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November 12, 2021 Feature

Review of the Year 2020 in Family Law: COVID-19, Zoom, and Family Law in a Pandemic

Linda D. Elrod


Although COVID-19 shut down courts across the country starting in March 2020, lawyers and judges rose to the challenge of navigating a justice system run remotely from homes across the country. State supreme courts issued administrative orders tolling statutes of limitations and notice provisions and postponing jury trials. Zoom became the platform for hearings, pretrial conferences, mediations, and conferences as well as for education.1 Added to the health crisis were sad reminders of systemic racism and wealth inequalities as well as a highly contested presidential election. In spite of the challenges, federal and state courts continued to hand down important decisions on a variety of family law issues.

I. Federal

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2020 handed down several major decisions that impact families and the law. In a historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status.2 In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”3 The decision resolved three similar cases that were pending before the Supreme Court.4

Another important Supreme Court case saved “700,000 Dreamers” by blocking the Trump administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.5 The 5-4 decision found that the administration did not provide sufficient justification for ending the DACA program.6 While DACA was created by executive action, when it rescinded the program, the Department of Homeland Security did not follow the requirement under the Administrative Procedure Act that the agency “provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”7

The U.S. Supreme Court struck the Louisiana abortion restrictions requiring doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital no farther than 30 miles from the women’s clinic.8 Justice Roberts, for the first time, voted to strike an abortion restriction.9 He found that Supreme Court precedent controlled, noting the Court had recently invalidated a “nearly identical” Texas law in Hellerstadt with similar facts.10

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the Fulton case in which the Third Circuit had held that the city of Philadelphia did not violate the religious-based foster care agency’s free exercise of religion by requiring it to comply with the city ordinance that prohibited discrimination against same-sex couples.11 The agency contended it violated their religion to place children with same-sex couples.12 The Supreme Court agreed with the agency, ruling that the city ordinance did not apply. The nondiscrimination contractual provision allowed for exemptions, and the denial of a religious exemption here did not satisfy strict scrutiny.13

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in a case under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, upholding the return of a child to the father in Italy after the mother had brought the infant to the United States.14 The Court found that “a child’s habitual residence depends on the totality of the circumstances specific to the case.”15 The determination of habitual residence would be reviewed for clear error.16 The Second and Fifth Circuits quickly used the totality of circumstances test.17

In August 2019, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2018 district court decision and held that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)18 does not amount to race-based discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, does not violate the Tenth Amendment’s anticommandeering doctrine, and does not violate the nondelegation doctrine of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution.19 The panel found the ICWA definition of “Indian child” was a political classification subject to rational basis review.20 The court also held the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had authority to promulgate its 2016 ICWA regulations.21 The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted review to hear the case en banc in 2020. In 2021, the Fifth Circuit rejected nondelegation challenges and some equal protection claims but ruled for the plaintiffs on some other equal protection claims and Administrative Procedure Act claims.22

The Seventh Circuit held that non–birth mothers in a same-sex marriage could be listed as parents on their children’s birth certificates.23 The court found an Indiana statutory presumption that a man was the father of a child born or conceived in wedlock violated the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights as it did not apply to women in same-sex marriages.24 A federal district court in Maryland handed down a “win” for same-sex parents in a citizenship case.25 The U.S. government had imposed more stringent requirements for granting citizenship to children born abroad to LGBTQ+ married couples where only one parent had a biological connection to the child, relying on a provision of the immigration code that applies to unwed couples.26 The court found that the child need be genetically related to only one of the parents to receive U.S. citizenship.27

The Tenth Circuit found that for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a “legitimated” child for the purpose of seeking lawful permanent residency must be the biological child of the parent.28 An uncle who adopted his niece could not legitimate her for immigration purposes.29 The federal district court in Virginia found that a statutory provision requiring couples to list their race on an application for a marriage license was unconstitutional to the extent it burdened the fundamental right to marry.30

A tax case reminded lawyers to not draft contingencies for termination of alimony that involve a child turning 18.31 The divorce decree ordered the petitioner husband to pay monthly child support until the child reached age 18 and maintenance for at least five years until either the youngest child turned 18, the ex-wife or petitioner died, the ex-wife remarried at five years, or the ex-wife became self-supporting.32 The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disallowed the husband’s 2015 $28,000 alimony deduction.33 The U.S. Tax Court sustained the IRS action, finding that although the decree used the term “alimony,” the payments should be considered child support because one of the contingencies was the youngest child turning 18.34

If a veteran is not living with his or her spouse, or does not have custody of his or her children, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may “apportion” part of the veteran’s disability benefits to his now ex-wife for the period when they were still married but living separately until the date of divorce.35 A stipulation in a separation agreement did not preclude the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from determining the ex-wife’s apportionment.36

II. State Court Cases

A. Adoption

The Uniform Law Commission Drafting Committee on the Unregulated Transfers of Adopted Children Act expanded its scope to include all children when families transfer custody of the child to another person outside of the courts or child welfare system. The new title is the Unregulated Child Custody Transfer Act. It had a first reading in 2020,37 and its final reading at the annual meeting in July 2021.

1. Jurisdiction

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)38 does not specifically cover adoption in the majority of states because the Uniform Law Commission had a Uniform Adoption Act that it thought states might adopt. Several states did include adoption in their UCCJEA enactment.39 Even if the UCCJEA is not listed as specifically applying to adoption, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) does require full faith and credit to any custody decree made in accordance with the PKPA.40 A birth mother filed to set aside an Arkansas adoption order, one week after the adoption, due to fraud by a third party.41 While her motion was pending, the adoptive parents moved to Ohio.42 After the Arkansas court set aside the adoption, the adoptive parents filed for legal custody in an Ohio court.43 The Ohio Juvenile Court properly denied jurisdiction because the PKPA required full faith and credit to the Arkansas decision.44 In another case, an alleged biological father filed a paternity and custody action in Texas, where the child was born and lived for five weeks.45 The prospective adoptive parents took the child to Alabama and filed for adoption.46 The Alabama court found that under the PKPA, Alabama lacked jurisdiction to hear the adoption.47 Texas at the least had significant connection jurisdiction at the time the biological father filed the actions.48

Adoption in many instances involves an involuntary termination of parental rights. The UCCJEA specifically covers proceedings to terminate parental rights.49 In a case of first impression, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that if the termination of parental rights is initiated in a stepparent adoption case, the UCCJEA applies.50 Arizona had granted the parties’ divorce, allocated parenting time, awarded visitation to parental grandparents, and allowed the mother to move to Colorado.51 When the mother remarried, her new husband filed a petition to terminate the father’s rights and adopt the child.52 Because Arizona had made a prior determination and had not declined jurisdiction in a manner consistent with the UCCJEA’s requirements for intercourt communication, Colorado courts lacked jurisdiction to terminate the father’s parental rights.53 The court noted that if the issue were solely the stepparent adoption because the biological parent had consented to the adoption or was deceased, the UCCJEA would not apply.54 But where Arizona courts had continuing exclusive jurisdiction, the Colorado court should have communicated with the Arizona court.55

Massachusetts had an interesting case. An unmarried biological father, who resided outside of the United States, filed a petition to adopt a child born in Massachusetts to an unwed mother under a gestational carrier agreement.56 After birth, the mother and father executed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity; the mother then surrendered the child to the father, who took the child back to his country.57 The lower court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.58 The appellate court found that the child’s domicile at birth was that of the mother.59 A person who is not an inhabitant who desires to adopt a child residing in Massachusetts may file a petition in the probate court in the county in which the child resides.60 The acknowledgment and surrender did not give the child a new domicile. The probate court had personal jurisdiction over the mother, child, and father and had subject matter and equity jurisdiction over the petition.61

In addition to jurisdictional issues, there may be an issue in adoption cases with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).62 When a child was removed from her mother’s care for neglect, the Maryland Court of Appeals found that the juvenile court’s application of the ICPC to the out-of-state biological father denied the biological father his constitutional right to parent.63 ICPC did not apply to the agency’s placement with a noncustodial parent.64 The agency impermissibly deprived a presumably fit biological father of custody of his child.65 Some states have found that ICPC does apply to placement with a parent, although several states have held otherwise.66

2. Consents

Appellate adoption cases in recent years often deal with whether the proper consents are given and whether they are voluntary.67 A putative father of a newborn who timely registered with the Virginia Birth Father Registry had standing to receive notice and participate in an adoption proceeding.68 An unwed father’s consent was not required for adoption where he had “limited contact” with the mother and failed to provide the mother with any financial assistance while she was pregnant.69 In Arkansas, the court may dispense with a parent’s consent if the court finds that without justifiable cause, the parent significantly failed to communicate with or to support the child for at least one year.70 While some states use the one-year period immediately preceding the petition,71 Arkansas found it could be any one-year period between birth and the petition for adoption.72 Where a birth mother had justifiable cause for failure to communicate with the children because the father blocked communication and visitation, her consent was necessary for the stepmother to adopt.73

A mother’s husband petitioned in Pennsylvania (where the mother, her husband, and the children lived) to confirm a Colorado father’s consent to adoption.74 The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the law of Colorado, where the father resided at the time he executed his consent to adoption of the children, did not exclusively govern the father’s challenge to the validity of the consent for purposes of the Pennsylvania Adoption Act.75 In an Indiana case, the father’s failure to attend the final hearing was insufficient to find the father in default and to support a finding of implied consent to adoption.76 A father’s voluntary agreement to a “no contact” order in exchange for not paying child support did not justify his lack of contact with the child, so his consent to adoption was not required.77 A trial court failed to make specific findings required under an adoption statute permitting adoption in the absence of consent when a parent is shown by clear and convincing evidence to be unfit and “the best interests of the child sought to be adopted would be served if the court dispensed with the parent’s consent.”78

3. Who Can Adopt

The ex-wife of a same-sex marriage filed to adopt the child who was adopted in the name of the ex-spouse during the marriage.79 The court found that the ex-wife had “substantial past contact” with the child sufficient to give her standing to petition to adopt the child and the evidence was sufficient to grant the petition.80 In a Montana case, the court found that the consent of the step-grandmother was required for the stepmother to adopt the child.81 She had a parental interest and was the primary physical custodian of the child.82

B. Agreements

1. Premarital Agreements

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia use the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act or a variation of it.83 Only two states—Colorado and North Dakota—have enacted the newer Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreement Act.84 The trend has been to uphold premarital agreements as long as they are entered into voluntarily and the parties are aware of each other’s finances. States differ on whether advice of independent counsel is required and on some of the substantive and procedural requirements.

A premarital agreement resulting in significant financial disparity between the parties was not, on its own, fraudulent or unconscionable.85 The agreement was not presented at the last minute, the husband disclosed assets, and the wife had the opportunity to review and consider with independent counsel.86 Public policy favors private decision-making, and there was no evidence of “fraud, duress, or other inequitable conduct” that would render it against public policy.87 A premarital agreement that was signed by both parties and acknowledged was presumed valid and enforceable as a matter of law in a divorce.88 Marriage was the consideration for the contract, and the wife failed to establish the agreement was the product of fraud, duress, or overreaching or that the agreement was unconscionable.89

A Maine case found that the premarital agreement by its plain language kept separate property from before marriage but did not apply to property acquired after marriage.90 The husband’s 401(k) earned after marriage was divisible marital property in the divorce.91 If any of the parties’ marital property is not covered by the premarital agreement, then the property is distributed equitably in a divorce proceeding.92

A Maryland case upheld the enforceability of a mahr, a “personal obligation of the groom to the bride” for parties married in an Islamic religious ceremony.93 This was a consolidated appeal of two cases in which wives were married in a civil ceremony and an Islamic religious ceremony.94 In a case of first impression, the court found if a mahr “can be interpreted under ‘neutral principles of [contract] law’” and “‘scrutinize[d] . . . in purely secular terms,’ it constitutes an enforceable agreement.”95 As an issue of first impression, a mahr is enforceable only if it satisfies the requirements for the enforcement of agreements entered into by parties in a confidential relationship.96 The appellate court found that the mahrs in the cases were not void as against public policy if “properly construed and analyzed as contracts between parties in a confidential relationship,” and remanded for the circuit court to determine if the mahrs met the requirements for enforceability.97

A couple of courts considered validity of a premarital agreement at death. Massachusetts found that the premarital agreement applied on the husband’s death, so the wife had no intestate share in the husband’s separate property under the agreement.98 A Nebraska court found that “proceeds from a wrongful death action are not the property of [the] decedent’s estate and are therefore not contemplated as a property right waived in a premarital agreement unless the language . . . specifically waives [that] right.”99 Therefore, the premarital agreement did not bar the surviving estranged wife from recovery of some portion of the wrongful death settlement proceeds of the husband, who died of mesothelioma, although it was relevant to determining the amount she should receive.100

2. Postmarital Agreements

The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld a postmarital agreement where the highly educated wife had independent counsel throughout the negotiation and execution of a postmarital agreement and the agreement stated it was being entered into voluntarily.101 In a Michigan case, the postmarital agreement was upheld, even though the husband argued that he signed it because he was afraid he would be financially ruined if he did not sign.102 The facts showed the parties had lived together since 2003 and had negotiated the agreement as a premarital agreement in 2012 but did not get it signed until after the marriage.103 Both parties had separate counsel. The wife was a dentist and the husband wanted more in assets than he received under the agreement.104

C. Alimony/Spousal Support

1. The Original Award

States differ on the basis for alimony and the factors to use, with need and ability to pay being the most prominent. A Maryland case noted that the evidence at trial conclusively established that even if the wife made “as much progress toward becoming self-supporting as [could] reasonably be expected,” the parties’ standards of living would be unconscionably disparate.105 There was $35,000 annual income imputed to the wife, where the husband’s annual income was over $1.5 million.106 Therefore, the trial court erred in denying the wife’s request for indefinite alimony.107

2. Modification/Termination

Whether alimony is modifiable may depend on whether it is lump sum or periodic. In a Georgia case, the court found that the agreement provided that the husband would pay a $5,652 monthly sum of alimony for 10 years.108 The agreement also stated that the party did not waive rights to modify the agreement.109 Therefore, the alimony was modifiable.110

Two states had the opportunity to look at changes in alimony law. In New Jersey, the court found that a 2014 statutory change governing modification or termination of alimony when the obligor retires prior to attaining full retirement age applies only to orders and agreements entered after the amendment went into effect.111 Before terminating the alimony, the court was required to consider whether the wife had the ability to have saved adequately for retirement.112 Massachusetts enacted an Alimony Reform Act with presumptive durational limits based on the length of the marriage.113 The court found it could deviate in the interests of justice in a case in which the wife became ill and unable to work after divorce.114 It required a former husband to pay $200 a week until the former wife died or remarried or the husband reached full retirement age.115 The court found the public policy in preventing the spouse from becoming a public charge was important.116 A husband was not entitled to modification of alimony even though his income had decreased.117 The parties had a consent decree incorporating an agreement.118 The husband received more of the marital property but paid equalization and alimony.119

Some states treat a recipient spouse’s cohabitation as a change of circumstances to allow modification120 or have a statute that terminates the alimony obligation upon cohabitation.121 The determination of whether an alimony recipient is cohabiting is fact driven.122 The Utah Supreme Court “reject[ed] the premise that shared residence is a threshold element that must be met before other hallmarks of marriage may be considered in the cohabitation analysis.”123

The North Dakota Supreme Court discussed the interplay of a 2015 statute requiring termination of spousal support for a recipient’s cohabitation unless it was rehabilitative support or the parties agreed otherwise.124 The trial court erred in not terminating spousal support ordered at $5,000 a month for 120 months based on cohabitation.125 Even the provision in the agreement that stated the support should be nonmodifiable did not bar termination because cohabitation was not specifically listed.126

Generally, alimony terminates upon the death of either party. If, however, an agreement specifically provides that alimony terminates only on the death of the recipient, the obligor’s estate can be required to continue making payments.127

D. Alternative Dispute Resolution

COVID-19 has increased the use of alternative dispute resolution across the country. More cases are being resolved through Zoom mediation. The Zoom platform is more convenient for many parties, who do not have to travel. The pandemic also has awakened interest in family law arbitration. As of 2020, three states—Arizona, Hawaii, and North Dakota—had enacted the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act.128 Several states use the Uniform Arbitration Act or the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act129 to provide family law arbitration.

An “unusual choice of law provision” in an arbitration agreement created litigation in Connecticut.130 The parties could not set aside the arbitrator’s award of property, which divided property according to Connecticut law rather than French law.131 The parties had agreed to have the sole arbitrator interpret a French matrimonial contract with “unfamiliar provisions of French law.”132 The court found that the parties “voluntarily accepted a real and substantial risk of being disappointed by an outcome with very limited opportunity for judicial review.”133

One of the hallmarks of mediation is that it is a confidential process. Evidence of what transpired in the mediation process leading to the parties’ settlement agreement is generally inadmissible. While evidence may be admissible for the collateral purpose of enforcing the agreement, the wife was estopped from claiming that her factual assertions in the settlement agreement of full disclosure of assets were untrue.134 A mediated settlement agreement that husband and wife executed upon their separation resulted in the wife’s waiver of the right to elect against the husband’s estate when he died a couple of years later.135 The husband’s will controlled.136

One interesting case involved enforcement of a divorce judgment. Each party filed for contempt against the other.137 The parties reached an agreement in mediation, which the trial court declined to approve because it altered the property settlement.138 The appellate court found that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to enforce even though the mediated settlement agreement altered the divorce judgment.139

E. Attorneys

Many attorneys found themselves meeting clients on Zoom and conducting mediations and hearings with judges on various video platforms.140 At the beginning of the pandemic, judges had to tell attorneys to still dress professionally (not in pajamas) and to behave as in court. One lawyer accidentally appeared for a hearing as a cat because someone had turned a filter on.141

There still were a number of the usual disciplinary cases. Conflicts of interest remain an issue. In Georgia, the court disqualified the husband’s lawyer because he had previously formed an attorney-client relationship with the wife with respect to a commission issue she had with an employer.142 The wife had shared detailed information with the lawyer about her compensation plan and earnings.143

One Kentucky lawyer was issued a public reprimand for failing to independently confirm the entry of the divorce decree before his office incorrectly informed his client that it had been entered; the client then remarried, but her marriage was void because her first marriage had not ended.144 A lawyer was suspended for 60 days for several violations, including failure to deliver funds from a sale of a vehicle and funds from a client’s retirement account to a conservator, and continuing to represent the client in a post-divorce judgment proceeding when there was a concurrent conflict of interest.145 The attorney had also billed a different client for the attorney’s “own personal defense as an individually named defendant in an adversary case” in the client’s ex-husband’s bankruptcy proceeding.146

An Ohio lawyer who engaged in sexual relations with his client was suspended from the practice.147 An attorney who filed repeated frivolous recusal motions and neglected a divorce matter was suspended for one year and a day.148 A lawyer who had practiced for 22 years was disbarred for lack of diligence and other rules violations in representing three clients in divorce, habeas, and traffic cases; ignoring the clients’ attempts to contact her; and failing to return fees.149

A client brought a malpractice action against the lawyer alleging a breach of the duty of care by not including a supportive relationship clause in the mediated settlement agreement entered in the divorce case.150 The agreement provided the ex-husband would pay alimony of $100,000 per year that would terminate at 12 years, remarriage of the ex-wife, or death.151 It did not mention the wife entering into a supportive relationship with another person.152 The case was remanded to determine when the two-year statute of limitations started to run.153 A client’s malpractice suit against her divorce lawyer for not investigating her husband’s income failed on statute of limitations grounds because the client knew or had reason to know of the alleged $700,000 discrepancy in her husband’s income more than three years previously when she signed a joint tax return.154

Use of social media resulted in a judge being recused.155 The Wisconsin Supreme Court recused a judge who, after hearing a contested custody dispute, but before rendering the decision, accepted a Facebook friend request from the mother.156 The Court found that the “extreme facts” of the case and the totality of circumstances, “viewed objectively, r[o]se to the level of a serious risk of actual bias” and amounted to a due process violation.157 In another case, a judge’s conduct in interfering with a case assigned to another judge that involved the incarcerated boyfriend of the judge’s friends’ daughter violated the judicial conduct rules.158

F. Child in Need of Care

The UCCJEA applies to child in need of care proceedings.159 A Connecticut court lacked jurisdiction over a child neglect petition involving a newborn child born in Florida to parents who had moved there, even though Connecticut had another child of the couple in state care and a termination of parental rights proceeding was pending.160 Oregon’s Department of Human Services could obtain dependency judgments as to two children with drug-abusing parents pursuant to the court’s temporary emergency jurisdiction even though Oregon was not the home state.161

The failure of parents to raise the UCCJEA jurisdiction issue in child dependency proceedings before the trial court over a couple of years constituted forfeiture of the issue.162 The case contained an interesting discussion of subject matter jurisdiction.163 Texas found that “jurisdictional defects” under the UCCJEA “are not one of the enumerated [statutory] grounds for challenging an order effectuating a voluntary termination of parental rights.”164 The trial court’s determination that Texas was the child’s home state was not subject to collateral attack by the ex-husband, who had previously voluntarily relinquished his parental rights.165

Although the child was born in Alabama, the child had lived in Vermont since spring of 2016 and had been in the custody of the Vermont child welfare agency since August 2016.166 Vermont terminated parental rights in 2019, but the father convinced an Alabama court to award him custody and tried to register the order in Vermont.167 Vermont found that under the UCCJEA and PKPA, Alabama had no basis for custody jurisdiction, so Vermont was not required to register and enforce the order.168

Parents are entitled to due process before their rights are terminated.169 Courts continue to terminate parental rights if there is a finding of abandonment of the child.170 Courts also terminate for other reasons, such as abuse or inability to parent.171

COVID has created many problems for child in need of care cases. Questions arise when agencies are unable to provide the services that parents need in order to get their child back. Other issues have arisen concerning the time periods for moving children into permanent placements.172

G. Child Custody

1. Jurisdiction

a. Home State—Initial

The UCCJEA provides subject matter jurisdiction for hearing a child custody action. The primary basis for jurisdiction is that a state is the child’s home state when the child has lived in that state with a parent or person acting as a parent for six months preceding the filing of the petition.173 Where a husband filed for divorce against the mother who was pregnant and residing out of state at the time of the filing, the Ohio court had jurisdiction over the divorce but not over child custody.174 The UCCJEA established jurisdiction in the state where the mother gave birth and lived with the child.175

Whether a trial court had jurisdiction under the UCCJEA was a question of law reviewed de novo.176 Oklahoma had subject matter jurisdiction to determine if Oklahoma had become the child’s home state after the parties had jointly dismissed a Kansas divorce case in which the Kansas court had issued temporary orders.177

Temporary emergency jurisdiction is reserved for “extraordinary circumstances.”178 Montana allowed the exercise of emergency jurisdiction where the father had exposed the mother and children to an “apprehension of domestic violence” and they feared they were not safe in Florida with the father.179

b. Continuing Jurisdiction

Once a state with proper jurisdiction makes a custody order, that state retains exclusive, continuing jurisdiction until all parties leave the state or the state relinquishes jurisdiction.180 Overall, courts seem to be understanding the concept. The Louisiana Court of Appeals correctly vacated a trial court’s modification of a Florida custody and support award.181 The Louisiana court lacked jurisdiction under the UCCJEA to modify custody to designate the father as domiciliary parent and to order return of the children to Louisiana when the mother and children still resided in Florida.182 There was no evidence that Florida had lost its continuing exclusive jurisdiction, so the trial court order was void.183

Even if another state becomes the child’s home state, the decree state retains jurisdiction until it relinquishes it or determines it is an inconvenient forum, or any court determines that all parties have left the state.184 Even if all parties leave the state, if the leave is considered a “temporary absence,” the state will retain continuing exclusive jurisdiction. An Alaskan military father was stationed in South Carolina.185 The children’s mother moved with the children to continue the shared physical custody arrangement consistent with the court’s order, which provided that if the parents were a “significant distance apart” the father would have primary physical custody. The term “presently resides” in UCCJEA and similar Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) language governing exclusive, continuing jurisdiction should be interpreted consistently with “residency” under Alaska law.186 The father intended to return to Alaska at the end of his military deployment, so the parties’ physical presence in South Carolina did not deprive Alaska’s superior court of exclusive, continuing jurisdiction.187 In another case, Alaska found that it was not an inconvenient forum even though the parties were no longer Alaska residents.188 The attorneys had done substantial work for the trial, which was scheduled the following month; information from a Washington custody investigator could be transmitted telephonically; and transferring the case could cause a year’s delay.189

Joint physical custody arrangements are playing havoc with jurisdictional rules. In one case, the parties divorced in Florida with a parenting plan that provided for 50/50 parenting time until the child went to kindergarten.190 The mother and child moved to Alabama but honored the time share.191 The father filed to modify in Florida, then moved to Connecticut, withdrew the Florida petition, and registered the Florida order and filed for modification in Connecticut.192 The father’s registration of the Florida judgment did not automatically provide Connecticut with subject matter jurisdiction.193 The Florida judge thought Florida had continuing jurisdiction but that Alabama was the proper forum.194 The Connecticut appellate court remanded to determine if Florida had lost its continuing exclusive jurisdiction and whether Connecticut had either home state or significant connection jurisdiction.195

c. Procedure

A Washington trial court’s failure to specify the purpose of a UCCJEA hearing that led to the court relinquishing jurisdiction to another state provided the parties with inadequate notice of the hearing and violated the provision governing communication between courts.196 Where a father failed to file certified copies of default custody orders from a Shar’ia court in Jerusalem, North Carolina lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the orders.197

A father was denied procedural due process when he did not have the opportunity to prove before a Florida trial court that Japan declined to exercise jurisdiction.198 The father moved for an emergency ex parte order and the return of the child under the Hague Convention.199 The child was born in Japan, lived in Florida, and was allegedly abducted by the mother and brought to Japan 10 months before the father filed.200 The Hague petition needed to be filed in Japan because the child was in Japan.201 The father should have been allowed to show that Japan had declined jurisdiction, which would allow Florida to proceed on the custody petition.202

2. Factors

In most states, agreements or parenting plans of the parties are presumed to be in the child’s best interest. A recent Georgia case, however, reminded parties that it is the trial judge who has the ultimate say on the best interests of the child.203 The trial court is not bound by agreements between parties regarding custody because that “would destroy the power of [the] courts to reject inadequate, overreaching, unconscionable or otherwise invalid settlement agreements of child custody disputes.”204

Courts continue to value stability for a child. A Mississippi court found that the best interest factor addressing continuity of care favored the father where he had temporary physical custody for two years preceding the final judgment.205 Separation of siblings was but one factor to consider.206 A Michigan case that discussed the contributions of working parents held that the trial court erred in finding the child had an established custodial environment only with the stay-at-home mother rather than with the working mother also.207

The Texas Court of Appeals held that the court had no duty to interview a 12-year-old child when there was no request on the record to do so.208 The Montana trial court did not err in refusing to give a six-year-old child’s wishes “compelling weight” in considering the child’s best interests in a relocation case.209 Even though the teenage children did not want to visit their father, a North Dakota court properly awarded parenting time.210 In child custody cases in Mississippi involving abuse and neglect, a guardian ad litem (GAL) “functions as a court-appointed investigator, not as a party’s witness.”211 The GAL was not required to make a child custody recommendation at the trial.212

Courts have reversed trial court decisions that did not adequately consider evidence of a history of domestic violence.213 For example, the Alaska Supreme Court found the trial court erred in awarding the unwed 19-year-old father custody without considering his sexual abuse of the mother when she was 13.214 The court also should have heard the mother’s petition to terminate the father’s parental rights.215 Some states have a statutory presumption that joint legal or physical custody is not in the best interests of the child in cases involving domestic violence. In North Dakota, a trial court erred in awarding unsupervised parenting time where the evidence was insufficient to rebut the presumption that due to the husband’s domestic violence, unsupervised parenting time would endanger the children.216 The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, found that the statute may not preclude a parent who has committed domestic violence from receiving custody if the presumption is rebutted.217

A couple of cases dealt with discovery issues. Some courts find that a parent’s request for custody of his or her children puts the parent’s mental health at issue. The Supreme Court of Ohio held that the mother’s “physicians and psychologists may be compelled to testify, but only as to communications that are ‘related causally or historically to physical or mental injuries relevant’” to the divorce.218

As a matter of first impression, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that “it was error for the court to impose a discovery sanction that precluded the court from receiving evidence without first ascertaining whether the evidence was relevant” to the custody decision.219

3. Modification

Generally, the court will only hear a case for modification if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the last decree. The material change in circumstances should be permanent or continuous rather than transitory or temporary. The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld modification of a 2011 custody order to award full legal and physical custody to the father where the mother’s conduct had worsened.220 The 14-year-old had a strong preference to reside with his father and had developed shared interests in hunting and fishing, farming, and working outdoors.221

A couple of cases interpreted religious provisions. Arizona found that where the parenting plan provided that each parent was permitted to take the children to a church or place of worship of the parent’s choice, the father was permitted to take the children to any place of worship, Christian or not.222 In New York, the lower court erred by directing the father to comply with the “cultural norms” of Hasidic Judaism.223 The court could not constitutionally direct the father to practice a religion, “rather than merely directing him to provide the children with a religious upbringing.”224

When the mother filed to suspend the father’s visitation, the father countered to find the mother in contempt and modify custody.225 The appellate court affirmed the chancery court’s orders transferring physical and legal custody to the father and finding the mother in contempt for willful and extensive interference with the father’s visitation rights.226

Most courts continue to disapprove of future “automatic” modification of custody arrangements when one parent relocates. A North Dakota court could not enter a provision that “purports to modify the original residential responsibility decision without consideration of the child’s best interests at the time of a potential move.”227 Courts also want a relocating parent to have a good or legitimate reason for the move.228

Arkansas found that “[t]he proper analysis for a change-in-custody request due to the relocation of one parent in a joint-custody situation is the same as that when relocation is not involved; the court must first determine whether a material change of circumstances has transpired” since the prior custody order, and then “whether the change in custody is in the best interest of the child.”229 Finding no change in circumstances, the Arkansas appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision allowing the father to move with the child to Indiana.230 The mother’s move from Wyoming to Idaho was a sufficient change of circumstances, and the court did not err in modifying custody to give the unwed father primary physical and residential custody as the daughter entered kindergarten.231 In another case, although the mother had a history of relocating frequently, the court found it was in the best interest of the child to allow the mother to move out of state.232 The mother had been the primary caregiver since birth and the new job had benefits and opportunities for advancement and would also offer the mother more time to spend with the child.233

A New York appellate court that upheld the trial court’s decision to allow the mother to take the children with her to London for one year was supported by the record.234 The mother had employment and had relied on the “father’s representation that the family would move there if she found a job with a certain salary.”235 The mother’s family lived nearby, and the children had visited them annually.236

4. Nonparent Custody

As a general rule, parents win over nonparents almost every time in a custody fight. After the mother died in a car accident, the maternal grandparents and the mother’s fiancé petitioned to intervene in a pending custody modification proceeding.237 The Texas court relied on Troxel to find that the fit father’s wishes as to the care, custody, and protection of the three-year-old child were entitled to deference.238 The Nebraska Supreme Court found that even though the child had been left in the custody of another person for several years, the biological mother was a fit parent and was entitled to the parental preference rule.239

A few grandparents were able to succeed with custody petitions. Paternal grandparents had standing to bring an action for custody even though their son had not married the child’s mother or “legitimated” the child.240 In Georgia, the grandparents established by clear and convincing evidence that parental custody could cause the child to experience “either physical harm or significant, long-term emotional harm.”241 In another case, after an unwed mother committed suicide in South Carolina, her father, who had supported her and had cared for the child when she lived with him in Florida for the majority of the child’s life, was able to show by clear and convincing evidence that compelling circumstances justified awarding him primary custody over the mostly absent biological father.242

A couple of cases dealt with stepparent issues. In Illinois, the biological father’s civilly-united partner under the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act was a “step-parent” who had standing to petition for visitation and an allocation of parental responsibilities following the father’s death.243 North Carolina found that the trial court was required under the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA) to address awarding “limited contact” with the son to the stepmother when ruling on the father’s motion to grant caretaking authority or limited contact to the nonparent due to the father’s deployment.244

H. Child Support

1. Who Pays

Unusual facts resulted in a putative parent not being obligated to pay child support. The putative parent started dating the mother when the mother was three months pregnant, and denied having signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) that included the putative parent’s name.245 After the parties married, the putative parent underwent gender reassignment surgery and the parties separated.246 The mother did not seek support at the time of the divorce, but later, when she was unable to work, she filed for support as required for her to obtain public assistance; she testified that she wanted to remove the putative parent’s name from the child’s birth certificate, and sought a paternity test for the child’s biological father. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s finding that the putative parent did not sign the AOP, and directed that the AOP be rescinded.247

In a case of first impression, a Maryland court found that the primary custodial parent could be required to pay child support to the noncustodial parent in appropriate circumstances.248 The father earned about $1.3 million in 2017, and the mother earned $50,000 annually after the parties had a 17-year marriage during which the mother mainly stayed home with the three children.249 The father, who had primary physical custody, was ordered to pay $6,500 in monthly child support and indefinite alimony of $8,500 a month.250

2. Income

The Nebraska Supreme Court found that a child support worksheet is required even when ordering nominal support.251 It is not possible to review whether the amount set is correct unless there is information about the income.252 Whenever there is a deviation from the guidelines, “the reason for the deviation must ‘be contained in the findings portion of the decree or order,’” or the appropriate worksheet must be “completed by the court and filed in the court file.”253

Generally, all income is included for child support purposes. Subchapter S corporations continue to give courts trouble with child support income. Nebraska held that “[a] significant amount of retained earnings” by a corporation of which a parent is a shareholder “does not by itself establish an attempt to shield income.”254 The “relevant factors to weigh in determining what portion of undistributed corporate earnings” are income for child support purposes include “(1) the shareholder’s level of control over the corporation’s distributions—as measured by the shareholder’s ownership interest, (2) the legitimate business interests justifying the retained corporate earnings, and (3) the corporation’s history of retained earnings and distributions to determine whether there is any affirmative evidence of an attempt to shield income. . . .”255 In another case, the trial court erred in attributing income to the father equal to 50% of the net profit of the parties’ jointly owned businesses “without regard for the actual distributions he received and without evidence that the retained earnings were excessive.”256 The court failed to consider the father’s present wages in determining child support.257 The court also dealt with depreciation in an unusual way.258

Several states had appellate cases on imputing income. The Supreme Court of Alaska emphasized that the “ultimate goal of a [child] support determination ‘is to arrive at an income figure reflective of economic reality.’”259 The court vacated an order that more than doubled the mother’s historic annual income by imputing the 25th percentile income rate, rather than making specific findings based on the mother’s work history, qualifications, and job availability.260 The trial court could impute income based on the father’s earning capacity in the city where he currently lived and worked for his family business, but not based on the father’s income when living in a different state/job market.261 A New York trial court properly imputed income to a mother who was able to work full time but only was working 32 hours a week at most.262 If the trial court imputes income, here $72,000 to the father, it must make findings to support it.263 In a Florida case, the court properly imputed income based on the husband’s business venture and former job.264

When the father and boyfriend who had provided the mother with funds that the Florida trial court used in imputing her income both died, the wife was entitled to have the judgment opened. The newly discovered evidence materially altered the trial court’s findings relating to her imputed income.265

Sometimes the parents’ income exceeds the top of the child support guidelines. An Illinois father’s $615,000 inheritance that he received during the divorce was nonmarital property, but the distributions he received from the inherited individual retirement accounts (IRAs), which had not previously been imputed to him as income, needed to be included for purposes of calculating maintenance and child support.266 The lower court in New York erred in increasing the father’s child support to $6,650 a month based on above-the-cap income where the court’s reasons were not supported by the record.267 The statutory cap was $148,000, and the father was paying 80% of significant add-ons for health, education, and extracurricular activities, and more in child care expenses than the mother had incurred.268 An Alabama court reduced the father’s child support from $4,000 a month to $2,840 where the parties’ combined gross income exceeded the uppermost level of the Child Support Guidelines schedule.269

There were a couple of cases dealing with travel costs. In one, the Nebraska trial court properly declined to make a $6,600 deduction from the mother’s annual child support to pay for the father’s and child’s transportation between California and Nebraska.270 The disparity between the parties’ incomes made it that the mother should receive at least $600 a month.271 In another case, the Florida court found that “[t]he expense of transporting the minor child for visitation is a childrearing expense like any other, which should be shared by the parents in accordance with their financial means.”272

3. Modification

There were a couple of cases involving continuing jurisdiction issues. Where all parties lived in Kansas when the child support order was entered and the mother and children continued to live in Kansas, Kansas retained exclusive continuing jurisdiction although the father had lived in California and then Colorado.273 Even though a California court had entered a modified support order against the father and he made some payments under the order, the California order was void for lack of jurisdiction.274 Kansas, at all times, had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and the parties did not consent in writing to the jurisdiction of the California court.275 The district court could not order income withholding or an award of arrearages in excess of $80,000 based on the void California order.276 In another case, the Louisiana courts properly held that they lacked jurisdiction to modify a Florida child support order when the mother and children still lived in Florida.277

An agreement of former partners to change joint custody to sole was a material change of circumstances that warranted modification of the child support.278 A father was denied modification of his child support obligation where the termination of his employment was due to his own conduct in being late, missing meetings, and not doing the work on time.279

4. Registration/Enforcement

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated a civil contempt judgment, made based on a father’s “poor attitude,” for failure to provide him with procedural due process safeguards relative to ability to pay.280 The court also failed to follow Department of Revenue guidelines based on federal regulations requiring state agencies to screen cases “for information regarding the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay”; to provide the court with information regarding ability to pay; and to “[p]rovide clear notice to the [obligor] that his or her ability to pay constitutes the critical question in the civil contempt action.”281

An unwed father who was a member of the Miami Heat basketball team had a Florida child support order.282 The mother and child lived in Kansas. The father retired and moved from Florida. In an attempt to reduce his child support obligation, he filed to register the Florida judgment in Kansas using UIFSA but failed to attach the required two certified copies of the support order. Even though the mother failed to contest the father’s petition to register the out-of-state child support order within 20 days, the court found that she could challenge the court’s subject matter jurisdiction under UIFSA.283 The majority held that the failure to file the certified copies meant the court lacked jurisdiction to modify the award.284 A strong dissent argued that UIFSA registration was procedural and not jurisdictional; in 2021, the Kansas Supreme Court agreed.285

A trial court granted an unwed father’s motion to vacate registration of a Swiss child support order because the nonresident Swiss mother’s affidavit was not notarized.286 The mother filed a motion for relief from the order. The appellate court found that the notarization of the affidavit is not required by UIFSA.287 The affidavit was admissible in evidence if it was given under penalty of perjury by a party or witness residing outside the state.288 Because foreign countries may not use notaries and have different procedures, the court correctly noted that the important thing was that the person was attesting to the accuracy of the filing.

I. Cohabitation

In a Vermont case, a former romantic partner sued his former cohabitating partner based on unjust enrichment.289 The trial court found that the plaintiff’s contribution of about $553,534 toward the purchase and renovation of the defendant’s primary residence was not a gift.290 The cause of action did not accrue until the partnership ended.291 The trial court was required to determine “the net increase in [the] defendant’s assets . . . that actually resulted from [the] plaintiff’s financial contributions,” and was not required to include the plaintiff’s “own use of the property as a factor reducing his equitable recovery.”292 In New Jersey, a former boyfriend who purchased a residence with the girlfriend was in a joint venture and entitled to the equitable remedy of partition, even in the absence of a written agreement.293 In South Carolina, a sometimes-cohabiting girlfriend was not able to show that she was a dependent so as to recover worker’s compensation death benefits.294

In June 2020, the city of Somerville, Massachusetts, adopted a domestic partnership ordinance that recognizes the eligibility of polyamorous relationships.295 The ordinance allows individuals to register their partnership with the city clerk.296 When Somerville city ordinances refer to “spouse,” “marriage,” or “family,” those terms “shall be interpreted to include” those in a domestic partnership.297

The proposed Uniform Cohabitants’ Economic Remedies Act has had many drafts with lots of revisions during its last two years of drafting. The types of relationships afforded cohabitant rights include domestic, romantic, and caregiver, and exclude incestuous and agreements for sexual services.298 The current version allows for cohabitants to enter into express written or oral agreements or for an agreement to be implied-in-fact. The implied contract would require the cohabitants to show the intent to have a relationship and provide the other with partnership benefits. Whether the relationship had to be of any particular duration has been hotly debated. The Act was approved in July 2021.

J. Divorce, Annulment, and Separate Maintenance

The COVID-19 pandemic created some unusual problems for parties who attempted to divorce in 2020. By March 2020, many state and federal courthouses were closed for all but emergency business under state and local stay-at-home orders. Some courts accepted only essential filings for domestic violence, child welfare, and criminal proceedings and other urgent matters. Many hearings were delayed.299

1. Jurisdiction

A Massachusetts appellate court interpreted that state’s statutory one-year residency requirement to entail “an actual, continuous residence in the Commonwealth for twelve consecutive months immediately prior to the commencement of a divorce action.”300 “[C]ertain temporary absences . . . will not affect the continuity of [the] plaintiff’s residence.”301 The determination is a question of fact.302

An interesting unpublished case raised numerous issues. The husband and wife had married in Lebanon at an Orthodox Christian church in 2009 and moved to Maryland.303 When the wife filed for a limited and then an absolute divorce, the husband argued that only Lebanese courts had jurisdiction over the divorce, that Maryland’s no-fault divorce law violated his constitutional right to marry, and that granting the divorce would violate his rights to free exercise of religion, “infringe on his children’s fundamental rights,” and “impair the obligations under his marriage contract, in violation of the Contracts Clause.”304 The Maryland court rejected all arguments finding that when a spouse is domiciled in Maryland, Maryland law governs the divorce.305 The Contracts Clause does not apply to marriages, and no-fault divorce does not violate the husband’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause.306 Nevada courts also had a complex marriage and divorce set of facts involving jurisdiction for divorce, a motion to set aside a divorce decree, and judicial estoppel.307

2. Grounds

For the first time in many years, a state supreme court discussed the constitutionality of a state’s no-fault statute. The Nebraska no-fault divorce statutory scheme allowing dissolution if the marriage is “irretrievably broken” does not violate procedural due process.308

Several cases this year discussed fault. A wife presented sufficient evidence of her husband’s habitual drunkenness to be granted a divorce on that ground.309 The Supreme Court of Mississippi noted that effective in 2017, the legislature amended the “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” divorce ground to specifically include “spousal domestic abuse.”310 The majority, however, upheld the chancellor’s dismissal of a wife’s complaint for divorce because her husband’s alleged pattern of “threats or intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, false accusations of marital infidelity, [and] episodes of abandon[ment]” did not amount to “spousal domestic abuse” but was “nothing more than unkindness, rudeness, incompatibility, and/or want of affection.”311 There was a dissent that argued that the legislative change was made to make getting divorced on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment easier. A divorce on that ground was granted the year before in a case with similar facts.312

Fault may be relevant in a divorce proceeding even when the divorce is not sought on a fault ground. A Virginia appellate court found that the trial court erred by precluding the husband from introducing evidence of the wife’s adultery with respect to the court’s consideration of whether to award her spousal support.313 The wife’s divorce was granted on the basis of a one-year separation. Because her husband’s response did not allege the adultery as a counterclaim or affirmative defense, the trial court did not let him introduce evidence of adultery.314 The appellate court disagreed, noting that the statute requires consideration of “the circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage, specifically including adultery and any other ground for divorce.”315

3. Procedural Issues

The mere fact that a person may suffer embarrassment or damage to his reputation as a result of allegations in a divorce case did not justify redacting or sealing parts of the court file.316 Connecticut ruled for the plaintiff in a case determining whether a party to a dissolution of marriage “may substitute the executor or administrator of the estate of a deceased party in the place of the decedent . . . when the pending civil proceeding seeks to open a judgment of dissolution [based on] financial fraud.”317

An order that purports to prohibit either party to a divorce from making extrajudicial statements must include findings of necessity and be limited in scope. A gag order that prohibited either party from “engag[ing] in any social media of any nature which comments, directly or indirectly, on the other party’s emotional or mental health or personal behavior” was “so overbroad as to render its boundaries indiscernible” and was a prior restraint on speech.318 An Arkansas court denied relief from a default judgment of divorce, where the wife received the divorce complaint and summons advising that a default would be entered if she failed to respond, and testified she was aware of the consequences of failing to hire an attorney or appear.319

K. Domestic Violence

California’s presumption against awarding spousal support to a spouse convicted of domestic violence applied when the wife had been convicted of stalking, vandalism, and unauthorized entry in a noncommercial residential place.320 In the time of COVID, it may not be surprising that a court found that one can be in a dating relationship without ever going out on a physical date.321 New Jersey found that a “dating relationship” existed under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act where the 22-year-old gym manager and an over-40-year-old gym attendee had never had a traditional, in-person date.322 The parties had in-person conversations at the gym and exchanged over 1,100 text messages, some “profoundly intimate.”323 The defendant’s vituperative and “alarming conduct” when spurned supported entry of a restraining order.324 In footnote six, the court noted “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the inability to meet in-person on traditional ‘dates,’” and the use of websites to “‘meet,’ sustain, and develop relationships virtually.”325

L. Marriage

1. Requirements

A capacity to marry issue arose in Montana this year. A couple were in a relationship from 1999 to 2016.326 After the man was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, he moved many assets and signed a will naming the woman as executor.327 The couple married the day before he died.328 The court barred the man’s family from challenging the validity of the marriage because the statute did not permit posthumous challenges; the court also noted that “[e]ven if the bar did not apply,” the family failed to meet their burden of showing lack of capacity.329

The Utah legislature in 2020 amended the criminal law to reclassify bigamy from a third degree felony to “an infraction.”330 Violators are subject to fines or community service but not imprisonment.331 Certain forms of bigamy remain a felony: bigamy induced by “fraudulent or false pretenses” or “by threat or coercion” and committing one or more felony or misdemeanor offenses (e.g., sexual battery, criminal nonsupport, child abuse) “in furtherance” of bigamy involving cohabitation.332 There are also certain defenses to prosecution for bigamy as an infraction, such as if “law enforcement discovers that the individual practices bigamy . . . as a result of the individual’s efforts to protect the safety and welfare of another individual.”333

A wife petitioned for dissolution of a marriage entered in the Philippines, but her husband defended that the marriage was never valid under Philippine law and obtained a Philippine court judgment declaring the marriage void.334 The Florida court refused to apply principles of comity to allow a prior void marriage to invalidate a 19-year-old marriage because it would be contrary to public policy.335

The South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously ruled on a case that started with entertainer James Brown’s death in 2006.336 The court found that his last partner, Tommie Rae Brown, was not his legal wife and had no claim to his estate because she was married to someone else at the time of their marriage ceremony.337 Tommie Rae was not included in the will, and two years prior to Brown’s death, she had waived her rights to declare she was his common-law wife.338

2. Common-Law Marriage

The District of Columbia allows same-sex couples to prove they had a common-law marriage, even before same-sex marriage was legal.339 Where one partner later had a ceremonial marriage to another person, the putative common-law husband failed to show by clear and convincing evidence there was a mutual agreement to marry.340

The Supreme Court of Montana agreed with the state district court that a party seeking to establish a common-law marriage failed to establish that the couple held themselves out as spouses.341 None of the 14 witnesses testified that they viewed the couple as married and “all confirmed that, at most, they were ‘life partners’ or a ‘forever couple,’ not spouses.”342 The man never wanted to marry again after two divorces, and the woman knew that.343 The court observed: “a life partnership is not the functional equivalent of a marriage.”344 In another Montana case, the court found that a same-sex couple had assumed a marital relationship by mutual agreement and the party met the burden of showing public repute.345

M. Names

After DNA testing showed that the man was the child’s father, he filed to change the child’s name.346 Noting that the father had no greater right than the mother to name the child, the Texas court found that it was not in the best interest of the then two-year-old to change the child’s name.347 Utah upheld changing a child’s name to a hyphenated surname including the mother’s and father’s names because of the blended family.348 Nebraska noted that to change a child’s name after a paternity finding requires a showing that substantial welfare of the child requires the name change.349

N. Parentage

By the end of 2020, the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA 2017) had been enacted in four states—California, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.350 Several states still use earlier versions of the UPA from 1973 or 2002.

After the Wyoming Department of Family Services sought termination of parental rights of a mother, the child’s presumed father (based on marriage), and a putative father, the putative father petitioned to establish paternity of the child.351 The Department of Family Services objected, but the appellate court found the agency lacked standing to participate in the paternity proceeding.352 The trial court lacked the discretion to deny paternity after ordering genetic testing, which showed a 99.99% probability of the putative father’s parentage.353

As a matter of first impression, a Washington appellate court interpreted the 2017 UPA and found that “to establish standing to proceed to a full adjudication of de facto parentage . . . the petitioner must establish that he or she unequivocally parented the child as part of the child’s family unit and that a legal parent consented to and fostered a parent-child relationship.” 354 The petitioner must then demonstrate that the seven statutory requirements have been met.355 A nonbiological parent who lived with the children for more than three years had standing to petition for de facto parentage.356 The issue then was the best interest of the child.357 Another Washington case found that a stepfather had standing to seek de facto parent status even though the child had two other parents.358

In Maryland, a woman who lived with her partner’s children for three years, both before and after her partner was incarcerated, brought an action for custody of the children as a de facto parent.359 The mother counterclaimed for sole legal and physical custody, while the incarcerated father supported granting custody to the partner.360 The court held as a matter of first impression that “a de facto parent relationship can be created by only one legal parent consenting to and fostering a parent-like relationship with a putative de facto parent.”361 The partner was a de facto parent even though the mother did not consent and was awarded primary physical custody.362 The trial court found that the partner was a “wonderful mother” while the biological mother needed “advice and guidance on daily parenting responsibilities” and that the children regarded the partner as “their ‘real’ mother.”363 The decision, however, was reversed on appeal.364

O. Property

1. Choice of Law

The Georgia Court of Appeals had to determine the choice of law applicable when Georgia was the law of the forum, but South Africa was the marital domicile at the time the property was acquired.365 The Georgia court reviewed the rules used in other states and rejected the “most significant interest” approach and the lex fori approach, opting for the traditional approach.366 The court ruled that “the parties’ interests in any real property should be determined under the law of the jurisdiction in which [the property] is located while interests in personal property should be determined under the law of the owner’s domicile at the time the property was acquired.”367

2. Classification of Property

The husband’s irrevocable trust was not marital property for the purposes of property division when the husband’s “transfer of the assets contained in the Trust constituted an inter vivos gift” to the wife.368 The court also ordered the husband to reimburse the wife for $397,500—half of what he had withdrawn from a marital account to pay income taxes during a year when the divorce action was pending—where the husband “received 92 percent of the couple’s income during the pendency of th[e] action.”369 The husband’s severance pay was community property even though the husband had signed his employment contract before the marriage and the severance funds were paid out after the divorce petition was filed.370

As a matter of first impression, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that, “to the extent employment benefits such as unused sick time, vacation time, and comp time have been earned during the marriage, they constitute deferred compensation benefits . . . and are considered part of the marital estate subject to equitable division.”371 Federal veteran’s disability benefits that were in a husband’s personal, individual account were exempt from division of marital property.372

In a case of first impression, the son’s life insurance proceeds and IRA benefits that named his mother (the wife) as beneficiary were gifts and were not marital property subject to equitable distribution when the wife filed for divorce from the husband.373 The benefits had vested at the son’s death and had been put in the wife’s separate accounts and used to purchase a home solely in the wife’s name.374

3. Valuation

The date of valuation in North Dakota was the date the divorce summons was served or “the date on which the parties last separated,” whichever was earlier.375 A Florida court found that the trial court could use the wife’s financial affidavit as to the value or amount of some of the parties’ assets and debts for equitable distribution.376 A Florida appellate court remanded a case for reconsideration of valuations on several items, including debt on a BMW, and accounts which the trial court had valued as of the date of the petition for dissolution instead of the date of trial.377

A trial court valued the marital property of a 40-year marriage as of the date of separation and did not include property acquired after separation.378 The trial court awarded the wife almost $1.6 million and the husband more than $4.2 million.379 The husband received real property for a cattle ranch; the wife was awarded most of the financial and retirement accounts.380 The owner of realty may testify to its value.381 The husband valued the land at $2,861,160; the wife’s appraiser valued it at $3,028,000.382 The court did not err in accepting the husband’s value of the land and inventory of a fencing business.383 The wife offered no value of the inventory.384

A Florida appellate court found that when distributing retirement accounts, the trial court erred by failing to consider the income tax consequences for the husband as well as the wife.385 Tax value is not usually competent evidence to prove value of a marital home.386 A North Carolina trial court, however, could use tax value to support a determination that the property value had increased since the date of marital separation if a party introduced it into evidence and no objection was made.387

4. Distribution of Property

In North Dakota, the husband was allocated most of the farmland and related property and all of the debt and was required to make equalization payments to the wife, who received the marital home and other assets.388 Although the wife alleged there was a “substantial disparity” of almost $1.5 million, the court found the distribution was equitable under the circumstances, including that some of the farmland was a gift to the husband from his parents.389 In another North Dakota case, however, the trial court’s property division was clearly erroneous where the husband was given the entire family farm worth $1,586,000.390 Under North Dakota law, “[t]he court must start with the presumption that all property held by either party, jointly or individually, is considered marital property.”391 Distribution “does not need to be equal to be equitable,” but “[a] long-term marriage generally supports an equal property division.”392

Florida courts can make an unequal distribution of marital assets if they provide specific written findings justifying it.393 The appellate court remanded a case awarding a wife 90% of the marital assets without written explanation.394 The court had equalized income but not the assets.395 Where a wife intentionally dissipated settlement funds the husband had received from a former employer, the court properly attributed those funds to her for equitable distribution purposes, except the court should not have included funds that were spent on the mortgage and other marital expenses.396 In another Florida case, the court found the trial court should not have equitably distributed debts incurred as a result of a wife’s forgery.397

A Mississippi appellate court upheld a deferred distribution method of dividing the husband’s public employee retirement benefits.398 The wife was entitled to half of the benefits as long as the husband received them.399

5. Enforcement

Retirement benefit clauses seem to cause a lot of post-divorce litigation. The courts often have to figure out what was intended long after the original divorce. A separation agreement provided that the wife’s share of the husband’s pension “shall be determined ‘as of’” the date of the separation agreement.400The New York court found the agreement authorized the use of the standard coverture fraction, often referred to as the Majauskas formula.401 In an Oklahoma case, the court interpreted the decree provision that granted the wife one-half of the husband’s retirement benefit if he became vested as awarding her one-half of the marital portion of the benefit, not one-half of the husband’s total retirement benefit.402

A 2009 court order acceptable for processing federal retirement benefits purported to require the husband to retire at age 62.403 The trial court lacked the authority “to require [the former husband] to retire on a certain date,” so the age provision was unenforceable.404 A former wife who at the time of divorce was awarded half of the community interest in her husband’s federal retirement benefits did not waive the right to seek payments directly from the former husband after he became eligible to retire but was still working.405

A couple of cases interpreted the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA).406 A 1996 divorce awarded the wife half of the military retirement points accumulated by the husband during the marriage.407 The Nebraska Supreme Court found that the USFSPA directed the use of a “date of divorce” approach to valuing military retirement benefits, rather than a date of retirement.408 The calculation should be as if the husband had retired at the time of the property division, although he continued to serve for almost 10 more years, but should not be a fixed dollar amount.409 The date of retirement approach would have given the wife the benefit of the husband’s post-divorce service and promotions.410 The fixed award was “inappropriate given the language of the original decree” and would impact the wife’s interest by depriving her of cost-of-living adjustments.411 The Idaho Supreme Court, however, found that the USFSPA amendment basing military pension benefits for a former spouse on the value at the time of divorce did not apply retroactively.412

Alabama found that an ex-wife was entitled to $81,783 from the ex-husband’s IRA pursuant to a 15-year-old divorce judgment, including appreciation from the value of $31,000 at the time of divorce, even though neither she nor the ex-husband had prepared a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) as provided in the divorce judgment.413 A former husband was not in contempt of court for accepting payments under his retirement plan that had been awarded to the wife.414 The court order specified the payments were to be paid by the retirement system pursuant to a QDRO to be prepared by the wife.415 The retirement system would not follow the QDRO.416 Because there was no court order that the husband make payments to the wife, the husband had not “willfully failed or refused to comply with a court order.”417

The trial court granted an ex-wife’s post-dissolution motion to “clarify and effectuate” the judgment and clarified the decision as to certain tax payments.418 Although the trial judge actually modified the order, the appellate court found it was within the court’s discretion and time.419 When the parties refinanced a marital debt through a different financial institution after their divorce, the debt was still classified as marital debt for which the husband was responsible under the divorce settlement.420 A husband who signed a “hold harmless” provision to hold the ex-wife “harmless from any debt associated with the property he ha[d] been awarded” was required to protect the wife from financial harm or damage to her credit rating from his failure to pay the joint mortgage debt on the property.421

The Arizona Court of Appeals held that the terms of the parties’ separation agreement set forth or incorporated by reference in the divorce decree are enforceable by all remedies available for enforcement of a judgment, including contempt.422 A former spouse could bring an action for another’s failure to comply with the terms of the agreement, including payment of money.423 The agreement was not a judgment subject to the requirements of the judgment renewal statute.424 “[E]quitable real property distributions ‘are not judgments for payments of sums certain or judgments enforcing property liens.’”425

A husband was found to have violated his fiduciary duty to the wife and was liable to her for initiating and failing to disclose material information concerning multiple transactions involving bitcoins after he had been served with a restraining order prohibiting the transfer of any community assets.426 When an ex-husband died before paying the equitable distribution of marital property, the ex-wife had a claim against his estate for the amount provided in the marital settlement agreement.427

P. Torts

A cause of action for tortious interference with parental rights did not extend to actions of professionals involved in custody and visitation proceedings.428 The mother filed suit against the children’s guardian ad litem and several counselors and therapists.429 The statements made by a mental health professional when recommending that the mother not have contact with the children were “expressions of opinion” and not actionable for defamation.430

III. Conclusion

Although 2020 will undoubtedly be remembered more for the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd, courts handed down a surprising number of appellate family law cases. Supreme Court decisions clarified important issues—nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, saving the “Dreamers” who were allowed to stay under DACA, retaining the basic law on abortion, and defining habitual residence under the Hague Abduction Convention. Lower courts dealt with the issues of marriage, divorce, and the consequences for children and the couple’s property. Many cases involved multiple jurisdictions, some international, resulting in courts having to interpret “residence” and choice of law issues. There were dozens of cases interpreting various provisions of the UCCJEA in adoption, child welfare, and child custody cases. Ironically, perhaps, the move to Zoom and web formats that occurred in March 2020 may make the interjurisdictional cases much easier for the parties, who can appear from their respective locations. No one quite knows how the post-pandemic world will look, but chances are some of the online platforms will prove useful for future family law cases. Hopefully some of the beneficial practices and procedures picked up in the pandemic will be retained as the world reopens.


1. See Elizabeth G. Thornburg, Observing Online Courts: Lessons from the Pandemic, 54 Fam. L.Q. 181 (2020); see also Lynda B. Munro & Nicole M. Riel, Our Virtual Reality: Facing the Constitutional Dimensions of Virtual Family Court, 54 Fam. L.Q. 245 (2020).

2. Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020).

3. Id. at 1754.

4. Id. at 1737.

5. Dep’t of Homeland Sec. v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 140 S. Ct. 1891, 1901, 1903, 1906 (2020).

6. Id. at 1907–15.

7. Id. at 1916; 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A).

8. June Med. Servs. v. Russo, 140 S. Ct. 2103, 2113 (2020) (plurality opinion).

9. Id. at 2133 (Roberts, J., concurring in the judgment).

10. Id. at 2133–34 (citing Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstadt, 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016)).

11. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 922 F.3d 140 (3d Cir. 2019), cert. granted, 140 S. Ct. 1104 (2020); Transcript of Oral Argument, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, No. 19-123 (U.S. Nov. 4, 2020),

12. Fulton, 922 F.3d at 148.

13. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 141 S. Ct. 1868 (2021).

14. Monasky v. Taglieri, 140 S. Ct. 719, 723 (2020); Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980, T.I.A.S. No. 11670, 1343 U.N.T.S. 89, reprinted in 19 I.L.M. 1501–05 (1980); see Ann Laquer Estin, Where Is the Child at Home? Determining Habitual Residence After Monasky, 54 Fam. L.Q. 127 (2020).

15. Monasky, 140 S. Ct. at 722.

16. Id.

17. See, e.g., Smith v. Smith, 976 F.3d 558, 561–63 (5th Cir. 2020) (denying father’s petition for return to Argentina because the United States was habitual residence); Grano v. Martin, 821 F. App’x 26, 27–28 (2d Cir. 2020) (granting father’s petition to return children to Spain, which was habitual residence).

18. 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901–63.

19. Brackeen v. Bernhardt, 937 F.3d 406 (5th Cir. 2019), reh’g en banc, 994 F.3d 249 (5th Cir. 2021).

20. Id. at 429.

21. Id. at 438–40.

22. Brackeen v. Haaland, 994 F.3d 249, 267–69 (5th Cir. 2021).

23. Henderson v. Box, 947 F.3d 482, 487 (7th Cir. 2020), cert. denied, 141 S. Ct. 953 (2020).

24. Id. at 487.

25. Kiviti v. Pompeo, 467 F. Supp. 3d 293 (D. Md. 2020), appeal dismissed, No. 20-1882, 2020 WL 8509833 (4th Cir. Oct. 26, 2020).

26. Id. at 298; see Lena K. Bruce, Note, How to Explain to Your Twins Why Only One Can Be American: The Right to Citizenship of Children Born to Same-sex Couples Through Assisted Reproductive Technology, 88 Fordham L. Rev. 999, 1011 (2019).

27. Kiviti, 467 F. Supp. 3d at 310.

28. Schreiber v. Cuccinelli, 981 F.3d 766, 769–70 (10th Cir. 2020).

29. Id. at 770.

30. Rogers v. Va. State Registrar, No. 1:19-cv-01149, 2019 WL 11868366, at *9 (E.D. Va. Oct. 11, 2019), order corrected, 2019 WL 11868365 (E.D. Va. Oct. 28, 2019).

31. Biddle v. Comm’r, 119 T.C.M. (CCH) 1249 (2020).

32. Id.

33. Id.

34. Id.

35. Batcher v. Wilkie, 975 F.3d 1333, 1335 (Fed. Cir. 2020).

36. Id. at 1338.

37. See Unregulated Transfers of Adopted Children Committee, Unif. L. Comm’n,

38. Unif. Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enf’t Act (Unif. L. Comm’n 1997) [hereinafter UCCJEA].

39. Linda Elrod, Unif. Law Comm’n Joint Ed. Bd. of Unif. Fam. Law, Commentary on Adoption Jurisdiction Under the UCCJEA 8–9 (2019),

40. 28 U.S.C. § 1738A.

41. In re N.D., 142 N.E.3d 1225, 1226 (Ohio Ct. App. 2019).

42. Id. at 1227.

43. Id.

44. Id. at 1229–32.

45. B.V. v. J.M., 306 So. 3d 38, 42, 44 (Ala. Civ. App. 2020).

46. Id. at 39, 42.

47. Id. at 41, 47.

48. Id. at 44–45.

49. UCCJEA § 102(4) (Unif. L. Comm’n 1997).

50. In re M.M.V., 469 P.3d 556, 561–62 (Colo. App. 2020). The court noted two other decisions had reached a different conclusion without specifically addressing the UCCJEA’s coverage of termination of parental rights proceedings. Id. at 561–62 (discussing In re Adoption of K.C., 203 Cal. Rptr. 3d 110, 112 (Ct. App. 2016); In re Adoption of B.H., 447 P.3d 110, 112, 114 (Utah Ct. App. 2019), aff’d, 474 P.3d 981 (Utah 2020)).

51. Id. at 558.

52. Id.

53. Id. at 563–64. The appellate court remanded the proceeding and directed the magistrate to “confer with the Arizona court regarding jurisdiction.” Id. at 564.

54. Id. at 561.

55. Id. at 563–64.

56. Adoption of Daphne, 141 N.E.3d 1284, 1287 (Mass. 2020).

57. Id.

58. Id. at 1287–88.

59. Id. at 1290.

60. Id.

61. Id. at 1291–92.

62. Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (1960),

63. In re R.S., 235 A.3d 914, 919, 934, 936 (Md. 2020).

64. Id. at 928–34.

65. Id. at 934. The court had awarded joint custody of the child to the father and the paternal grandparents. Id. at 922–23.

66. Id. at 928, 930.

67. E.g., K.F. v. B.B., 145 N.E.3d 813, 823–27 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020) (finding that teenage birth parents’ consent to adoption and birth father’s consent to termination of his parental rights were not voluntary precluded summary judgment for adoptive parents).

68. Berry v. Barnes, 844 S.E.2d 429, 431, 436 (Va. Ct. App. 2020).

69. In re Baby Boy O., 121 N.Y.S.3d 93, 95 (App. Div. 2020).

70. In re Adoption of B.R., 597 S.W.3d 78, 82–83 (2020) (denying stepfather’s petition to adopt where mother had barred father’s visitation without a court order). But see In re Adoption of T.A.D., 588 S.W.3d 858 (Ark. Ct. App. 2019) (allowing stepfather to adopt where father had been incarcerated for seven-year period and had only sent two letters to the child and paid no support).

71. See, e.g., Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3107.07(A) (West 2020); In re Adoption of T.U., 152 N.E.3d 943, 948 (Ohio Ct. App. 2020).

72. In re Adoption of B.R., 597 S.W.3d at 82.

73. In re Adoption of P.H., 598 S.W.3d 846, 850–52 (Ark. Ct. App. 2020).

74. In re J.W.B., 232 A.3d 689 (Pa. 2020).

75. Id. at 701–02.

76. In re Adoption of C.A.H., 136 N.E.3d 1126, 1129 (Ind. 2020).

77. In re Adoption of T.U., 152 N.E.3d 943, 950–52 (Ohio Ct. App. 2020).

78. D.T. v. J.M., 136 N.E.3d 323, 326 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019) (citation omitted).

79. In re T.E.R., 603 S.W.3d 137, 140 (Tex. App. 2020).

80. Id. at 150–52.

81. In re Adoption of N.P.M., 457 P.3d 962, 966 (Mont. 2020).

82. Id. at 964–65.

83. See Premarital Agreement Act (1983), Unif. L. Comm’n,

84. See Premarital and Marital Agreements Act (2012), Unif. L. Comm’n,

85. Lorenc v. Lorenc, 117 N.Y.S.3d 14, 15 (App. Div. 2019).

86. Id. at 14–15.

87. Id. at 15–16.

88. Brady v. Brady, 118 N.Y.S.3d 883, 885 (App. Div. 2020).

89. Id.; see also Caricati v. Caricati, 120 N.Y.S.3d 675 (App. Div. 2020) (wife failed to show that her signature on premarital agreement was forged, so agreement was valid and enforceable).

90. Dow v. Billing, 224 A.3d 244, 249 (Me. 2020).

91. Id. at 251–52.

92. Boschetto v. Boschetto, 224 A.3d 824, 828 (R.I. 2020).

93. Nouri v. Dadgar, 226 A.3d 797, 803 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2020).

94. Id.

95. Id. at 810–11.

96. Id. at 811.

97. Id. at 818, 820.

98. In re Estate of Stacy, 136 N.E.3d 1233, 1241 (Mass. App. Ct. 2019), review denied, 143 N.E.3d 1051 (Mass. 2020).

99. In re Estate of McConnell, 943 N.W.2d 722, 729–30, 738, 740 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020).

100. Id. at 740 (reversing award of 90% to wife because she had filed for divorce and had vacated the house; award should be based on what she would have received for financial support had he lived).

101. Yun Zhou v. Hao Zhang, 223 A.3d 775, 791 (Conn. 2020).

102. Skaates v. Kayser, No. 346487, 2020 WL 4030832, at *7 (Mich. Ct. App. July 16, 2020).

103. Id. at *1.

104. Id. at *1–2.

105. K.B. v. D.B., 227 A.3d 705, 722 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2020).

106. Id.

107. Id. at 723–24.

108. Angst v. Augustine, 847 S.E.2d 392, 393 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020).

109. Id.

110. Id. at 394.

111. Amzler v. Amzler, 230 A.3d 987, 994–96 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2020).

112. Id. at 996.

113. Clement v. Owens-Clement, 159 N.E.3d 164, 170 (Mass. App. Ct. 2020) (citing Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, § 49(b) (2020)).

114. Id. at 174.

115. Id. at 176.

116. Id. at 175 n.10.

117. Grothen v. Grothen, 945 N.W.2d 902, 909 (Neb. Ct. App.), aff’d, 952 N.W.2d 650 (Neb. 2020).

118. Id. at 907.

119. Id. at 909.

120. See, e.g., Sinda v. Sinda, 949 N.W.2d 170, 177–80 (Minn. Ct. App. 2020).

121. See, e.g., Scott v. Scott, 472 P.3d 897, 900 (Utah 2020).

122. Sinda, 949 N.W.2d at 179–80.

123. Scott, 472 P.3d at 907 (ex-wife sharing residence for 42 days was sufficient to terminate).

124. O’Keeffe v. O’Keeffe, 948 N.W.2d 848, 850–51, 854 (N.D. 2020).

125. Id. at 853.

126. Id. at 854.

127. Gardner v. Zammit, 128 N.Y.S.3d 383, 385 (App. Div. 2020).

128. See Family Law Arbitration Act (2016), Unif. L. Comm’n, Montana enacted legislation in 2021, and two other states and the District of Columbia are looking at it. Id.

129. See Arbitration Act (2000), Unif. L. Comm’n,

130. Blondeau v. Baltierra, No. 20282, 2020 WL 5735253, at *1 (Conn. Sept. 24, 2020).

131. Id.

132. Id. at *14.

133. Id.

134. Berg. v. Berg, 151 N.E.3d 321, 327–31 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020).

135. In re Estate of Cracker, 850 S.E.2d 506, 510 (N.C. Ct. App. 2020).

136. Id. at 512.

137. Ex parte Hoye, No. 2190834, 2020 WL 6252366, at *2 (Ala. Civ. App. 2020).

138. Id.

139. Id. at *3–4.

140. See generally Thornburg, supra note 1; Munro & Riel, supra note 1.

141. See Daniel Victor, “I’m Not a Cat,” Says Lawyer Having Zoom Difficulties, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 2021),

142. Samnick v. Goodman, 841 S.E.2d 468, 473–74 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020).

143. Id.

144. Webb v. Ky. Bar Ass’n, 599 S.W.3d 833 (Ky. 2020); see also In re Hickman, 296 So. 3d 1036, 1038, 1040–41 (La. 2020) (suspending lawyer who did not file divorce judgment in a case until nearly three years after the parties had stipulated to divorce).

145. In re Disciplinary Procs. Against Reilly, 938 N.W.2d 574, 576–80, 587–88 (Wis. 2020).

146. Id. at 581–83.

147. Akron Bar Ass’n v. Fortado, 152 N.E.3d 196 (Ohio 2020).

148. In re Nelson, 295 So. 3d 922 (La. 2020) (per curiam).

149. In re Holliday, 839 S.E.2d 518 (Ga. 2020).

150. Watts v. Goetz, 311 So. 3d 253, 257 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

151. Id. at 256.

152. Id.

153. Id. at 263 (noting that “[t]he redressable harm in this case did not occur until the former wife began a supportive relationship and [the client] sustained a loss”).

154. Nail v. Wright, 302 So. 3d 1268, 1275–76 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020).

155. In re Paternity of B.J.M., 944 N.W.2d 542 (Wis.), cert. denied, 141 S. Ct. 557 (2020).

156. Id. at 549–52.

157. Id. at 552.

158. Disciplinary Counsel v. Goulding, 165 N.E.3d 1244 (Ohio 2020).

159. UCCJEA § 102(4) (Unif. L. Comm’n 1997).

160. In re Teagan K.-O., 242 A.3d 59, 64, 70–74 (Conn. 2020) (discussing statute conferring jurisdiction over “all proceedings concerning uncared-for, neglected or abused children within this state”) (citation omitted; emphasis in decision).

161. In re V.B.N.S., 464 P.3d 157 (Or. Ct. App.), review allowed, 475 P.3d 879 (Or. 2020); see also Arturo D. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, 464 P.3d 1286, 1289–90 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020), review denied (Feb. 16, 2021).

162. In re J.W., 267 Cal. Rptr. 3d 554 (Ct. App. 2020) (the mother had moved to California, where the children were taken into custody; one of the children had a father in Louisiana who moved to California), review denied (Nov. 18, 2020).

163. Id. at 565–67.

164. In re D.S., 602 S.W.3d 504, 509 (Tex. 2020).

165. Id. at 509–10, 516–17.

166. W.H. v. Dep’t for Child. & Fams., No. 20-055, 2020 WL 6822505, at *2 (Vt. Nov. 20, 2020).

167. Id. at *3.

168. Id. at *5–9.

169. In re NRAE, 472 P.3d 374, 377–79 (Wyo. 2020) (father must be given opportunity to respond and to be heard on the issue of the child’s best interests before termination).

170. In re S.D., 297 So. 3d 1075, 1079–80 (La. Ct. App. 2020); In re J.D.C.H., 847 S.E.2d 868, 876 (N.C. 2020).

171. In re C.J., 297 So. 3d 3 (La. Ct. App. 2020) (teenage mother had diminished capacity and slapped child), writ denied, 295 So. 3d 946 (La. 2020); In re E.C., 849 S.E.2d 806, 810 (N.C. 2020) (mother failed to comply with case plan addressing parenting and mental health issues).

172. See Letter from Jerry Milner, Assoc. Comm’r, Children’s Bureau, Admin. for Child. & Fams., U.S. Dep’t of Health & Hum. Servs., to State and Tribal Child Welfare Leaders (June 23, 2020),

173. UCCJEA §§ 102(7), 201(a)(1) (Unif. L. Comm’n 1997).

174. Mireles v. Veronie, 154 N.E.3d 727 (Ohio Ct. App.), appeal not allowed, 152 N.E.3d 321 (Ohio 2020).

175. Id. at 733–34; see also In re G.C.M.M., 477 P.3d 792, 797–99 (Colo. App. 2020) (finding Colorado juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to determine custody of child where mother gave birth and lived in New Hampshire).

176. Rader v. Rader, 478 P.3d 438, 441 (Okla. 2020).

177. Id. at 446.

178. UCCJEA § 204 cmt.

179. In re Marriage of Kirkman, 456 P.3d 1028, 1033–34 (Mont. 2020).

180. UCCJEA § 202(a).

181. Harvey v. Harvey, 303 So. 3d 357 (La. Ct. App. 2020).

182. Id. at 359–60.

183. Id. at 360–61.

184. UCCJEA §§ 202(a), 207.

185. Mouritsen v. Mouritsen, 459 P.3d 476, 478 (Alaska 2020).

186. Id at 480–84; see also Berry v. Coulman, 440 P.3d 264, 270–71 (Alaska 2019) (UIFSA).

187. Mouritsen, 459 P.3d at 478, 484.

188. Roman v. Karren, 461 P.3d 1252, 1258–59 (Alaska 2020).

189. Id.

190. Parisi v. Niblett, 238 A.3d. 740, 742–43 (Conn. App. Ct. 2020).

191. Id. at 743.

192. Id. at 743, 745.

193. Id. at 745–47.

194. Id. at 744.

195. Id. at 751–54.

196. Winters v. Ingersoll, 456 P.3d 862, 868–69 (Wash. Ct. App.), review denied, 464 P.3d 203 (Wash. 2020).

197. Hamdan v. Freitekh, 844 S.E.2d 338, 342 (N.C. Ct. App.), review denied, 851 S.E.2d 621 (N.C. 2020), and review dismissed, 851 S.E.2d 625 (N.C. 2020).

198. Stone v. Suzuki, 308 So. 3d 1100 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

199. Id. at 1104.

200. Id.

201. Id.

202. Id. at 1105–06.

203. In re A.L.S., 829 S.E.2d 900, 904 (Ga. Ct. App. 2019).

204. Id. (citation omitted).

205. Hackler v. Hackler, 296 So. 3d 773, 777 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020).

206. Id. at 779.

207. Bofysil v. Bofysil, 956 N.W.2d 544, 547, 550–51 (Mich. Ct. App. 2020).

208. In re A.M., 604 S.W.3d 192, 199 (Tex. App.), review denied (Sept. 11, 2020).

209. In re Marriage of Solem & Solem, 464 P.3d 981, 986 n.1, 988 (Mont. 2020).

210. Sims v. Sims, 943 N.W.2d 804, 810–11 (N.D. 2020).

211. Hamblin v. Allison, 305 So. 3d 1255, 1260 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020).

212. Id. at 1259–60.

213. E.g., Merrells v. Dotray, 299 So. 3d 208, 214–15 (La. Ct. App.), writ denied, 301 So. 3d 30 (La. 2020).

214. Angelica C. v. Jonathan C., 459 P.3d 1148, 1160–62 (Alaska 2020).

215. Id. at 1155–58.

216. Wisnewski v. Wisnewski, 945 N.W.2d 331, 339–42 (N.D. 2020).

217. Thornton v. Bozquez, 933 N.W.2d 781, 791–94 (Minn. 2019).

218. Friedenberg v. Friedenberg, 161 N.E.3d 546, 553 (Ohio 2020).

219. A.A. v. Ab.D., 228 A.3d 1210, 1227 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.), cert. denied, 238 A.3d 270 (Md. 2020).

220. Jaeger v. Jaeger, 951 N.W.2d 367, 376–77 (Neb. 2020).

221. Id. at 372, 375–76.

222. Ball v. Ball, 478 P.3d 704, 706, 708 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020).

223. Cohen v. Cohen, 122 N.Y.S.3d 650, 652 (App. Div. 2020).

224. Id.

225. Riley v. Heisinger, 302 So. 3d 1243, 1249 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020).

226. Id. at 1253, 1256–58, 1262.

227. Woelfel v. Gifford, 948 N.W.2d 814, 815 (N.D. 2020).

228. State ex rel. Ryley G. v. Ryan G., 943 N.W.2d 709, 719 (Neb. 2020) (advancement of a new spouse, who was a member of the National Guard assigned to Washington D.C., was a legitimate reason); Gustave v. Harris, 112 N.Y.S.3d 147, 148–49 (App. Div. 2019) (the mother’s relocation to Alabama “would enhance the children’s lives economically, emotionally, and educationally. . .”).

229. Price v. Price, 599 S.W.3d 403, 407 (Ark. Ct. App. 2020).

230. Id. at 404–05.

231. Walsh v. Smith, 458 P.3d 58, 64–66 (Wyo. 2020).

232. Westerhold v. Dutton, 938 N.W.2d 876, 893–94 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020).

233. Id.

234. Mathiew v. Michels, 118 N.Y.S.3d 581, 582 (App. Div. 2020).

235. Id.

236. Id. at 582–83.

237. In re C.J.C., 603 S.W.3d 804, 808–09 (Tex. 2020).

238. Id. at 807–08, 817–19; see Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).

239. State ex rel. Tina K. v. Adam B., 948 N.W.2d 182, 191–92 (Neb. 2020) (the mother continued to maintain contact and had not forfeited her right to preference; case remanded for consideration of whether the preference was negated by “proof of serious physical or psychological harm or a substantial likelihood of such harm” to the child); see also State ex rel. Waters v. Bentley, 938 N.W.2d 357 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020) (biological father was entitled to parental preference over the maternal grandmother who had cared for the child; he had assumed responsibility when the child was almost six as soon as he found out he was the father), review denied (Neb. Mar. 17, 2020).

240. Hannah v. Hatcher, 834 S.E.2d 307 (Ga. App. 2019).

241. Braddock v. Lindsey, 845 S.E.2d 731, 734–36 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020) (the child had resided with the grandparents since she was three months old and was thriving).

242. Alukonis v. Smith, 846 S.E.2d 600, 611–12 (S.C. Ct. App. 2020), cert. denied (Feb. 4, 2021).

243. Sharpe v. Westmoreland, No. 124863, 2020 WL 5668973 (Ill. Sept. 24, 2020).

244. Roybal v. Raulli, 832 S.E.2d 202, 221–22 (N.C. Ct. App. 2019).

245. Denelle v. Denelle, 243 A.3d 230, 232, 234 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020).

246. Id. at 232.

247. Id. at 234.

248. Kaplan v. Kaplan, 241 A.3d 960, 977–80 (Md. Spec. Ct. App. 2020).

249. Id. at 965.

250. Id. at 966, 980–81.

251. Jones v. Jones, 941 N.W.2d 501, 515 (Neb. 2020).

252. Id. at 514–15.

253. Id.

254. Guthard v. Guthard, 942 N.W.2d 792, 805 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020).

255. Id.

256. Harrison v. Harrison, 949 N.W.2d 369, 388 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020), review denied (Jan. 27, 2021).

257. Id. at 385.

258. Id. at 388–93.

259. Vogus v. Vogus, 460 P.3d 1220, 1222 (Alaska 2020) (citation omitted).

260. Id. at 1223.

261. Williams v. Gonzalez, 294 So. 3d 941, 944–45 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

262. Drake v. Drake, 127 N.Y.S.3d 661, 664 (App. Div. 2020).

263. McVicker v. McVicker, 302 So. 3d 1060 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

264. Carter v. Carter, 294 So. 3d 384, 387 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

265. Singer v. Singer, 302 So. 3d 955 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

266. In re Marriage of Dahm-Schell, 2020 IL App (5th) 200099, ¶ 25 (Ill. App. Ct. 2020), appeal allowed, 167 N.E.3d 645 (Ill. 2021).

267. Good v. Ricardo, 136 N.Y.S.3d 472 (App. Div. 2020).

268. Id. at 475.

269. Young v. Young, No. 2180190, 2020 WL 597252, at *1, *5 (Ala. Civ. App. 2020), cert. denied, 2020 WL 5493223 (Ala. Sept. 11, 2020).

270. Lasu v. Lasu, 944 N.W.2d 773, 791–92 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020).

271. Id.

272. Williams v. Gonzalez, 294 So. 3d 941, 944 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020) (citation omitted).

273. In re Henson, 464 P.3d 963, 968 (Kan. Ct. App. 2020), review denied (Nov. 24, 2020).

274. Id. at 968, 974–76.

275. Id. at 974.

276. Id. at 969, 975–77.

277. Harvey v. Harvey, 303 So. 3d 357, 361 (La. Ct. App. 2020).

278. Windham v. Kroll, 951 N.W.2d 744, 753 (Neb. 2020).

279. Koffler v. Koffler, 947 N.W.2d 896, 900 (N.D. 2020).

280. Dep’t of Revenue Child Support Enf’t v. Grullon, 147 N.E.3d 1066, 1073 (Mass. 2020) (citing Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. 431 (2011)).

281. Id. at 1071 (citing 45 C.F.R. § 303.6(c)(4) (2016)).

282. Chalmers v. Burrough, 472 P.3d 586, 589 (Kan. Ct. App. 2020), rev’d, 494 P.3d 128 (Kan. 2021).

283. Id. at 592–94.

284. Id. at 595–96.

285. Id. at 596–604 (Atcheson, J., dissenting).

286. Gyger v. Clement, 846 S.E.2d 496, 498 (N.C. 2020).

287. Id. at 500.

288. Id. at 500–01.

289. McLaren v. Gabel, 229 A.3d 422, 426 (Vt. 2020) (per curiam).

290. Id. at 435–36.

291. Id. at 429.

292. Id. at 439, 441, 443–44.

293. C.N. v. S.R., 230 A.3d 1003, 1008 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2020).

294. York v. Longlands Plantation, 840 S.E.2d 544, 545, 547–48 (S.C. 2020).

295. Somerville, Mass., Ordinance No. 2020-16 §§ 2-501, 2-502(b)–(c) (June 25, 2020),

296. Id. § 2-503(a).

297. Id. § 2-505(a).

298. Uniform Law Commission, Draft, Uniform Cohabitants’ Economic Remedies Act (June 14, 2021),

299. See generally Thornburg, supra note 1; Munro & Riel, supra note 1.

300. Rose v. Rose, 136 N.E.3d 408, 411 (Mass. App. Ct. 2019).

301. Id.

302. Id. at 413–15.

303. Melki v. Melki, No. 744, 2020 WL 5797869, at *1 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2020), cert. denied, 243 A.3d 1203 (Md. 2021).

304. Id. at *2.

305. Id. at *3.

306. Id. at *4–5.

307. Kaur v. Singh, 477 P.3d 358 (Nev. 2020).

308. Dycus v. Dycus, 949 N.W.2d 357, 364–67 (Neb. 2020).

309. Garrison v. Courtney, 304 So. 3d 1129, 1145 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020).

310. Wangler v. Wangler, 294 So. 3d 1138, 1141 (Miss. 2020).

311. Id. at 1143, 1147.

312. Id. at 1148–52 (Kitchens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (citing Johnson v. Johnson, 281 So. 3d 70 (Miss. Ct. App. 2019)).

313. Chaney v. Karbabaic-Chaney, 837 S.E.2d 76 (Va. Ct. App. 2020).

314. Id. at 77.

315. Id. at 79.

316. In re Marriage of Kelly, 2020 IL App (1st) 200130 (Ill. App. Ct. 2020). 2020 WL 3487503 (Ill. App. Ct. 2020).

317. Foisie v. Foisie, 239 A.3d 1198, 1200–01 (Conn. 2020).

318. Delgado v. Miller, 314 So. 3d 515, 517–18 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

319. Glover v. Glover, 595 S.W.3d 54, 58 (Ark. Ct. App. 2020).

320. In re Marriage of Brewster & Clevenger, 258 Cal. Rptr. 3d 745, 753–54, 767–69 (Ct. App. 2020).

321. C.C. v. J.A.H., 232 A.3d 505 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div.), certification denied, 240 A.3d 389 (N.J. 2020).

322. Id. at 509, 514.

323. Id. at 510, 513.

324. Id. at 514–15.

325. Id. at 514 n.6 (citing Abram Brown, Coronavirus Is Changing Online Dating—Permanently, Forbes (Apr. 5, 2020),

326. In re Estate of Cook, 472 P.3d 1179, 1181 (Mont. 2020).

327. Id. at 1181–83.

328. Id. at 1184 & n.3.

329. Id. at 1187.

330. Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101(1)–(2) (LexisNexis 2020).

331. Id. § 76-3-205(1)(a)–(d).

332. Id. § 76-7-101(3)–(4).

333. Id. § 76-7-101(5)(c).

334. Claflin v. Claflin, 288 So. 3d 774, 776–77 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.), review denied, No. SC20-237, 2020 WL 4049717 (Fla. July 20, 2020).

335. Id. at 780–81.

336. In re Estate of Brown, 846 S.E.2d 342 (S.C. 2020).

337. Id. at 354–55.

338. Id. at 345.

339. Gill v. Nostrand, 206 A.3d 869, 874–75 (D.C. Ct. App. 2019).

340. Id. at 874, 880.

341. In re Marriage of Hansen, 453 P.3d 1210, 1214 (Mont. 2019).

342. Id.

343. Id. at 1212.

344. Id. at 1213.

345. In re J.K.N.A., 454 P.3d 642, 650–51 (Mont. 2019).

346. In re I.D.Z., 602 S.W.3d 1, 3 (Tex. App. 2020).

347. Id. at 5, 7–8.

348. Velasquez v. Chavez, 455 P.3d 95 (Utah. Ct. App. 2019).

349. Westerhold v. Dutton, 938 N.W.2d 876 (Neb. Ct. App. 2020).

350. Parentage Act (2017), Unif. L. Comm’n, Connecticut and Maine enacted legislation in 2021, and as of June 2021 legislation had been introduced in three other states. Id.

351. In re Paternity of AAAE, 471 P.3d 990, 992 (Wyo. 2020).

352. Id. at 993–94.

353. Id. at 996–97.

354. In re J.D.W., 471 P.3d 228, 240 (Wash. Ct. App. 2020).

355. Id. at 242.

356. Id. at 244–45.

357. Id. at 246–47.

358. In re L.J.M., 476 P.3d 636, 643, 645 (Wash. Ct. App. 2020).

359. E.N. v. T.R., 236 A.3d 670, 672 (Md. Spec. Ct. App.), cert. granted, 242 A.3d 1117 (Md. 2020).

360. Id.

361. Id. at 677.

362. Id. at 677, 680.

363. Id. at 680.

364. E.N. v. T.R., No. CAD18-04949, 2021 WL 2910553 (Md. Ct. App. July 12, 2021).

365. Mbatha v. Cutting, 848 S.E.2d 920 (Ga. Ct. App. 2020).

366. Id. at 926.

367. Id. at 927.

368. Dayal v. Lakshmipathy, 163 N.E.3d 683, 694 (Ohio Ct. App. 2020), appeal not allowed, 164 N.E.3d 480 (Ohio 2021).

369. Id. at 695.

370. Bowser v. Nguyen, 471 P.3d 665, 666 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020).

371. Dooling v. Dooling, 930 N.W.2d 481, 498 (Neb. 2019) (citing Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-366(8)).

372. Stacy v. Stacy, 144 N.E.3d 899, 906 (Mass. App. Ct. 2020).

373. Goodwin v. Goodwin, 244 A.3d 453, 460 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2020).

374. Id. at 458–59.

375. Messmer v. Messmer, 940 N.W.2d 622, 627 (N.D. 2020).

376. Marconi v. Erturk, 293 So. 3d 19, 20–21 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

377. O’Neill v. O’Neill, 305 So. 3d 551, 553–54 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

378. Wald v. Wald, 947 N.W.2d 359, 364 (N.D. 2020).

379. Id.

380. Id. at 364–65.

381. Id. at 363.

382. Id.

383. Id. at 363–64.

384. Id. at 364.

385. Sumlin v. Sumlin, 288 So. 3d 763, 764 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

386. Best v. Staton, 842 S.E.2d 190, 192 (N.C. Ct. App. 2020).

387. Id. at 193.

388. Willprecht v. Willprecht, 941 N.W.2d 556, 564–65 (N.D. 2020), appeal after remand, 954 N.W.2d 707 (N.D. 2021).

389. Id. at 563–65.

390. Gerving v. Gerving, 943 N.W.2d 797, 800–03 (N.D. 2020), appeal after remand, 956 N.W.2d 403 (N.D. 2021).

391. Id. at 799.

392. Id. at 800.

393. Legere v. Legere, 304 So. 3d 811, 813 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

394. Id.

395. Id.

396. Niederkohr v. Kuselias, 301 So. 3d 1112, 1113 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020) (per curiam).

397. Dampier v. Dampier, 298 So. 3d 695 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020) (per curiam).

398. Sullivan v. Sullivan, 302 So. 3d 1280, 1283 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020).

399. Id. at 1284.

400. Shkreli v. Shkreli, 129 N.Y.S.3d 177, 179 (App. Div. 2020).

401. Id. (citing Majauskas v. Majauskas, 463 N.E.2d 15 (N.Y. 1984)).

402. Clements v. Clements, 478 P.3d 938, 940, 945 (Okla. Civ. App. 2020).

403. Dobbins v. Dobbins, 234 A.3d 223, 225–26 (Me. 2020).

404. Id. at 228.

405. DeLintt v. DeLintt, 461 P.3d 471, 473–74 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020).

406. See Weiland v. Weiland, 951 N.W.2d 519 (Neb. 2020); Bromund v. Bromund, 477 P.3d 979 (Idaho 2020).

407. Weiland, 951 N.W.2d at 520–21.

408. Id. at 524–25.

409. Id. at 520, 524–25.

410. Id. at 525.

411. Id. at 525–26.

412. Bromund v. Bromund, 477 P.3d 979, 984–85 (Idaho 2020).

413. Nord v. Nord, No. 2190391, 2020 WL 6106920, at *1, *6–7 (Ala. Civ. App. Oct. 16, 2020).

414. Williams v. Williams, No. 2180981, 2020 WL 5740701 (Ala. Civ. App. Sept. 25, 2020).

415. Id. at *1.

416. Id.

417. Id. at *3.

418. Silver v. Silver, 238 A.3d 823, 825, 829 (Conn. App. Ct. 2020), cert. denied, 240 A.3d 1055 (Conn. 2020).

419. Id. at 832–35.

420. Price v. Peek, 851 S.E.2d 749, 752 (Va. Ct. App. 2020).

421. Braun v. Braun, 947 N.W.2d 694, 697, 702 (Neb. 2020).

422. Eans-Snoderly v. Snoderly, 473 P.3d 337, 340 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2020).

423. Id. at 342.

424. Id. at 342–43.

425. Id. at 342 (citation omitted).

426. In re Marriage of DeSouza, 266 Cal. Rptr. 3d 890 (Ct. App. 2020).

427. Allen v. Allen, 295 So. 3d 789, 792 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

428. Padula-Wilson v. Landry, 841 S.E.2d 864, 870–71 (Va. 2020).

429. Id. at 866–67.

430. Id. at 872.

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Linda D. Elrod

Linda D. Elrod is the Richard S. Righter Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Children and Family Law Center at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. She is Editor Emeritus of Family Law Quarterly; she was Editor in Chief from 1992–2016.