in affirming because the manner in which the exhibits were admitted did not satisfy the requirements of the business records hearsay exception because there was no witness presented by CYS to support the exhibits’ admission. The admission of these exhibits played a definite role in the orphan’s court’s decision to terminate the parental rights; therefore, the superior court erred in saying that it was harmless and therefore a violation of the parent’s due process rights. The case was remanded back to the orphan’s court for a new hearing.
Rhode Island. Ainsworth v. Ainsworth, 186 A.3d 1074 (R.I. 2018). Wife appeals trial court ruling that denied her motion to relocate with the parties’ four children from Rhode Island to Australia. Husband had a history of alcohol abuse and inappropriate behavior in front of the children. Wife argued on appeal: (1) the hearing justice erred in assessing the evidence properly because he gave too much weight to the husband’s presence in court and too little weight to the husband’s past failures and misdeeds, as well as their “utter loathing” for each other not being a healthy environment for the children; (2) the hearing justice failed to acknowledge or didn’t take into account the testimony of the school nurse who had first-hand knowledge of how the children behaved at school and socially; and (3) the hearing justice failed to properly apply precedential criteria in determining whether relocation would serve the best interests of the children. The supreme court ruled that the hearing justice did not overlook or misconstrue any material evidence in his decision and his factual findings were not erroneous or clearly wrong. The trial justice had properly used the factors established in precedent, and the trial ruling stands.
South Dakota. Howlett v. Stellingwerf, 908 N.W.2d 775 (S.D. 2018). In an action between the father and maternal grandmother for custody, the court held that the grandmother must rebut the father’s presumptive right to custody under S.D. Codified Laws § 25-5-29. The court reasoned that grandmother was not a natural parent and natural parents have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their child. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000). A parent’s presumptive right to custody of his or her child may be rebutted by proof that (1) the parent has abandoned or persistently neglected the child, (2) the parent has forfeited or surrendered his or her parental rights over the child to any person other than the parent, (3) the parent has abdicated his or her parental rights and responsibilities, or (4) other extraordinary circumstances exist such that, if custody were awarded to the parent, serious detriment to the child would result.
Texas. Bos v. Smith, 556 S.W.3d 293 (Tex. 2018). Father, on his own behalf and as his children’s next of kin, brought an action against his children’s maternal grandparents for negligence, defamation, aiding and assisting interference with custody rights, and conspiracy. The court will defer to the trial court’s findings of fact if they are legally sufficient. Evidence is legally insufficient to support a disputed fact finding when (1) evidence of a vital fact is absent, (2) rules of law or evidence bar us from giving weight to the only evidence offered to prove a vital fact, (3) the evidence offered to prove a vital fact is no more than a mere scintilla, or (4) the evidence conclusively establishes the opposite of the vital fact. Section 42.002 of the Family Code authorizes a civil action against a person “who takes or retains possession of a child or who conceals the whereabouts of a child in violation of a possessory right of another person.” Father argued that grandparents’ acts assisted Mother in keeping the son away from him. The court did not decide whether chapter 42 applies in nonabduction cases because it concluded the evidence was legally insufficient to establish a violation even if the statute is not limited to abductions. Liability under Family Code chapter 42 can arise in two ways: (1) interfering with a possessory right and (2) aiding the one who interferes with a possessory right. Liability for the latter is necessarily derivative of the former. Thus, even though Father did not sue Mother, he nevertheless had to prove she interfered with his possessory rights to sustain a claim that the grandparents assisted Mother’s interference. However, Father only focused on the seventeen-months of Mother’s misconduct scheme to deny him access to his children, and the supreme court stated that chapter 42 does not cover mere schemes. In regard to the grandparents’ fiduciary duty, the court found that Mother’s actions were so outrageous that the grandparents could not predict her actions.
In re J. G., 809 S.E.2d 453 (W. Va. 2018). This case clarified the law surrounding cases of child abuse and neglect. In this case, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia found that termination of biological parents’ parental rights—such that the child’s foster parents could attain permanency—was in child’s best interests. Crucially, the court took this opportunity to clarify existing case law: The paramount concern in cases involving abuse is the health, safety, and welfare of children. West Virginia Code § 49-4-601, the Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect, and West Virginia case law are not mere guidelines. Their time limitations and standards are mandatory. And they may not be disregarded or enlarged by courts without statutory authority. As such, “[a]ny discretion granted to the circuit court within this framework is intended to allow the court to fashion appropriate measures and remedies to highly complex familial and interpersonal issues—it does not serve as a blanket of immunity for the circuit court to manage abuse and neglect cases as its whim, personal desire, or docket may fancy.”
In re K.E., 809 S.E.2d 531 (W. Va. 2018). This case voided a custody order that granted grandparents’ custody of children because the grandparent-preference statute implicitly contained a best-interests-of-the-child provision. In In re K.E., the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that W. Va. Code § 49-4-114’s grandparent-preference provision is not absolute; instead, it is just a preference. And this preference can be overcome whenever the best interests of the child are at stake. Here, the lower court had awarded custody to the grandparents based upon the provision. However, the Supreme Court of Appeals reversed because the grandparents’ proximity to the child’s biological parents—whose parental rights had been terminated—was not in children’s best interest. (Although the Supreme Court of Appeals had previously held that “the preference for grandparent placement may be overcome only where the record reviewed in its entirety establishes that such placement is not in the best interests of the child,” the court seemed to apply a more lenient standard here.)
State ex rel. C. H. v. Faircloth, 815 S.E.2d 540 (W. Va. 2018). In State ex rel. C. H. v. Faircloth, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that foster parents, pre-adoptive parents, and relative caregivers—who occupy only a statutory role as individuals entitled to notice and a hearing under W. Va. Code § 49-4-601(h)—are subject to discretionary limitations on the level and type of participation as determined by the circuit court. Consequently, “[f]oster parents who have been granted the right to intervene are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of any other party to the action.” In so holding, the court modified its prior ruling in In re Jonathan G.—which limited intervenors’ participatory rights and privileges.
Wyoming. Bruegman v. Bruegman, 417 P.3d 157 (Wyo. 2018). In Bruegman v. Bruegman, the Supreme Court of Wyoming “overrule[d] its precedent disfavoring shared custody.” The court held—contrary to its prior holding in an earlier case—that it would no longer presume shared custody is contrary to the best interests of the children. Furthermore, the court declared that “shared custody should [now] be considered on an equal footing with other forms of custody.”
Johnson v. Clifford, 418 P.3d 819 (Wyo. 2018). This case clarified the implications of its new ruling in Bruegman v. Bruegman, 417 P.3d 157 (Wyo. 2018). In Johnson v. Clifford, 418 P.3d at 824 n.2, the Supreme Court of Wyoming noted that, although Bruegman overruled precedent recognizing a presumption against joint or shared custody, Bruegman did not undermine any historically recognized differences between primary and joint custody. Therefore, courts will continue to apply the “material change of circumstances” standard based upon whether the governing order awarded primary custody or joint custody.
Martin v. Hart, 429 P.3d 56 (Wyo. 2018). This case reaffirmed Bruegman v. Bruegman. In Martin v. Hart, the Supreme Court of Wyoming made clear that it has “abandoned any presumption that shared custody is contrary to the best interests of the children, holding that shared custody should be considered on an equal footing with other forms of custody.”
Long v. Long, 413 P.3d 117 (Wyo. 2018). This case held that courts are permitted to enforce separation agreements stipulating child custody arrangements when those arrangements coincide with the best interests of the child. In Long v. Long, the Supreme Court of Wyoming held that “a district court can enforce a stipulation regarding child custody so long as that stipulation is in the best interests of the children.” Paradoxically, however, “[i]f parties have made an agreement regarding child custody, a district court need not conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the best interests of the child.”
Alabama. Ex parte G.L.C., No. 1170813, 2018 WL 5307629 (Ala. Oct. 26, 2018). Father brought action seeking to terminate mother’s parental rights to parties’ son, alleging that the mother had abandoned the son. The court held that, as a matter of first impression, principles of equity required that the mother’s notice of appeal be deemed filed on the date that the mother physically appeared at circuit clerk’s office and presented the notice.
Alaska. Duke S. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., No. S-16932, 2018 WL 6005766 (Alaska Nov. 16, 2018). The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his son, citing abandonment, neglect, and the father’s incarceration. The court found that the Office of Children’s Services had satisfied its statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify parent and child. The father appealed the termination decision, arguing that these findings were unsupported by evidence. The court held that the trial court had erred in (1) finding that child was in need of aid on basis of the father’s abandonment, (2) finding that child was in need of aid on basis of the father’s neglect, (3) finding that child was in need of aid based on the father’s incarceration, and (4) determining that Office of Children’s Services made reasonable efforts to reunify father and child.
Michael A.P. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., No. S-16593, 2018 WL 669098 (Alaska Jan. 31, 2018). A four-month-old child was taken into custody by the Office of Children’s Services following reports of a disturbance at the father’s home. The child tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, and marijuana. Despite the danger the mother posed to the child due to her mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence issues, the father failed to take steps to obtain a protective order. The father’s parental rights were terminated, and he appealed. The court concluded that the superior court had not erred in finding the father had abandoned the child, or in finding that the termination of the father’s parental rights to the child was in the child’s best interest.
Sarah A. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Serv., Office of Child. Serv., 427 P.3d 771 (Alaska 2018). The Office of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the mother and father’s parental rights to their child. The superior court terminated the father’s parental rights, and the mother appealed. The court held that the trial court’s appearance of judicial partiality did not rise to the level of structural error or violate mother’s due process rights.
Arizona. Alma S. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, 245 Ariz. 146 (2018). The Department of Child Safety moved to terminate mother’s parental rights to two children on the ground that she was unable to protect them from abuse. The father routinely abused the children while the mother was at work. After a hearing, the superior court severed the mother’s parental rights. The mother appealed, and the court of appeals vacated the severance. Review was granted. The court held that sufficient evidence supported juvenile court’s findings that severance of mother’s parental rights to two children was in the children’s best interests.
Brenda D. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, 243 Ariz. 437 (2018). In child dependency proceedings, the Department of Child Safety (DCS) moved to terminate Mother’s parental rights because she was not consistently providing her daughter, who had Down’s Syndrome, with the proper care. The superior court granted DCS’s motion, and Mother appealed. The court held that (1) Mother, by failing to timely appear for a scheduled hearing, “failed to appear” within the meaning of the statute and waived her legal rights and is deemed to have admitted the allegations in the petition; (2) juvenile court violated Mother’s due process rights by permitting her counsel to address only the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility; and (3) even if juvenile court violated Mother’s due process rights, such error was not fundamental.
California. In re I.C., 4 Cal. 5th 869 (2018). The court expanded the Lucero L. test for determining when hearsay statements of minor children indicate a “special indicia of reliability” and held that when a reviewing court examined whether or not admitting the hearsay statements was reversible error, the court must consider the record as a whole, including reports, video, and other testimony.
District of Columbia. In re J.M., 193 A.3d 773 (D.C. Ct. App. 2018). The court held that the trial court’s decision to change a permanency goal from concurrent goals of reunification and adoption to adoption only was appropriate after an adjudication of children as neglected. The court also determined that a D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) had expended reasonable efforts to help the mother address the concerns that resulted in her children being removed and adjudicated neglected. The mother had not completed a mental health assessment, had not attended a parenting class, had not visited her children on a regular basis, and had not been in contact with CFSA for approximately two months.
Florida. Simmonds v. Perkins, 247 So. 3d 397 (Fla. 2018). The biological father and mother of a child were engaged in a three-year relationship. During this relationship, the father was never informed that the mother was married to a man who asserted parentage of the child by virtue of his marriage to the mother. The biological father filed a petition to establish paternity, child support, and timesharing. The court held that the child’s biological father had standing to rebut the presumption of marital legitimacy after establishing he showed “substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child.
Georgia. In re I.L.M, 304 Ga. 114 (Ga. 2018). The juvenile court terminated the parental rights of a mother and father from their three children. The case was preparing for trial, and the parties were ready to proceed, when the court, on its own, decided to continue the hearing until a later date and set the adjudication hearing for a later time. The court held that the trial court’s order granting the continuance of adjudication hearing on dependency proceeding beyond the time limits imposed by statute failed to establish good cause for the continuance.
Idaho. Doe Child. v. Idaho Dep’t of Health and Welfare, 415 P.3d 945 (2018). Father’s parental rights were terminated by a magistrate court that granted the petition based on the best interests of the children. The court held that because parental rights are fundamental, termination of those rights must come through clear and convincing evidence.
Illinois. In re N.G., 155 N.E.3d 102 (Ill. 2018). The petitioner-father’s parental rights were terminated after he was determined an unfit parent under section 1(D) of the Adoption Act (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. 50/1(D)) because of three prior felony convictions before his child’s birth. The appellate court determined that because one of the convictions was based on a statute previously declared unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court, it should not have been considered in the determination of the father’s fitness to parent. Without the consideration of that conviction, the statute allowing the father to be declared “depraved” would not have been triggered, and thus his parental rights would not have been questioned. The supreme court affirmed.
Iowa. State v. Benson, 919 N.W.2d 237 (Iowa 2018). Defendant appealed conviction of child endangerment for hitting the children of his fiancée with a broomstick on the buttocks and upper legs, claiming that he was simply administering corporal punishment. The supreme court reversed, holding that child endangerment is a general-intent crime and that he intended harm rather than corrective punishment.
Kentucky. Cabinet for Health v. C.B., 556 S.W.3d 568 (Ky. 2018). A child was determined to be neglected because Father had a prior termination of parental rights proceeding, and Father’s substance abuse problems threatened his child with harm. The court of appeals reversed the neglect finding on the basis that Father had to exercise custody over the child in order for his substance abuse issues to be a harm to the child. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals decision and determined Father did not have to exercise custody or control over the child so long as he occupied a position of authority, which he did as the child’s parent. Furthermore, Father had a history of substance abuse problems, as evidenced by the prior termination of parental rights, and the substance abuse problems remained unresolved.
Maine. In re Child of Gustavus E., 182 A.3d 153 (Me. 2018). Mother filed a motion to terminate Father’s parental rights after Father was convicted of unwanted sexual contact that occurred when the victim was six to eight years old. Father completed a voluntary rehabilitation program for sex offenders, but a shift in assessment tools used before and after Father entered and left the program meant his risk of reoffending could not be qualified. The court concluded that if Father was released on time and continued treatment, then it would still jeopardize the safety of the child because the child would then be of the same age as Father’s previous victim. The court also concluded Father was unfit and termination of his parental rights was in the best interest of the child.
Massachusetts. Care & Protection of Penelope, 97 N.E.3d 348 (Mass. 2018). This case is about child custody and removal of a child from the United States by a parent. A father filed a petition for relief from denial of a request for induction that prevented a child from being removed from the United States. The request for relief was denied. The father appealed. Both the mother and Department of Child and Families moved to dismiss the appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court granted the dismissal of appeal for lack of prosecution, where the father did not explain his failure to file a brief and made unsubstantiated allegations concerning the child’s treatment outside of this country.
Michigan. In re Williams, 915 N.W.2d 328 (Mich. 2018). This case is about child custody and child welfare. A child whose father was a member of an Indian tribe was placed into a foster family who wanted to adopt the child. The children had been removed from the father’s custody and placed into foster care. The foster parents of the child petitioned the court to adopt the child. The father initially gave his consent for adoption but later moved to withdraw his consent. The father’s motion to withdraw his consent was denied, while the parents’ adoption petition was denied in another court. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court of Michigan held that specific adoptive placement was not required for valid consent of a biological father, who is a member of an Indian tribe, to terminate his parental rights. Remanded.
Minnesota. In re Welfare of S.R.K., 911 N.W.2d 821 (Minn. 2018). This case is about child custody and child welfare. Social Services was involved with a set of parents for several years, a result of responding to verbal domestic incidents, drug and alcohol use, chronic homelessness, and alleged criminal activity. Social Services filed a petition to terminate the parental right of an Indian mother. The district court terminated the rights in the trial, which was governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act and Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act. The parents appealed, arguing that the evidence did not support beyond a reasonable doubt the court’s finding that the parent’s continued custody of the children was likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the children. The court of appeals affirmed. The supreme court affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that 25 U.S.C. § 1912(f) and Minn. Stat. § 260.771, subd. 6(a), require a showing of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. It also held that this determination must be supported by a qualified expert witness testimony.
Mississippi. E.K. v. Miss. Dep’t of Child Prot. Serv., 249 So. 3d 377 (Miss. 2018). After the mother tested positive for marijuana and refused to be tested again, the Department of Human Services Division of Family and Children’s Services petitioned for an adjudication of the child as a neglected child. The Supreme Court of Mississippi found that Youth Court’s adjudication of a child as neglected violated the parent’s due process rights by not serving the requisite notice of the hearing upon the parents and not informing the mother of her right to counsel at the hearing. Accordingly, the subsequent order requiring a drug test was also in violation of the parents’ due process rights. The petition of neglect was found to be legally insufficient because there was no causal connection between the facts alleged in the petition and the petition’s charge of neglect as to give the parents notice of issues to be discussed at the adjudicative hearing. Similarly, the mother’s marijuana use was not sufficient to support an adjudication of neglect because there was no evidence to show the child was ever actually neglected.
In re M.A.S., 245 So. 3d 410 (Miss. 2018). The youth court placed an allegedly abused child into foster care but determined eventual reunification was in the best interest of child. Foster parents petitioned for adoption and to terminate the parental rights of the child’s biological parents in the chancery court. The Mississippi Department of Human Services challenged the chancery court’s jurisdiction, arguing that the youth court had jurisdiction. Chancery court dismissed the foster parent’s petition, agreeing that the youth court holds jurisdiction to terminate parental rights. The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the chancery court’s dismissal of the foster parent’s petition for adoption and termination of the biological parents’ parental rights. A recent statutory change prohibits chancery courts from granting adoption unless the parent’s rights have been first terminated by the youth court, unless the chancery court is sitting in original jurisdiction as a youth court in an abuse or neglect proceeding. This court found the chancery court appropriately applied the law in its dismissal.
Nevada. In re S.L., 422 P.3d 1253 (Nev. 2018). Parental rights of both parents were terminated after they failed to acknowledge court-ordered therapy regarding the abuse their children suffered. Both parents appealed, arguing that (1) findings of parental fault based on their refusal to engage in therapy violated their Fifth Amendment rights, (2) there was evidence of their efforts to regain custody, and (3) there was no evidence to support termination of their parental rights. The Supreme Court of Nevada found the parent’s privilege against self-incrimination had not been violated by a requirement to take part in meaningful therapy to ensure the children’s safety and upheld the finding of parental fault where the parents did not address the abuse. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Nevada found the lower court’s decision was not based merely on the therapy but on substantial evidence supporting the finding that termination was, in fact, in the best interests of the children.
Philip R. v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct. ex rel. Cty. of Clark, 416 P.3d 242 (Nev. 2018). Both foster parents and the Department of Family Services appealed from a lower court decision to remove a child from her foster home and place her with maternal relatives approximately twenty months after the initial removal. The Supreme Court of Nevada found the maternal relatives’ delay in seeking placement did not render the familial placement preference inapplicable; however, the lower court misapplied and relied too heavily upon the familial preference in its best interest analysis. Further, the Supreme Court of Nevada held that the lower court did not give proper deference to the placement decision of the Department of Family Services. A writ of mandamus was issued for a de novo trial.
New Hampshire. In re J.H., 188 A.3d 1030 (N.H. 2018). The lower court dismissed petitions for neglect of children against the father but entered a finding of neglect against the mother pertaining to her drug use. The lower court upheld an out-of-home placement of the children until both the mother and father complied with conditions imposed within the case plan before reunification could occur. The father appealed. The state supreme court found that the lower court had the statutory authority and acted constitutionally when it imposed conditions on both parents to remedy the circumstances that threatened harm to the children before allowing for reunification and to hold the requested parental fitness hearing. Affirmed.
In re O.D., 197 A.3d 646 (N.H. 2018). Children who were in the grandmother’s care were adjudicated as neglected, and the grandmother’s legal guardianship was terminated. Children were conditionally unified with the mother and father following compliance with dispositional order and case plan conditions. When concerns of the children’s safety arose, the children were removed. Petitions to adjudicate the children as abused or neglected were not filed because, according to the Division for Children, Youth and Families, the original disposition order still governed. The parents’ rights were terminated. The state supreme court found that there was a statutory ground for the termination of parental rights when parents failed to correct conditions that led to the adjudication of neglect within twelve months, and it did not require the Division to file petitions to again adjudicate children as abused or neglected when the children were removed from the home within twelve months. The lower court also found that the parents were not entitled to review of the claim that they had had a right to counsel in the original proceedings against the grandmother to adjudicate the children as neglected. Affirmed.
Petition of N.H. Div. for Child., Youth & Fam., 182 A.3d 1266 (N.H. 2018). After the child was deemed neglected and the mother not in compliance with the permanency plan, the Division for Children, Youth and Families filed a petition for the termination of parental rights to enable adoption to occur. Lower court denied the petition, finding the Division failed to meet its burden and reunification was in the best interest of the child. Four months later, the lower court sua sponte interpreted N.H. Revised Stat. Ann. § 170-C:11, IV to require that when a termination petition fails, guardianship of the child must be awarded, and subsequent hearing would be a guardianship hearing. Lower court awarded the child’s guardianship to the Division. Division appeals. On appeal, state supreme court found that when the court denies a termination petition, and the permanency plan was termination of parental rights and adoption, a new permanency hearing must be held to review, modify, and implement a permanency plan or adopt a concurrent plan. Reversed and remanded.
New Jersey. N.J. Div. of Child Prot. & Permanency v. R.L.M., 198 A.3d 934 (N.J. 2018). Father requested to represent himself in a guardianship action in which Division of Child Protection and Permanency sought to terminate parental rights. Request was denied by the lower court. Court determined that the Division met its burden of proof in regard to the best interest analysis and both the mother’s and father’s parental rights were terminated. Appellate Division affirmed the decision and rejected the father’s constitutional claim to the right of self-representation. Petition for certification granted. State supreme court found that while a parent has the right to represent himself, with the assistance of standby counsel at the court’s discretion, the father did not properly assert his right of self-representation in timely, clear, and unequivocal manner. Appellate Division decision affirmed as modified.
New Mexico. In re Anhayla H., 421 P.3d 814 (N.M. 2018). The father entered a no-contest plea to allegations of neglect and abuse of his two-year-old child. The father was in considerable noncompliance with the family treatment plan adopted by the court, despite efforts by the Children, Youth and Families Department to assist him in his efforts. CYFD filed a motion to terminate the parental rights; the father filed a response denying the noncompliance allegations. The parental rights hearing included extensive testimony. The court terminated the father’s parental rights; he appealed on the grounds that the Department had not fulfilled its obligation to make reasonable efforts to assist him. The court of appeals found for the father. The Department petitioned for a writ of certiorari. The state supreme court found there was substantial evidence to support the lower court’s finding that the Department made reasonable efforts to assist the father, as required prior to the termination of the father’s parental rights. The lower court also appropriately analyzed the child’s health and safety, as well as whether the conditions and causes of the neglect and abuse were unlikely to change in the foreseeable future in determining whether parental termination was in the child’s best interests. The opinion of the court of appeals was reversed; the lower court decision terminating the father’s parental rights was affirmed.
North Dakota. Dickson v. Dickson, 912 N.W.2d 321 (N.D. 2018). A couple divorced in 2016, had two children, and had a judgment for equal residential responsibility between them. In November 2016, there were allegations of domestic violence, and the court entered a domestic violence protection order against ex-husband. During a hearing, the parties inquired whether the statutory rebuttable presumption of domestic violence applied to the case. The district court stated, “I don’t need to make another finding because it’s already a finding.” The court further clarified, “So, yes, I will note that there is the rebuttable presumption in this case.” In July 2017, the district court denied the ex-wife’s motion for primary residential responsibility. The North Dakota Supreme Court held that the district court failed to correctly apply the law and make necessary findings regarding the best interest factors, including the factor on domestic violence, including whether credible evidence of domestic violence has occurred, whether the evidence raises the rebuttable presumption, and if raised, whether the presumption has been rebutted. The court must also determine whether the children’s environment under joint residential responsibility may endanger the children’s physical or emotional health or impair the children’s emotional development.
Rhode Island. In re Izabella G., 140 A.3d 146 (R.I. 2018). Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) filed to have father’s parental rights terminated. The family court terminated the rights and the father appealed. Izabella’s father was incarcerated and DCYF had admitted sufficient facts to support a finding of neglect. On appeal, the R.I. Supreme Court found that the marriage and family therapist counselor was qualified to be an expert witness in the area of traumatized children, Izabella’s letter was able to be admitted because it qualified under the medical diagnosis exception for hearsay, and the failure by DCYF to produce a signature on a disclosure of permanency form was not enough to warrant a reversal of parental termination.
In re James H., 181 A.3d 19 (R.I. 2018). Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) petitioned to have Crystal M.’s parental rights terminated for all three of her children due to drug abuse. Trial court heard from eight witnesses and decided, by clear and convincing evidence, that DCYF had proven that terminating parental rights was in the best interest of the children. Crystal appealed and argued that the trial justice erred by (1) admitting into evidence the report of Dr. Hirsch because it went against Rule 706(a) of R.I.’s Rules of Evidence, (2) admitting into evidence Crystal’s admission that she had been arrested for marijuana, and (3) overlooking Crystal’s compliance with plans and recommendations made by DCYF. The court ruled that the admission of Dr. Hirsch’s report was allowed under Rule 706(a) because although the court can appoint expert witnesses, it does not mean that ONLY the court can appoint expert witnesses, and the parties can call expert witnesses of their own choosing. Similarly, the court ruled that the admission that Crystal had been previously arrested for marijuana did not violate Rule 609(a) of the R.I. Rules of Evidence because the information was not offered to attack her credibility but, rather, was introduced in other to refresh her memory of prior run-ins with DCYF. The error of admission also would have been harmless, as the trial justice did not even consider it in her ruling. Lastly, the court found that the trial court did not overlook Crystal’s proclaimed compliance with DCYF’s plans, but instead had noted that between April 2013 and October 2015, Crystal did not cooperate and made no progress in either the case plans or objectives given to her by DCYF. She had also been discharged because of noncompliance from multiple programs that were meant to help her. Crystal had also not seen her children since August 17, 2015, and never petitioned the court for visitation rights after they were suspended in October 2015. The trial court ruling was affirmed, and parental rights were terminated.
South Dakota. In re M.D., 920 N.W.2d 496 (S.D. 2018). The father challenged the termination of his parental rights to his four-year-old son. The termination of parental rights in an ICWA case requires a showing of “active efforts . . . to prevent the breakup of the Indian family.” People ex rel. J.S.B., Jr., 691 N.W.2d 611, 617 (S.D. 2005). The father argued that DSS did not make active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family. Active efforts must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and will be reviewed de novo. The father argues that DSS did not make active efforts to place the child with a family on the Cheyenne River Reservation and instead they placed them in a non–Native American family in the area. Before trial, the father provided DSS with names of three of his relatives as placement options for the children, but only one, his sister, responded. His sister’s phone was then disconnected and DSS sent three letters to her, which returned no response. DSS informed the relatives that they would have to take all of the children, not just the father’s child, in which no relative wanted to pursue custody. Under ICWA, the placement must be licensed foster parents and none of the relatives were. In addition to no licenses, the tribe did not appear for the dispositional hearing. In response, the court rejects the father’s argument that DSS failed to comply with ICWA. Compliance with placement preferences is generally not a factor in determining whether active efforts were made. David S. v. State, Dep’t of Health & Social Servs., 270 P.3d 767 (Ala. 2012). However, if they were a factor, DSS complied with the preferences or had good cause to depart from them. The trial court’s order terminating parental rights is affirmed.
Texas. In re A.C., 560 S.W.3d 624 (Tex. 2018). Termination of parental rights (TPR) requires “clear and convincing evidence” that termination is warranted and is in the child’s best interest. The issue is whether, under the elevated proof standard, a parent’s unrecounted and uncontroverted admission that termination is in her children’s best interests, coupled with stipulations as to grounds for termination and permanency plans, is evidence to support the trial court’s best-interest findings. Such evidence, in the form of statements in a mediated settlement agreement signed by the parents, counsel, and others, is sufficient to support termination.
In re H.S., 550 S.W.3d 151 (Tex. 2018). The child’s maternal grandparents petitioned to modify an order issued in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) and requested that they be appointed child’s managing conservators with the right to designate her primary residence. The father intervened. After reviewing who was the primary caretaker, the court reversed and remanded the case. The court found that the child lived in her maternal grandparents’ home for the first twenty-three months of her life, and during the last eight of those months, her grandparents were her primary caretakers and providers. The grandparents continuously engaged in the parent-like role on a day-to-day basis and therefore had standing to pursue a SAPCR under Tex. Fam. Code § 102.003(a)(9), which confers such standing on nonparents who have had “actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least six months.”
Utah. Mower v. Baird, 422 P.3d 837 (Utah 2018). The father brought action against his child’s therapist for medical malpractice and negligence, alleging that therapist’s use of unreliable treatment methods resulted in child’s false allegations of sexual abuse against him. An issue of first impression, the court held that a therapist owes a traditional duty not to affirmatively act in a manner that recklessly causes physical harm, and that a therapist has a duty to refrain from recklessly giving rise to false memories or fabricated allegations of sexual abuse perceived by their minor patient. The Utah Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the father’s case and remanded for further proceedings.
Vermont. Sheldon v. Ruggiero, 202 A.3d 241 (Vt. 2018). In a suit against an administrative reviewer for Department of Children and Families (DCF) asserting claims for violation of the mandated-reporter statute and various theories of negligence after the death of a child whose mother was being reviewed by DCF, the Supreme Court of Vermont affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court held that DCF reviewers do not have a duty under the statute in effect at time of review to re-report earlier suspicions; that a reviewer is not subject to liability for negligence based on reviewer’s status as mandatory reporter; and that a reviewer is not subject to liability for negligence based on theory of negligent undertaking, even if he undertook private investigation into the question of abuse or neglect that caused initial harm.
Washington. H.B.H. v. State, 429 P.3d 484 (Wash. 2018). In a suit brought by former foster children against Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), alleging negligence in failure of DSHS to protect them from child abuse, the Supreme Court of Washington decided two matters of first impression. The court held that as a matter of first impression, DSHS is placed into a special relationship with foster children within its system, which supports recognition of a duty in tort to protect foster children from foreseeable harms at the hands of foster parents, and the question as to whether DSHS breached its protective duty to foster children, and whether breach of that duty caused their injuries, presented questions for jury to decide as a question of fact and not of law.
Alaska. Berg v. Berg, No. S-15812, 2018 WL 6422654 (Alaska Dec. 5, 2018). The obligor appealed a child support order, arguing that the superior court erred in declining to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine how his per diem and “Fringe Add-On” income should be classified for child support purposes. The obligor also claimed that the court erred in calculating his income by basing calculations on an annual rather than seasonal work schedule, and by calculating his allowable deductions. Additionally, the obligor claimed that the court abused its discretion in setting the effective date for the child support order based on the date on which he was served a motion to suspend visitation. The obligor argued that the motion did not provide him with notice that child support was an issue. On appeal, the court held that the superior court did not err in declining to hold the evidentiary hearing or in calculating the child support. The court also held that the superior court also did not abuse its discretion in setting the effective date for child support.
Christopher D. v. Krislyn D., 426 P.3d 1118 (Alaska 2018). Following entry of a judgment of divorce, issues of child custody and support were tried. The superior court awarded the mother sole physical custody and ordered the father to pay child support, effective from the first day of the month following the order. Both the father and the mother appealed. The father argued that the superior court abused its discretion by refusing to vary his child support obligation pursuant to the “good cause” exception, given the parents’ disparate incomes and the expenses he incurred to comply with conditions of his visitation. Mother argued that the superior court erred in setting the child support order’s effective date. On appeal, the court held that (1) the father did not demonstrate good cause for variance from child support guidelines and (2) the child support obligation began from the date the father and mother stopped cohabiting.
Tagaban v. Tagaban, No. S-16589, 2018 WL 4042775 (Alaska Aug. 22, 2018). The parents signed a child custody and support agreement, which provided that the father would invest their daughter’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) payments in a college savings fund. The mother filed a motion claiming that the father had used some of the daughter’s PFD payments for impermissible purposes. She asked that the superior court order the father to repay any missing funds and requested legal custody over the funds. The superior court denied the mother’s motion, and on appeal, the court affirmed, holding that the mother had abandoned her request to be appointed custodian of the daughter’s PFD funds, and as such, her remaining arguments were moot or had been waived.
Wooden v. Wooden, 244 So. 3d 1170 (Alaska 2018). The superior court issued a child support modification order that was later reissued to correct a clerical error. The father sought reconsideration of the corrected order, but his challenge was to the merits of the original order. The court denied his motion as untimely, and the father appealed. The court affirmed, holding that father’s motion was untimely.
Wyman v. Whitson, 421 P.3d 99 (Alaska 2018). On a case of first impression, the court held that a parent’s fishing permits and individual fishing quota shares are perpetual assets that do not decline in value or wear out over time. Further, amortization of a parent’s perpetual assets is not deductible from income as it pertains to child support calculations.
Arizona. State ex rel. Des v. Pandola, 243 Ariz. 418 (2018). The father registered an Illinois child support order and filed a proposed form of judgment, stating that the amount of arrears was zero dollars. The mother requested a hearing to contest the amount of arrears. The superior court determined that the mother’s request was untimely. The mother appealed. The court held that Arizona’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act allows an obligee to contest an obligor’s statement of child support arrears, notwithstanding the obligee’s failure to request a hearing within twenty days of receiving notice of the order’s registration.
Maine. Higgins v. Wood, 189 A.3d 724 (Me. 2018). Higgins filed for divorce in 2007 and was granted primary custody. Wood was required to pay $297.15 per week in child support for three children up to eighteen years of age. In 2009, the oldest child turned eighteen, and Wood asked the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery to reduce the amount of child support owed for the remaining two children but did not file a motion to amend the order until 2015. Wood argued the original child support order was self-effectuating, and he should be reimbursed for overpayments. The court held that a new court order is needed to determine payments when circumstances change.
Mississippi. McKinney v. Hamp, No. 2016-CA-00844-SCT, 2018 WL 793995 (Miss. Feb. 8, 2018). The mother sought a child support increase after the father received a signing bonus as a professional football player. The court found that the signing bonus constituted changed circumstances, which supported upwards modification; however, such a signing bonus would have to be considered separately from the gross income child support analysis. The increase was also ordered to be retroactive to date, requiring retroactive payments for both gross income and the signing bonus. The lower court ordered the father and mother to alternative claiming yearly child tax exemption without explanation. The mother filed a motion for contempt and attorney fees, claiming the father had failed to pay support as ordered. The father appealed, secured a supersedeas bond, and requested dismissal of contempt issue. The lower court found the father in contempt and ordered payment. On appeal, the state supreme court affirmed the lower court’s award of a retroactive increase because it was not an abuse of discretion. It reversed and remanded on the issue of the tax exemption, directing the lower court to make a detailed, reasoned decision in that regard. Further, the court upheld the lower court’s decision to treat the signing bonus as gross income and found that supersedeas bonds were not effective to stay prospective, monthly child support obligations. However, the court concluded that it was improper to hold the father in contempt because first-impression reliance on the supersedeas bond was not contemptuous or disobedient. The court noted that Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a) had never been analyzed in the context of child support payments. As such, the court concluded the father should not have been held in contempt for nonpayment.
Nevada. Miller v. Miller, 412 P.3d 1081 (Nev. 2018). The mother and father agreed to shared joint physical custody of one child, but the mother had primary physical custody of the other child. The parents could not reach an agreement on child support. The lower court determined that the father should pay a monthly sum of $345.00. The mother filed a motion for reconsideration and requested an explanation of the court’s reasoning. The lower court denied the reconsideration without explanation. The mother appealed. The Supreme Court of Nevada found that the lower court erred in its analysis and in its failure to explain its calculation of child support. The Supreme Court of Nevada outlined the proper calculation for a lower court. First, the court should determine each parent’s support obligation based on the percentage rate, correlated with the number of children. Then, the court should divide the result of the first step based on the number of children, offset the obligations by children they share jointly, and add the offset amount to the full amount of the child support obligation for the noncustodial parent. Finally, the court should ensure the amount paid by the noncustodial parent does not exceed statutory maximums. Factors warranting deviation may be considered. In conclusion, the Supreme Court of Nevada reversed the lower court decision and remanded with instructions to apply the aforementioned analysis.
New Hampshire. In re Hoyt, 196 A.3d 85 (N.H. 2018). The trial court ordered the reinstatement of an alimony obligation and granted upward modification of child support payments after rejecting the husband’s argument that the original alimony order was temporary and finding that the extra cost of the youngest child’s schooling warranted an upward adjustment. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. It found that the lower court had not abused its discretion in granting the request to renew the alimony award by misapplying the burden of proof or by granting an upward deviation from the child support guidelines.
In re Silva, 188 A.3d 285 (N.H. 2018). The wife appealed divorce proceedings in which the lower court ordered a downward deviation from the child support guidelines and an equal division of the marital assets, and denied the wife’s motion to reconsider. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found nothing in the record to support the downward deviation from the child support guidelines, as required by statute. The court supported the equal division of marital assets as equitable, considering the relevant factors, but it also found that the trial court lacked findings justifying its treatment of the 529 account and other property. The property distribution, in its entirety, was vacated and remanded.
In re White, 181 A.3d 239 (N.H. 2018). The lower court found retroactive modification of child support from older child’s emancipation. The mother appealed. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that the controlling statute, as interpreted by In the Matter of Nicholson & Nicholson, does not provide for the termination of the child support evaluation upon emancipation, but, rather, when the father petitions for modification of child support.
Pennsylvania. Hanrahan v. Bakker, 186 A.3d 958 (Pa. 2018). Father and Mother filed for divorce. Prior to the divorce, the couple had established a property settlement agreement (PSA) that they then used in their divorce decree. The PSA stated that their individual tax information would be shared each year, and child support would be reevaluated each year based on the net incomes shown in the tax information. It also provided that if the PSA was breached by either party, the wrongdoer would be responsible for the costs and expenses of both parties that occur from the breach. In 2012, Father made approximately $15,500,000 while Mother made $105,000. Mother filed petition for enforcement of PSA and divorce decree. The court considered (1) whether high-income child support guidelines laid out in Pennsylvania law (231 Pa. Code R. 1910.16-3.1) can accurately account for a child’s needs through an analysis of those needs by a fact-finder, (2) whether voluntary contribution to the child’s trust fund can be factor that the court considers in making child support decisions that deviate from the above-mentioned Pennsylvania statute, and (3) the awarding of attorney fees to the obligee. For the first issue, the court ruled that in high-income cases, the trial court should consider the reasonable particular child’s needs as well as conduct a separate reasonable needs analysis based on factors found in Pennsylvania law (231 Pa. Code R. 1910.16-5(b)) as well as the income and expense statements from each case. In the second issue, the court ruled that a parent’s voluntary contribution to a trust is not considered a special need or circumstance to render the proper amount of support given by the trial court as unjust or inappropriate and will not reduce the amount of support that is supposed to be awarded. Lastly, the court ruled that in the issue of attorney fees, the superior court erred in determining Father was the breaching party because he never stated that he no longer agreed to pay child support; he merely stated that he disagreed on how Mother was interpreting the Pennsylvania guidelines. Therefore, Mother’s attorney fees should not be awarded.
Texas. Dalton v. Dalton, 551 S.W.3d 126 (Tex. 2018). Husband filed for divorce; wife filed a counter-petition for divorce and filed an out-of-state settlement agreement. Upon entering a wage-withholding order and a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), and after rendering a final divorce decree, the court entered an additional QDRO to enforce ex-husband’s spousal-alimony obligations, dismissed ex-husband’s motion to vacate earlier wage-withholding order, and found ex-husband in contempt. Ex-husband appealed. The court held that (1) wage withholding could not be used to satisfy ex-husband’s spousal-support obligations and (2) no statutory authority allowed ex-wife to receive additional interests in retirement accounts for spousal support arrearages. The Texas Constitution prohibits the garnishment of current wages for personal service, “except for the enforcement of court-ordered” child-support payments or “spousal maintenance.” Tex. Const. art. XVI, § 28.12. The Oklahoma court–approved settlement agreement cannot be used to allow wage withholding when Texas statutes do not allow wage withholding for spousal support. Wage withholding can be used for spousal maintenance, but ex-wife did not prove under statutory provisions that she was entitled to spousal maintenance. Ex-husband also appeals the order giving ex-wife additional interests in his retirement account for spousal support. Additional interests could be given for spousal maintenance, but ex-wife did not prove that she was entitled to maintenance but only spousal support. Chapter 9 authorizes post-decree QDROs only to effectuate previous property divisions; it does not provide authority for the trial court to order additional interests to pay spousal support.
In re C.J.N.S., 540 S.W.3d 589 (Tex. 2018). The mother brought action for child support for her adult daughter who has a medical condition that prevents her from being employed. A parent may be ordered to pay support for an adult child if the child requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a mental or physical disability existing on or before the child’s eighteenth birthday. Tex. Fam. Code § 154.302. The father argued the mother had no standing because the statute requires the parent to have physical custody or guardianship. When interpreting statutes, the court reviews de novo and reads the statute word by word to determine legislative intent. Here, the mother correctly interpreted the statute in the physical custody is not the only way to receive support. Persons who financially support the child may be entitled to child support.
In re C.Y.K.S., 549 S.W.3d 588 (Tex. 2018). Texas Family Code § 231.211(a) prohibits courts from assessing costs at the conclusion of a Title IV–D child support case against a party who was provided services by the Title IV–D agency. This prohibition also applies to courts of appeals.
Alaska. Tomal v. Anderson, 426 P.3d 915 (Alaska 2018). When his domestic partnership ended, the male cohabitant filed suit against female cohabitant, claiming that she was liable for her share of the property expenses that he had been paying, and for unauthorized expenditures she made with his earnings and credit card. The female cohabitant counterclaimed for a domestic partnership property division. The superior court awarded the male cohabitant the property, ordered him to make the female cohabitant an equalization payment, and denied his reconsideration motion. The superior court also denied the female cohabitant’s motions to amend the judgment and for preliminary injunction. The male cohabitant appealed, and the female cohabitant cross-appealed. The court held that (1) when classifying property from a terminated domestic partnership, the parties’ intent is a question of fact and the legal significance of that intent is a question of law; (2) the trial court’s finding as to end of domestic partnership was not clearly erroneous; (3) the trial court did not err by classifying only the portion of male cohabitant’s pension accumulated during the partnership as partnership property; (4) the trial court did not err by classifying boat as male cohabitant’s separate property once domestic partnership ended; (5) the trial court did err in classifying female cohabitant’s truck as partnership property; (6) the trial court erred by valuing an excavator at $1,000 when record showed that $6,000 was the best fair market value; (7) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by ordering an equalization payment; (8) it was not abuse of discretion for the trial court to decline to credit male cohabitant for post-separation property expense payments; (9) the trial court may apply divorce exception to the general rule, allowing award of attorney fees to prevailing party in domestic partnership cases; (10) the fact that cohabitants continued living together after the termination of their domestic partnership made trial court’s property division and the initial division of property of partnership assets within scope of divorce exception; and (11) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by granting female cohabitant $500 in costs.
Alaska. Olivera v. Rude-Olivera, 411 P.3d 587 (Alaska 2018). Wife filed for divorce. The superior court awarded fifty-eight percent of the marital estate to former husband, ordered former husband to make a sizable equalization payment to wife, and granted wife’s motion for attorney fees and costs. Husband appealed, arguing that the court (1) failed to enforce the mandatory disclosure requirements of the Alaska Civil Rules with regard to his ex-wife’s financial information, (2) improperly valued the marital home, and (3) awarded attorney fees to the wife for vexatious and bad faith conduct. The court held that (1) husband was not harmed by wife’s deficiencies in her initial disclosures of financial information, (2) evidence supported valuation of house that was marital property for an amount of $208,000, (3) husband’s conduct in the litigation supported award of enhanced attorney fees of $5,000 for bad-faith conduct, and (4) husband was not entitled to a hearing on attorney fees.
Connecticut. Shirley P. v. Norman P., 329 Conn. 648 (2018). The Court held that when a property distribution award heavily favors one party and is awarded based solely on a criminal conviction, and the conviction is subsequently overturned, the award is stripped of any collateral estoppel effect. Reversal is required when a finding of marital breakdown is caused exclusively by the criminal conviction and nothing else.
Kentucky. Doyle v. Doyle, 549 S.W.3d 450 (Ky. 2018). Ex-Wife and Ex-Husband divorced in 1998. Ex-Husband was ordered to pay $24, 277.02 to Ex-Wife, and the order was silent on interest. Ex-Wife attempted garnishment in 1999 and 2000, but the garnishments were returned. In 2008, Ex-Wife filed a lien on Ex-Husband’s property for the $24, 277.02 plus accrued interest. Ex-Husband’s motions to release the lien and to modify the judgment were denied. Ex-husband’s motion to prohibit the collection of interest was granted because the court ruled the divorce order was unliquidated and therefore not subject to the statutory interest rate because the original order was silent on interest. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to award interest at a twelve percent annual rate because the original divorce decree was actually liquidated.
Smith v. McGill, 556 S.W.3d 552 (Ky. 2018). Ex-Wife and Ex-Husband divorced in 2005 in Arkansas. Ex-Wife was awarded primary residential custody then moved to Kentucky and filed the decree in 2009. Ex-Husband filed in Kentucky to be awarded primary residential custody and was denied. Ex-wife subsequently asked for attorney’s fees, and Ex-Husband was ordered to pay Ex-Wife $26, 352. 23. This was amended to $10,000 after reviewing the disparity in income between the parties. The court of appeals reversed the award of attorney fees, finding there was no financial disparity. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, overturned case law requiring financial disparity between the parties in order to award attorney fees, and reinstated the original judgment.
Maine. Schulz v. Doeppe, 182 A.3d 1246 (Me. 2018). Wife filed for divorce after Husband moved to Florida to evade process on a domestic violence issue. Husband could not be located to serve him with the divorce papers. The court allowed Wife to publish the notice of the divorce complaint in a newspaper that circulated in Husband’s community as an alternative means of process after she attempted multiple ways to effect service. Husband did not appear for the hearing, so a default divorce was granted against him. He appealed the judgment by claiming that an effort should have been made to notify him of the published divorce complaint and that service through publication violated Me. R. Civ. P. 4. The judgment was affirmed.
Mississippi. Gerty v. Gerty, No. 2017-CP-00828-SCT, 2018 WL 6566631 (Miss. Dec. 13, 2018). All parties, including the husband, wife, and the state, argued that the chancellor erred in sua sponte deeming the Mississippi statutory scheme unconstitutional, and likewise erred in granting an unrequested irreconcilable-differences divorce. The Supreme Court of Mississippi determined that the lower court erred in its constitutionality analysis, and also erred in applying the affirmative defense of condonation to wife’s adultery. Reversed in part and remanded.
Ridgeway v. Hooker, 240 So. 3d 1202 (Miss. 2018), reh’g denied. Subsequent to a written agreement by both parties, the lower court entered a judgment of divorce due to irreconcilable differences. Husband later filed a motion for relief from the final judgment of divorce, challenging the court’s personal jurisdiction. In support of this assertion, the husband claimed the wife was not served with process and he did not obtain her waiver of service. The lower court entered an order and issued an opinion, finding that the wife waived any objection to the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction and husband’s defect could not be used to his later benefit. Accordingly, the Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed for two reasons. First, the chancellor had subject-matter jurisdiction, as the wife had waived any objection to the exercise of personal jurisdiction. Second, the husband lacked standing to complain about an error he created.
Nebraska. Connolly v. Connolly, 907 N.W.2d 693 (Neb. 2018). Wife filed for legal separation from her husband. She then filed a stipulation agreement. Husband filed to amend the complaint to ask for a divorce. Wife was awarded alimony and attorney fees. Wife appealed, stating the alimony awarded was not enough because it did not consider her reduced capacity to work or Husband’s increased amount of money after taking a lump-sum payment. The court affirmed the lower court ruling as it could not find an abuse of discretion.
South Dakota. Hiller v. Hiller, 919 N.W.2d 548 (S.D. 2018). After finding ex-husband in contempt for violating the provisions of a visitation order, the circuit court ordered him to pay attorney fees incurred by his former spouse. In an ensuing proceeding to change custody, the court ordered him to pay additional attorney fees to ex-wife along with expert witness fees. Matters of judicial discretion, such as an award of attorney fees or the court’s remedy for contempt, are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. The required elements for a finding of civil contempt are (1) the existence of an order, (2) knowledge of the order, (3) ability to comply with the order, and (4) willful or contumacious disobedience of the order. Ex-husband challenges the order of contempt in forcing his daughter to attend visitation with her mother, who lives with a registered sex offender. Upon reviewing the expert testimony, the court found no clear error. A court’s determination of civil contempt must also include an opportunity for a recalcitrant contemnor to purge himself of his contempt by obeying the underlying order. Under statutes, the court must determine that the attorney fees were reasonable and necessary. Upon review, the court found that the attorney fees were reasonable and necessary, and the amount was not excessive; therefore, there was no error. The court held the lower court abused its discretion in requiring that ex-husband pay the expert fees. Expert fees are to be paid by the prevailing party. The doctor testified in support of the mother. Ex-husband should not be required to pay the fees for her testimony.
Vermont. Maghu v. Singh, 181 A.3d 518 (Vt. 2018). In a divorce case where Husband had temporary employment visa, was married to American wife in India, and filed for no-fault divorce, the citizen-wife moved to dismiss husband’s divorce complaint on grounds that husband’s nonimmigration visa status prevented him from being subject to Vermont jurisdiction and that Indian law must govern the dissolution of the parties’ marriage. Here, as a matter of apparent first impression, the court held that a temporary nonimmigration visa status did not prevent a person from establishing residency, which was required for trial court to have subject matter jurisdiction over an action.
Penland v. Warren, 194 A.3d 755 (Vt. 2018). This case arises from an appeal brought when the trial court denied the husband and wife’s joint motion to modify their final divorce order. This appeal raised the question of whether the trial court has jurisdiction under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) to modify a property-division order based on the agreement of the parties after the divorce order has become absolute. The Supreme Court of Vermont held that it did, and it had the authority under a general catchall provision of the relief from judgment rule to modify the final property-division order based on agreement of the ex-husband and ex-wife after the divorce order became absolute.
Alaska. Ruerup v. Ruerup, 408 P.3d 1203 (Alaska 2018). In this case, the court determined that it is error to modify a factual finding of a long-term domestic violence protective order when the order is final, neither party appeals the order, and the domestic violence proceeding is not consolidated with the divorce proceeding.
Nebraska. Maria A. ex rel. Leslie G. v. Oscar G., 301 Neb. 673 (2018). Mother filed for a domestic abuse protection order after Father hit the child or threatened to do so. The protection order was granted by the trial court. Upon appeal, the district court rescinded the protection order. The court held that the district court did not err in rescinding the domestic violence protection order.
Wisconsin. State v. Dorsey, 906 N.W.2d 158 (Wis. 2018). This case applied the common law “greater latitude” standard—in accordance with Wis. Stat. § 904.04(2)(b)1 to render evidence of prior bad acts admissible in domestic violence cases. In State v. Dorsey, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that “Wis. Stat. § 904.04(2)(b)1 permits circuit courts to admit evidence of other, similar acts of domestic abuse with greater latitude, as that standard has been defined [at] common law, . . . .” The court reasoned that its holding not only afforded due respect for the statute’s plain language, but it also maintained the common law’s well-established framework. Here, the defendant appealed his conviction for aggravated battery related to domestic violence. He argued that the trial court wrongly admitted unduly prejudicial evidence. The appellate court affirmed. Again, the defendant appealed. The supreme court held that the trial court had properly admitted the evidence of prior domestic abuse in accordance with the common law’s greater latitude standard. Accordingly, the supreme court upheld the defendant’s conviction.
Iowa. M.D. v. K.A., 921 N.W.2d 299 (Iowa 2018). The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights to her five children after a hearing in which the mother gave testimony by telephone but was not present due to her incarceration. Mother appealed the termination, which was affirmed by the court of appeals. The supreme court reversed, holding that Mother’s due process rights were violated when she was only allowed to participate in the hearing by telephone.
South Carolina. State v. Walker, 810 S.E.2d 38 (S.C. 2018). Walker stabbed and murdered his father. Walker brought an equal protection suit against section 16-25-90 of the South Carolina Code (2015). Walker, during his plea deal, brought into evidence that he had been abused both physically and mentally by his father. Walker then argued that he was up for parole because section 16-25-90 of the South Carolina Code (2015) allows a defendant who commits an offense against a “household member” who abused the assailant to be up for parole after serving one-fourth of his sentence. However, the definition of “household member” in subsection 16-25-10(3) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2017) does not include parents and children. There was no equal protection or due process violation.
Maryland. In re Adoption/Guardianship of H.W., 189 A.3d 284 (Md. 2018). This case is about the termination of parental rights. A child, who had never met his father, was placed in the custody of the state. The father became aware of the child’s custody arrangement and wanted to be involved in the child’s life, but he was on probation in another state. The child’s foster family was willing and able to adopt the child, who was also having behavioral issues. The Department filed a Petition for Guardianship with the Right to Consent to Adoption or Long-Term Care Short of Adoption for the child. The court examined the factors set forth by Fam. Law § 5-323(d), as well as the following nine factors, to determine whether exceptional circumstances existed: (1) length of time child was away from biological parent, (2) age of child when care was assumed by caretakers, (3) possible emotional effect on child if custody changed to biological parent, (4) possible emotional effect on child if custody is given to caretaker, (5) period of time that elapsed before parent sought to reclaim child and efforts toward reclamation, (6) nature and strength of ties between child and current caretaker, (7) intensity and genuineness of parent’s desire to have the child, (8) stability and certainty as to child’s future in the custody of the parent, and (9) stability and certainty as to child’s future in custody of the caretaker. The juvenile court found that the father was not unfit under the Fam. Law § 5-323(d) statutory factors but that exceptional circumstances existed that would make it in the child’s best interest to be under the Department’s guardianship. The court of special appeals vacated the decision. The court of appeals reversed and remanded. It held that juvenile courts are permitted to consider custody-specific factors in termination of parental rights proceedings.
Massachusetts. Guardianship of D.C., 479 Mass. 516 (2018). A seventy-nine-year-old woman was admitted to a hospital with a fracture of her hip, acute renal failure, pancreatitis, and cardiac issues. She underwent several heart surgeries. The hospital filed a petition to have a temporary appointment of guardianship for the woman, asserting that she was mentally incapacitated and in need of guardianship based on her insistent refusal of medicine. The trial court judge found that the hospital had failed to meet its burden of proving that she was an incapacitated person; however, the judge, nonetheless, granted the hospital’s request for the woman to be transferred to a nursing home. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order because it held that a judge of the Probate and Family Court may not order a person to be admitted into a nursing home, or appointed a limited guardian, where that person has not been found to be incapacitated as defined in Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 190, § 5-101(9).
Nebraska. In re Guardianship of Luis J., 915 N.W.2d 589 (Neb. 2018). Grandfather filed for guardianship of his grandson at the county district court. Reunification with parents was not available due to abuse and neglect. The county court held that it could not make findings about the special immigration status of the juvenile because it was not authorized to act as a juvenile court; the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the order denying Grandfather’s motion to alter or amend and recognized that “juvenile courts” include courts that make custody or care decisions for minors.
Nevada. In re Guardianship of T.T.H., 421 P.3d 282 (Nev. 2018). The biological mother’s petition to terminate the aunt and uncle’s co-guardianship of her children was granted by a district court judge sitting outside the Family Court Division. The district court found that the biological mother was fit to parent and termination of the aunt and uncle’s rights was in the best interest of the children. The aunt and uncle appealed, arguing that the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case and that the lower court erred in its factual findings. The Supreme Court of Nevada held that reassignment of this case from the Family Court Division to the district court was necessary for administrative reasons and was likewise permitted by the statute. Accordingly, the district court had jurisdiction to hear the matter. On appeal, the court upheld the lower court finding that the biological mother was a fit parent because there was nothing in the record to indicate the lower court erred in its fitness analysis. The court also upheld the lower court’s best interest determination, as the district court properly considered the best interest factors proscribed by statute.
Pennsylvania. In re T.S., E.S., Minors, 192 A.3d 1080 (Pa. 2018). The issue presented in this case was whether the common pleas court erred in failing to appoint an attorney to represent the children’s legal interests when an attorney, acting as guardian ad litem, was already representing the best interests of the children involved. CYF became familiar with Mother shortly after E.S. was born. The mother admitted to using marijuana while pregnant with E.S., and CYF, at first, provided services to help the mother to reach goals of sobriety rather than filing a dependency petition. The mother was defiant and did not discontinue her drug use in front of the kids. CYF then filed a petition to terminate parental rights. The children were placed in foster care, and the court appointed “KidsVoice” to represent the children’s best interest and legal interests in compliance with Pennsylvania’s juvenile code. No independent counsel represented solely the children’s legal interests in the termination proceedings that followed. The mother waived the issue of whether the common pleas court should have appointed independent counsel. The supreme court ruled that this error was not waivable by the mother, as the right is inherently the children’s, and that the failure of any party to affirmatively request separate counsel cannot have constituted waiver. However, the court also ruled that during the contested termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, an attorney guardian ad litem can also represent the child’s legal interests as long as there is no conflict between a child’s legal and best interests.
South Dakota. In re Conservatorship of Bachand, 907 N.W.2d 62 (S.D. 2018). The question on appeal was whether a guardian’s attorney fees should be paid from a protected person’s estate when the fees were incurred in responding to pleadings to remove the guardian and to move the protected person to an assisted living facility. Previously, the son was the guardian of his father. After disagreements, a settlement agreement was reached under which the spouse replaced the son as guardian and another party became the father’s conservator. The spouse suffered health issues, and the son filed a petition to have the father moved to an assisted living facility and to remove the spouse as guardian, arguing that she was unfit. After extensive discovery and a two-day trial, the parties agreed, and the spouse stepped down as guardian. The spouse moved to get the attorney fees paid from the estate under S.D. Codified Laws § 29A-5-116. That statute provides: “Any . . . attorney for any guardian or conservator . . . [is] entitled to reasonable compensation from the estate, including reimbursement for costs advanced.” The fees must be necessary and reasonably incurred in the administration of guardianship. The court reverses and remands in order for the circuit court to make factual findings on whether the fees were necessary and reasonable.
In re Guardianship of I.J.L.E, 191 A.3d 404 (S.D. 2018). The child’s mother was murdered by the child’s father while the child was in custody of the mother’s brother and sister-in-law. The brother and sister-in-law were granted temporary guardianship while the father was in jail. Upon notice, the father did not object to the temporary guardianship. The brother and sister-in-law filed a motion for permanent guardianship. The father suggested his sister, a Native American, as guardian. Upon learning of the child’s tribal affiliation, the brother and sister-in-law notified the tribe of the motion of guardianship, in which the tribe did not object. The trial court held that as a result of killing the child’s mother, the father had abandoned and forfeited his right to child, and he could not preempt the court’s decision of guardianship. The trial court found that the brother and sister-in-law were stable guardians and complied with ICWA because they were extended family members. The trial court awarded guardianship to the brother and sister-in-law and acknowledged their promise to allow the child to visit his Native American family and learn of his culture. The father appealed. Under South Dakota’s guardianship act, a court can grant guardianship to a nonparent. Here, there was no abuse or neglect. Instead, it was a best interest analysis under the guardianship act. There was no clear error or abuse of discretion found.
Utah. In re J.B., 417 P.3d 618 (Utah 2018). The child’s former guardian appealed the lower court’s ruling, which terminated the guardian’s rights of guardianship and terminated reunification services. The Utah Supreme Court held that the one-year limitations period on the right to contest an adoption did not preclude the former guardian’s appeal of order terminating her guardianship rights and terminating reunification services for former guardian. The court also found that the juvenile court had jurisdiction to vacate the district court’s custody orders.
West Virginia. In re Guardianship of K.W., 813 S.E.2d 154 (W. Va. 2018). The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that “a temporary guardianship granted over the natural parents’ objection based on substantiated allegations of abuse and neglect does not provide a permanent solution for child custody such that it obviates the need for an abuse and neglect petition.” Here, the grandparents filed a petition seeking custody of their grandchildren based upon allegations of abuse. In turn, the family court awarded temporary guardianship after finding that the children’s father posed a legitimate threat. The circuit court then denied the parents’ motion for reconsideration, and the family court awarded the grandparents permanent guardianship over the children. Eventually, the parents appealed. The Supreme Court of Appeals reversed. It held that only the circuit court had proper subject-matter jurisdiction over the grandparents’ petition for guardianship. Accordingly, the court set aside the permanent guardianship. However, in light of the ongoing and credible threat of abuse, the court maintained the grandparents’ temporary guardianship pending further proceedings.
District of Columbia. J.U. v. J.C.P.C., 176 A.3d 136 (D.C. Ct. App. 2018). The court held that a finding of “abandonment” in a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status hearing could be made on the basis that the juvenile’s parent in the home country never provided care or support and that if the juvenile was to be returned to the home country, he could not live with the parent. A finding of abandonment in this instance was not being considered to deprive a parent of custody or to terminate parental rights but rather to assess the impact of the history of the parent’s past conduct on the viability, i.e., the workability or practicability, of a forced reunification of parent with minor, if the minor were to be returned to the home country.
Delaware. Daskin v. Knowles, 193 A.3d 717 (Del. 2018). The wife was a dual citizen of both the United States and Greece and traveled back and forth quite often. In 2015, she moved to Delaware and sought an affidavit of a permanent move back to the United States due to marital difficulties. Afterwards, she returned to Greece several times to visit her children and friends. The husband, a citizen of Greece, contended that the time that the wife spent in Delaware was temporary and for a limited purpose and that she was still a primary resident of Greece. The wife filed for divorce and the husband moved to dismiss the divorce petition claiming that the family court lacked jurisdiction because the wife was not a resident of Delaware for six months preceding the filing of the petition. The court held that the divorce was subject to the supreme court’s jurisdiction over interlocutory appeals, an evidentiary hearing was required to determine whether the wife satisfied the six-month domicile requirement, and service of process on the husband by mailing and publication was invalid under the Hague Convention.
Michigan. Safdar v. Aziz, 912 N.W.2d 511 (Mich. 2018). This case is about child custody and removal from the United States. The former wife filed a motion to change domicile and relocate her child to Pakistan while she appealed from a denial of a motion for attorney fees in an underlying divorce. It presented the question of whether a circuit court has jurisdiction to consider a motion to change the domicile of a minor child established by a custody award in a divorce judgment while that underlying judgment is pending on appeal. The circuit court denied the wife’s motion based on a lack of jurisdiction over the motion while appeal was pending. The wife appealed. The court of appeals reversed; however, it required that the wife show additional evidence. The wife appealed again. The Supreme Court of Michigan remanded, holding that Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.27(1)(c) permits a court to modify or amend its orders so long as the modification is in the best interest of the child.
Delaware. Cannon v. State, 181 A.3d 615 (Del. 2018). A juvenile was adjudicated delinquent for the death of another juvenile following a bench trial in a family court. A fight broke out between two juveniles in a school bathroom. The fight turned physical, and one of the juveniles began to attempt to protect herself from the blows. The fight was over in less than a minute, but one of the juveniles died less than two hours later. The cause of her death was a rare heart condition that had previously been undiagnosed. The other juvenile involved in the fight was charged with criminally negligent homicide. The Delaware Supreme Court held that the juvenile’s failure to perceive the risk that the victim could die following the altercation in a bathroom was not “criminally negligent,” and, even assuming that the juvenile himself created the risk of death, the risk was too remote to blame the juvenile for the death of the victim.
Florida. Lee v. State, 234 So. 3d 562 (Fla. 2018). A juvenile who had been convicted of first-degree murder when he was fifteen years old moved to correct the sentence, which was allegedly illegal. The defendant got caught in a disagreement with two other people who were attempting to purchase drugs. The defendant believed that he had been shorted forty dollars and shot the driver of the vehicle as he attempted to leave. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the opportunity of parole at the age of fifteen. The supreme court held that the new sentence of forty years with a mandatory twenty-five-year service did not provide the defendant with an opportunity to obtain an early release based on the demonstration of maturity or rehabilitation.
District of Columbia. J.P. v. District of Columbia, 189 A.3d 212 (D.C. Ct. App. 2018). The court held that D.C. Code § 7-1231.14(a)—a statute granting a court authority to require a juvenile defendant, who was charged as an adult but declared incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to attain competence, to undergo inpatient mental health treatment pending civil commitment, without the consent of a parent or legal guardian—controls over D.C. Code § 24-531.07(a)(2), a statute that requires consent of parent or legal guardian for inpatient mental health care treatment for minors.
Minnesota. Kremer v. Kremer, 912 N.W.2d 617 (Minn. 2018). This is a case about antenuptial agreements. Wife petitioned for dissolution of marriage. The district court found that the antenuptial agreement was invalid because it contained provisions concerning the disposition of both marital and nonmarital property upon dissolution or death and was procedurally unfair because Wife did not have an adequate opportunity to consult with an attorney. The court of appeals affirmed. The supreme court again affirmed, stating that there was inadequate consideration and duress.
Mississippi. Sanderson v. Sanderson, 245 So. 3d 421 (Miss. 2018). On remand, the chancery court found that a prenuptial agreement was substantively conscionable because the agreement’s terms were fundamentally fair and, as such, were not so one-sided as to render the agreement substantively unconscionable. Additionally, the chancellor followed the prenuptial agreement as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Mississippi’s first decision. Thus, the chancellor treated familial funds kept in a joint bank account as outside the purview of the prenuptial agreement and subject to equitable estoppel. Wife appealed, arguing that the chancery court’s focus on the substantive conscionability analysis was misplaced, and should have focused on the results, not the terms. Further, wife argued that the chancellor failed to expand the scope of the marital assets. On appeal, the court affirmed the chancery court decision and agreed with its reasoning.
Texas. In re Marriage of I.C. & Q.C., 551 S.W.3d 119 (Tex. 2018). Wife sought rescission of a premarital agreement. The trial court found that Wife’s attempt to rescind the premarital agreement triggered a clause in the agreement under which she lost a $5 million payment otherwise due to her. Premarital agreements will be reviewed as contracts. Contracts are read to determine the intent of the parties. There was no fraud or duress; Wife agreed to the clause and upon attempting to rescind, she forfeited the payment.
Alaska. Gordon v. Gordon, 425 P.3d 142 (Alaska 2018). The court held that it is an abuse of discretion for the trial court to apply the coverture fraction at the division stage of the equitable distribution of retirement benefits. Rather, the coverture fraction should be used to determine which parts of a retirement benefit are marital property and which parts are separate property. It should not be used to discount the value of marital property or as a guideline for equitably dividing marital property.
Louisiana. Webb v. Webb, 263 So. 3d 321 (La. 2018). Husband forged Wife’s signature on a loan taken out against the mortgage, then hid the loan from her. After the divorce, the now ex-husband filed a claim to label the $250,000 loan as a community obligation because he borrowed it to pay community debts. Ex-Husband also sought reimbursement for loan payments from his now ex-wife. Ex-Husband’s claim was rejected by the trial court because he confessed to taking sole responsibility for the debt. The appellate court ruled the loan was a community obligation. Under the theory of judicial estoppel, the Louisiana Supreme Court held Ex-Husband to be solely responsible for the loan.
Maine. Mooar v. Greenleaf, 179 A.3d 307 (Me. 2018). The husband appealed a judgment granting a divorce decree, alleging that the lower court had failed to adequately classify property as marital or nonmarital and that the assignment to him of his own debt as well as all marital debt was an abuse of discretion. He also contended that the decision to award spousal support had not been based on consideration of his ability to pay it. The court denied his Rule 52 motion and therefore limited inference of facts upon appeal. The court vacated the ruling on the Rule 52 motion, property distribution, and spousal support.
Minnesota. Gill v. Gill, 919 N.W.2d 297 (Minn. 2018). This case is about marital property and future, contingent earn-out payments. While married, a husband purchased an ownership interest in a company. The husband later filed for divorce. After the court’s valuation date for marital property but before the dissolution, the company was sold, giving the husband the right to either payment up front or two future, contingent earn-out payments. The issue was whether future, contingent earn-out payments are marital or nonmarital property under Minn. Stat. § 518.003(3b). The district court held that the payments were not considered marital property. The court of appeals reversed, and the supreme court affirmed.
Nebraska. Onstot v. Onstot, 906 N.W.2d 300 (Neb. 2018). Husband appealed and Wife cross-appealed from a dissolution of marriage decree. The house had been awarded to husband. He was to be solely responsible for the remaining mortgage balance and he was to pay Wife $83,746 for her share of the net equity. Husband was also initially ordered by the trial court to pay $1,500 in temporary spousal support, which was decreased to $700 a month by the trial court later. The appellate court determined that Husband failed to meet the burden of proof to show the house was a premarital asset; therefore it was considered a marital asset. Husband failed to provide an affidavit with the bill of exceptions in order for spousal support to be considered on appeal. The provision providing spousal support will cease if Wife cohabits with a partner was voided as a matter of public policy.
Westwood v. Darnell, 909 N.W.2d 645 (Neb. 2018). A same-sex couple separated in June 2015, shortly after one partner, Jennifer Westwood, had withdrawn $75,393.04 from her retirement plan. This amounted to $51,999.99 after taxes. This money was used to pay marital debts and then deposited into a new retirement account. The couple sold their home in August 2015, and Westwood kept the profits from the sale. She filed for divorce in December 2015. Each party was awarded her own retirement account, personal property, automobile, and any personal accounts in her name. Westwood was also ordered to pay her partner, Cheryl Darnell, $3,755.67. Westwood appealed, claiming that the court did not properly consider the withdrawal of the retirement money as separate property, that Darnell was unjustly enriched by Westwood paying off her vehicle, and that Darnell refused to file taxes jointly and did not share the tax burden of withdrawing from the retirement account. The court found that retirement benefits earned during a marriage are marital property, Westwood did not meet the burden for showing the retirement benefits were separate property, and Westwood did not introduce evidence to show the tax outcome would have been different if the couple had filed jointly. The original order was affirmed.
New Hampshire. Estate of Mortner v. Thompson, 182 A.3d 1260 (N.H. 2018). Husband’s estate and Husband’s daughter filed an action against Wife for breach of a property settlement agreement and unjust enrichment. The property settlement agreement had been executed by Husband and Wife during the divorce action prior to Husband’s death. The lower court dismissed claims by both the estate and Husband’s daughter. The state supreme court affirmed the dismissal of both the breach of property agreement and the unjust enrichment actions because the property agreement did not constitute a contract as decided in a previous decision and factual findings did not support the unconscionable outcome required for an unjust enrichment action.
South Dakota. Ahrendt v. Chamberlain, 910 N.W.2d 913 (S.D. 2018). During a divorce proceeding, the trial court held that all property previously held separately was marital property and divided the property equitably. Upon distribution, the wife was ordered to pay an equalization payment, which she appealed. The appellate court used the factors set out in Terca v. Terca, 57 N.W.2d 319, 325 (S.D. 2008), to determine whether the property was marital or nonmarital. The court found that the husband actively contributed to the assets that allowed the wife to live a comfortable lifestyle. Even though the property was held separately, each spouse financially contributed to the assets, and without a prior agreement, the property was to be deemed marital.
Cedar v. Johnson, 921 N.W.2d 178 (S.D. 2018). The former husband filed an action for alienation against his former wife’s paramour, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for causing the end of his marriage. The trial court ruled in favor of the paramour and ordered summary judgment. The former husband appealed. To award damages, there must be enough evidence to place an economic value on the damages sustained. Generally, juries decide the value of the damages. The court held that the circuit court erred in not submitting the evidence to the jury to determine the value of the damages.
Giesen v. Giesen, 911 N.W.2d 750 (S.D. 2018). The husband challenged the valuation of his three business interests, the valuation of a bank account on a date other than the date of divorce, and the decision to recapture into the marital estate the value of home improvements made to a third party’s rental property. When valuing the business interests, the husband and wife used different accountants, who used different methods of valuation. The husband’s accountant used a method in which the husband and the accountant agreed on the valuation methods to be performed. The court held that this method was problematic because the wife’s accountant was free to use any method he chose. The court will only review valuation issues for clear erroneous facts and uses the date of the divorce in determining the valuation of property. The trial court did not err, and the court awarded the wife appellate attorney fees.
Osdoba v. Kelley-Osdoba, 913 N.W.2d 496 (S.D. 2018). Husband challenged the inclusion of Wife’s student debt in property distribution when the debt was acquired before the marriage. South Dakota is an all property state, meaning all property is marital despite who holds title. The court applied the factors under Nickles v. Nickles, 865 N.W.2d 142, 153 (S.D. 2015), in distributing the property; that case states that if a spouse did not contribute to the asset, it can be held as nonmarital property. However, the couple was living together prior to marriage and made the decision together to put off repaying the loans in order to spend her income on other marital necessities. This benefited the husband. In addition to the inclusion of student loans, the husband challenged the requirement to annually release his medical and counseling statements in order to receive alimony. The court held that it was an abuse of discretion to require a party to waive physician-patient confidentiality.
Winegeart v. Winegeart, 910 N.W.2d 906 (S.D. 2018). During mediation, the wife and husband supposedly made an oral agreement to sell the marital property without realtor fees. Despite the mediator’s statement, the court ordered the wife to sign the purchase agreement. The wife then brought suit to recover the realtor fees based on the verbal agreement made in mediation. Under the Uniform Mediation Act, statements made in mediation are privileged and protected from discovery. An oral agreement is unenforceable under the exceptions stated in S.D. Consolidated Laws § 19-13A-6. The court reasoned that allowing oral agreements to be enforceable would amount to a slippery slope in the direction of destroying privilege. Mediators are only required to disclose settlements made in writing. Even if the mediator’s disclosure was admissible, the wife signed a confidentiality agreement that barred her from admitting evidence of the mediation.
Rhode Island. Wu-Carter v. Carter, 179 A.3d 711 (R.I. 2018). Wife filed a complaint for divorce, and Husband filed counterclaim. Husband disagreed with the way the family court distributed the assets and appealed to the trial court. The trial court affirmed the distribution, as there seemed to be very little actual marital property. Husband appealed again, arguing that the trial justice erred when she (1) overlooked certain assets and did not consider them marital property, (2) did not apply all the factors found in R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-5-16.1 in determining whether assets had been distributed equally, and (3) did not address the factors that would decide whether attorney fees would be rewarded. The supreme court ruled that the only marital property was two boats. The car account was appropriately awarded to the wife because it was an asset she brought into the marriage. The $100,000 transferred into the joint bank account by Wu-Carter’s parents was not subject to equitable distribution because it was for immigration purposes only. Any money in Wife’s bank account not gifted or loaned to her was subject to distribution upon divorce, and counsel fees were not be awarded to Husband because the parties admitted that they each supported themselves and had been living independent financial lives even through the marriage and the husband clearly had enough money in assets and cash to pay the fees without undue burden.
Utah. MacDonald v. MacDonald, 430 P.3d 612 (Utah 2018), reh’g denied. The former wife’s sale of real property and investment of sale proceeds in her investment account was foreseeable at time of divorce. The court held that these did not warrant modification of the former husband’s alimony obligation because the prior-construction canon of statutory interpretation did not apply to the statute governing modification of alimony and its “contemplated in the divorce decree” standard. The court held that the standard applicable to a petition to modify alimony is whether an alleged substantial change in circumstances was foreseeable at the time of the divorce, not whether it was contemplated in the divorce decree.
Rhode Island. Luis v. Gaugler, 185 A.3d 497 (R.I. 2018). Wife filed divorce papers against Husband and claimed they had a common law marriage. Husband moved to dismiss. Family court denied the motion to dismiss and divided the relevant property between the parties. Husband appealed. This case is important because it addressed the proof needed to show that a common law marriage existed. The Rhode Island Supreme Court decided that the evidence offered was not clear and convincing enough to prove that one existed in this case. Wife would have needed to show three elements: (1) the parties had the capacity to marry, (2) the parties seriously intended to enter into a mutual husband-wife relationship, and (3) the parties’ conduct was of such a character so as to lead to a belief in the community that they were married. Here, Husband did not have Wife in his will, they had never filed joint tax returns, they did not have joint bank accounts, and Wife had many documents, such as mortgage and insurance applications, that listed her as single. The court ruled, therefore, that there had not been enough proof to show that the parties had a common law marriage.
Kansas. In re Marriage of Williams, 417 P.3d 1033 (Kan. 2018). Ex-wife was awarded twenty-five percent of Ex-husband’s military retirement benefits in their divorce twenty years ago and filed a petition to garnish Ex-husband’s benefits. Ex-husband claimed the court did not have jurisdiction to award Ex-wife any of his military retirement benefits during the original divorce because of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). The Kansas Supreme Court determined because Ex-husband did not object to the court’s jurisdiction at the divorce proceeding and he participated in it, he consented to the court’s jurisdiction under the USFSPA. Therefore, the award of twenty-five percent of Ex-husband’s military retirement benefits to Ex-wife was proper.
Alaska. Kiva O. v. State Dep’t of Health & Soc. Servs., Office of Child. Servs., 408 P.3d 1181 (Alaska 2018). A parent’s fundamental right to consent to medical treatment of a minor child was not overly burdened when, against the parent’s wishes, a child was medicated at the direction of the Office of Child Services. Medical treatment was found to be in the best interest of the child. The lower court had properly applied the appropriate test when it indicated that when a law burdens a fundamental right, the state must articulate a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means to advance that interest. The supreme court agreed that use of antidepressants were the least restrictive alternative, but disagreed about that use of a mood stabilizing drug was warranted. A court may err if it applies the Myers test to an open-ended treatment plan where there is a high risk of a change in circumstances. “Given the importance of the parent’s fundamental constitutional rights in cases like this one—along with the necessity that judicial decision-making be fully informed about the patient’s therapeutic progress, changes in the parent’s perspective, and the development of any available less intrusive treatments—we conclude that courts should regularly review treatment authorizations that are ordered over the parent’s objection.” Courts should conduct oversight hearings on medical treatment plans for minors every ninety days.
Vermont. In re L.H., 182 A.3d 612 (Vt. 2018). After the state terminated the parents’ rights, the parents appealed. The Supreme Court of Vermont held that the parents had standing to raise the issue of whether the attorney for the state had a conflict of interest and that an attorney’s representation of the state in an abuse and neglect case, after initially representing the children, gave rise to a disqualifying conflict of interest.
Minnesota. Thompson v. Schrimsher, 906 N.W.2d 495 (Minn. 2018). Mother filed a protective order for herself and minor child against the child’s father. She sought the order based on allegations of physical abuse that had occurred four years prior to the petition. The district court issued a protective order, preventing the father from contacting the mother for two years. Father appealed. The court of appeals reversed. The supreme court then reversed. Under the Domestic Abuse Act, to show that “domestic abuse” has occurred, a petitioner need only demonstrate that “physical harm, bodily injury, or assault” has occurred, regardless of when it happened. The court further held that, in this instance, Mother made the requisite showing to find that domestic abuse had occurred. Additionally, the court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, as there is no temporal requirement on when the “domestic abuse” occurred.
Tennessee. Nelson v. Myres, 545 S.W.3d 428 (Tenn. 2018). A surviving spouse is not disqualified from bringing a suit for wrongful death even if the death was the result of negligence. The wrongful death statute clearly and unambiguously gives the surviving spouse the right to bring suit.
Alabama. Ex parte Wilson, 262 So. 3d 1202 (Ala. 2018). A former husband brought an action seeking to modify alimony obligations because he was planning to retire and his income would significantly decrease. The former wife was employed full time and was capable of supporting herself without alimony. The court held that a party seeking a modification of periodic alimony can show a material change in circumstances based on changes that occur after the last judgment or order in which periodic alimony was awarded or modified.
Mississippi. Harris v. Harris, 241 So. 3d 622 (Miss. 2018). A former wife filed a complaint to review health provision of property settlement agreement with the former husband. The former husband filed a motion to dismiss and counterclaimed, seeking a reduction in alimony after the former wife began receiving Social Security benefits. The lower court granted the motion to dismiss and the reduction in alimony. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court of Mississippi held that the trial court erred by modifying the property settlement agreement without considering the Armstrong factors, the financial positions of both parties, and the foreseeability of Social Security payments. This holding effectively overruled Spalding v. Spalding, 691 So. 2d 435 (Miss. 1997), which had held that Social Security benefits constitute a special circumstance, thus triggering a reduction in alimony.
Missouri. Archdekin v. Archdekin, 562 S.W.3d 298 (Mo. 2018). A former husband appealed from a trial court’s final judgment dissolving his marriage to his wife. The trial court entered a final judgement entry and dissolution of marriage, the terms of which divided the remainder of the property that had not been divided previously and ordered the husband to pay maintenance of $1,500 a month, retroactive five years. The former husband appealed, arguing that the maintenance awarded in the interlocutory judgments (1) was not final and (2) was erroneous because the maintenance was awarded prior to final division. The supreme court reversed the award of retroactive maintenance in the final judgment, finding that the award was not authorized under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.335.
Nevada. Parker v. Green, 421 P.3d 281 (Nev. 2018). Appellant and respondent entered into a contractual agreement prior to their first domestic partnership. Appellant agreed to pay respondent $2,500 a month until the parties reconciled, died, or remarried, or if the parties ended their relationship due to appellant’s infidelity or dishonesty. Appellant breached the relationship agreement, and the domestic partnership was terminated. A termination decree incorporated the original agreement’s terms and monthly payment price but framed the payment as “tort damages.” The decree included a waiver of alimony and stated that the payments would continue even if the parties reconciled. The parties entered into a second domestic partnership. Appellant filed a motion to modify alimony or, alternatively, set aside the termination decree. The lower court denied appellant’s motion. Appellant argued that the lower court erred by failing to find that the agreement constituted modifiable alimony or that he could be relieved of the earlier judgment. The state supreme court found that the parties intended the payments to be modifiable alimony, and, therefore, the payments should constitute alimony, not tort damages. Additionally, the supreme court found that the parties intended payments to end upon reconciliation, and a court must grant alimony awards as is just and equitable. The supreme court reversed the lower court’s judgment and held that the district court, on remand, should terminate all future alimony payments.
Standard of Review
Idaho. In re Doe, 416 P.3d 937 (2018). An abuse of discretion standard governs a review of a magistrate court’s decision to accept or reject a Department of Health and Welfare’s permanency plan. Here, the supreme court found that the magistrate abused its discretion when it did not prioritize sibling placement in considering permanency plans of a child and his half-sister.
South Carolina. Stoney v. Stoney, 813 S.E.2d 486 (S.C. 2018). The South Carolina Supreme Court overruled an appellate court decision on a divorce matter because the appellate court used an abuse of discretion standard. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the proper standard for review in family court is de novo.
Alabama. Fitzpatrick v. Hoehn, 262 So. 3d 613 (Ala. 2018). A daughter brought an action against the mother for intentional interference with a contract and intentional interference with business relations. The daughter also brought an action against the father’s estate for breach of contract. However, the daughter later brought this claim against the mother instead, due to a purported assignment of the contract in question. Additionally, the daughter brought an action against the mother for tortious interference with an inheritance, all of which concerned the parties’ ownership interests in a flea market. The court held that (1) the father’s quitclaim deed to the mother of his one-half undivided interest in the flea market did not assign to the mother the father’s interest in the purchase agreement with the daughter; (2) the mother was not a “stranger” to the purchase agreement concerning the sale of the father’s one-half undivided interest in the flea market to the daughter; and (3) the daughter could not maintain a claim against the mother for intentional interference with an inheritance, even if such a claim existed under state law.
Hawaii. Castro v. Melchor, 414 P.3d 53 (Haw. 2018). The plaintiff in this case brought an action against the State of Hawaii and the correctional officers at the local prison after she was forced to the ground while she was seven months pregnant. The altercation and the subsequent failure of medical personnel to provide her with treatment caused the stillbirth of her fetus at eight months. The court agreed that, as a matter of first impression, the estate of the inmate’s fetus was able to recover hedonic damages for loss of enjoyment of life, the evidence was sufficient to support an award of money for loss of enjoyment of life, and specific evidence was not required to support damages award.
Alaska. Lewis G. v. Cassie. Y., 426 P.3d 1136 (Alaska 2018). The mother moved from Texas to Alaska, taking her two children with her. The parties originally executed a settlement agreement awarding joint legal custody of the children to both parents, primary physical custody to the mother, and custody during the summer and Christmas holiday to the father. However, cooperation between the parents deteriorated. The father, an out-of-state resident, moved to modify child custody arising out of the settlement agreement established in divorce proceedings. The superior court required the father’s future visitation to occur in the children’s state of residence and imposed conditions on his visitation and the parties’ communications. The father appealed, arguing that his due process rights were violated. The court held that there was no error in the superior court findings and affirmed the custody order.
Arkansas. Dare v. Frost, 540 S.W.3d 381 (2018). The father moved to modify prior custody and child support order to increase visitation, alleging material change in circumstances. The mother counterclaimed, seeking an increase in child support. She argued that an increase in the father’s stock portfolio should result in an increase in his child support payments. The circuit court found material change had occurred, which warranted modification of the visitation schedule and recalculation of the father’s child support obligation. The mother appealed, but the appellate court affirmed the material changes and reversed the lower court with regard to child support. The supreme court denied the mother’s petition, but accepted the father’s petition, and held that (1) a material change in circumstances existed to justify modification of prior visitation order and (2) an increase in value of the father’s stock portfolio was not “income” required to be included in calculation of the father’s child support obligation.
South Dakota. In re M.C., 914 N.W.2d 563 (S.D. 2018). The father appealed an order granting custody to the mother with supervised visitation to the father based on evidence of the father’s child abuse and neglect of their thirteen-year-old son. Child custody cases involving child abuse and neglect are reviewed for abuse of discretion. After reviewing the findings, the court found no abuse of discretion. However, many issues in the mother’s household raised warning flags. The court remanded with instructions to review whether the order should be modified to include provisions for protective supervision of the child by the Department of Social Services under S.D. Codified Laws § 26-8A-22 and/or for a protection order under S.D. Codified Laws § 26-7A-107.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
West Virginia. Moran v. Rosciti Constr. Co., 815 S.E.2d 503 (W. Va. 2018). The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that awards of dependents’ death benefits are payable under West Virginia’s workers’ compensation laws—notwithstanding W. Va. Code § 23-2-1c(d)—while benefits awarded under other jurisdictions’ laws for the same injury are suspended by third-party settlements. Here, a widow who had been awarded benefits as a dependent (in both Rhode Island and West Virginia) requested payment of West Virginia benefits after Rhode Island suspended her benefits because of a third-party settlement. A claims administrator denied the widow’s request. Two workers’ compensation review boards affirmed the decision. In turn, the widow appealed. The Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that she was entitled to receive payments of the dependents’ benefits under West Virginia law.