Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Following protracted postjudgment litigation over the transfer of title of real property from Natache Menezes (Wife) to Tim McDaniel (Husband), the trial court issued $200,000 in sanctions against Wife, pursuant to Family Code section 271. Wife challenged the sanctions, contending they improperly included anticipated attorney fees and costs, and the amount was not supported by substantial evidence showing they were tethered to attorney fees and costs. The Court of Appeal concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion by awarding the sanctions, including the anticipated fees and costs. However, the matter was remanded for the trial court to ensure that the bases for the $200,000 award included only expenses tethered to attorney fees and costs. View "Menezes v. McDaniel" on Justia Law

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Sixteen months after a jurisdiction and disposition hearing where the juvenile court placed mother J.A.’s twin children with their nonoffending, noncustodial father and dismissed the dependency with family law exit orders, she challenged the court’s findings and sought to unwind the removal order. Relying on the Court of Appeal's decision in In re A.O., 242 Cal.App.4th 145 (2015), she argued the lateness of her appeal should be excused because the juvenile court failed to advise her of her appellate rights at the close of the hearing, as required by California Rules of Court, rule 5.590(a). The Court concluded A.O. and the line of cases preceding it were distinguishable, and did not apply to this case. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal as unjustifiably late. View "In re J.A." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the juvenile court's dispositional order removing son from father's custody under Welfare and Institutions Code section 361, subdivision (c). The court held that the juvenile court erroneously failed to apply section 361.2, subdivision (a), and the error was not harmless. In this case, the record was not clear as to the finding of detriment. Accordingly, the court remanded the matter to the juvenile court to consider the facts within the appropriate statutory provision. View "In re Adam H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's jurisdictional order and findings that father's children are persons described by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (f). The juvenile court previously sustained a petition finding that the minors' mother and father caused the death of another child. The court held that the juvenile court did not err in asserting jurisdiction in this case, because it was uncontroverted that, in the earlier case, the juvenile court had found mother and father caused the death of their child through abuse or neglect. View "In re I.I." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Department filed suit against defendant, seeking an order compelling him to make monthly child support payments effective December 1, 2017. After defendant failed to respond, the superior court entered a default judgment unilaterally changing the effective date of the child support obligation to March 1, 2018. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that there was no evidence (let alone substantial evidence) on which the superior court could find that defendant did not evade service, intentionally or otherwise. Therefore, in the absence of such evidence, the superior court erred in changing the effective date of the child support obligation sua sponte to deprive defendant's children of three months of support. Accordingly, the court remanded with directions to enter the proposed judgment as the final judgment. View "County of L.A. Child Support Services Dept. v. Watson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The parties were married for just over 20 years. A stipulated judgment dissolving their marriage was filed in December 2014, and included the parties’ agreement for spousal support. Richard Pasco appealed a postjudgment order denying his request for an order terminating spousal support. He claimed the trial court abused its discretion by denying his request on the first day of trial “without ever actually taking evidence.” Respondent Zoe Pasco argued the trial court acted within its discretion “in refusing to hear” oral evidence. The Court of Appeal surmised issue here was not whether the trial court had discretion to refuse to hear oral evidence; the issue was that the trial court denied Richard’s request without taking any evidence. "This was an abuse of the court’s discretion." Accordingly, the Court reversed the court’s September 11, 2017 order and remanded with directions to proceed with a previously scheduled, two- day trial unless intervening circumstances or settlement obviated the need for this trial. View "Marriage of Pasco" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Mother of the minor, J.R., appealed a juvenile court’s September 11, 2018, order selecting guardianship as the permanent plan and terminating dependency jurisdiction. She also appealed the court’s January 13, 2017, visitation order. The minor first came to the attention of the Department in 2016, when it was reported that mother had relapsed into the use of alcohol and was driving under the influence of alcohol with the 12-year-old minor in the car. The maternal grandmother and maternal step-grandfather reported the minor had been living with them for the previous two weeks, at mother’s request, due to mother’s relapse. The Department filed a dependency petition pursuant to Family Code section 300(b), alleging mother’s failure to protect the minor due to her ongoing and untreated substance abuse problem. The juvenile court sustained the allegations in the dependency petition, adjudged the minor a dependent, and removed him from mother’s care. Mother was reportedly noncompliant with her substance abuse services. According to the report, the minor felt safe living with the maternal grandparents and wished to continue living with them despite mother’s desire for him to be returned to her custody. The visitation schedule called for twice weekly observed visits. Mother and the minor visited three times in January 2017. Subsequent visits were changed to supervised status due to mother’s agitation and argumentative behavior toward the visitation supervisor and her attempts to separate herself and the minor from the visitation supervisor during visits. She was ultimately dismissed from drug dependency court after failing to attend three compliance hearings. Finding no reversible error with respect to the two orders subject to this appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed them. View "In re J.R." on Justia Law

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San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) removed K.T. (K. or child) from his mother when he was about nine months old. At that time, a nurse noticed that he had an enlarged head. He was placed with distant relatives, Mr. and Ms. B., who were already caring for his older half-brother. Further testing showed that K. had a subdural hematoma. Meanwhile, the B.’s began refusing to communicate with K.’s social worker or her “friends” in the same office, claiming that she had discriminated against them and insulted them. CFS detained K., placed him in a special health care needs foster home, and filed a petition to remove K from the B.'s custody. The B.'s in turn, filed a "changed circumstances" petition for return of the child. The trial court denied the B.'s petition, finding they had not show they were qualified as a special health care needs foster home. It then granted CFS' petition, finding that communication between the B.'s and CFS has broken down. The B.'s appealed; CFS contended the B.’s lacked standing to appeal the trial court's orders, citing In re Miguel E., 120 Cal.App.4th 521 (2004). The Court of Appeal agreed with Miguel E. that, in general, a person from whom a child has been removed under Welfare & Institutions Code section 387 lacked standing to challenge the removal. However, when that person is a relative, the Court disagreed with Miguel E., because under Welfare & Institutions Code section 361.3, a relative has standing to appeal from a refusal to place a child with him or her (an argument that Miguel E. did not consider). Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal rejected the B.'s contentions of error and affirmed the trial court's orders. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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Tanya McKean appealed a trial court’s order granting sole legal and physical custody of her two younger children in favor of their father, Scott McKean. Tanya claimed the court abused its discretion by modifying the parties’ custody order absent sufficient evidence of changed circumstances. Specifically, she argued the court erred when it determined that by granting her sole legal and physical custody of her severely disabled daughter, she was rendered incapable of maintaining joint legal and physical custody of her two younger children. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed with Tanya, reversed the court’s order, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Marriage of McKean" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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After the County commenced an action against biological father to establish his paternity and his obligation to provide child support for M.D., biological father successfully moved to join mother's boyfriend as a party in the action, asserting that mother's boyfriend, not he, was M.D.'s father under Family Code section 7611, subdivision (d). The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's determination that mother's boyfriend was M.D.'s father, holding that clear and convincing evidence of biological father's biological paternity rebutted, as a matter of law, any presumption under section 7611 subdivision (d) that mother's boyfriend was M.D.'s father. Because the presumption did not apply, biological father's only defense against the County failed. View "County of Los Angeles v. Christopher W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law