Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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A court errs when it dismisses a petition for lack of sufficient evidence of current risk when the reason why such evidence is lacking is because a parent, as in this case, absconded with her children and wrongfully prevented the Department from monitoring their welfare. After mother eventually surrendered the minors to a maternal relative, the juvenile court held a jurisdiction hearing and erroneously concluded that it must dismiss the petition because there was, by then, a lack of evidence of current risk of harm to the minors. The Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court's order and remanded to the juvenile court with directions to vacate its order dismissing the petition, to make a new and different order assuming jurisdiction over the minors under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1), and to hold a hearing pursuant to section 358 at which it may consider the minors' then-current circumstances when deciding what disposition is appropriate. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Carolyn helped obtain a green card for her Jamaican first husband. Her second husband, Michael, is also from Jamaica. In January 2015, Carolyn met him online. Michael told Carolyn he wanted to move to the U.S. to live with her, start a restaurant business, and join the Army. In June 2015, Carolyn went to Jamaica and first met Michael. They married during that visit. Carolyn obtained a two-year conditional visa for Michael. In November 2016, Michael flew to the U.S. and moved in with Carolyn. Carolyn claims that Michael immediately began engaging in sexual relationships with other women. Michael insists that he did not have sexual relations with other women during the marriage. Carolyn sought annulment of the marriage on the basis of fraud. The court of appeal reversed a declaration of annulment. Carolyn did not prove the requirements of Family Code section 2210(d), which states: “A marriage is voidable and may be adjudged a nullity if ... the consent of either party was obtained by fraud, unless the party whose consent was obtained by fraud afterward, and with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, freely cohabited with the other" as his spouse. Carolyn continued to cohabit with and have sexual relations with Michael for eight months after discovering his infidelity. View "Goodwin-Mitchell v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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B.A. (Mother) and D.V. (Father) were the parents of six-year-old I.A.-V. (I.) and eight-year-old Is.A.-V. (Is.). Mother and Father had a history with child protective services due to ongoing domestic violence and neglect issues, resulting in the removal of their children from their care. I. and Is. were first removed from Mother in 2015. At the close of the first dependency, Mother’s reunification services were terminated, and Father received legal and physical custody. In 2017, I. and Is. were removed from Father’s custody and placed with Mother as a previously noncustodial parent. The second dependency resulted in Mother receiving legal and physical custody of the children and termination of Father’s reunification services. The third and current dependency commenced in 2018 after I., Is., and A.A. were removed from Mother’s care for the same reasons as previously. At the dispositional hearing, the San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) recommended to bypass reunification services pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5 (b)(10) as to all three children. The juvenile court agreed to bypass Mother’s services as to A.A. However, the court interpreted I. and Is. to be “the same child” under the statute and granted Mother reunification services as to I. and Is. Counsel for I. and Is. subsequently appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in ordering reunification services for the parents in I. and Is.’s case after it found the bypass provision under section 361.5(b)(10) did not apply. The Court of Appeal agreed: the juvenile court’s finding that section 361.5(b)(10) did not apply to this case was reversed and the matter remanded to the juvenile court to enter an order denying reunification services to the parents in I. and Is.’s case, and to set a permanency planning hearing pursuant to section 366.26. View "In re I.A." on Justia Law

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Kate K. and Jaime S. were the de facto parents of L.M., who was placed in their foster care soon after birth. They challenged a juvenile court's order, made when L.M. was 10-months old, removing her from their care and placing her with Rita and John E. (the E.'s), who had previously adopted L.M.'s sister, V.E. The juvenile court had "an immensely difficult decision" to make in this case. As the court recognized, Kate and Jaime had provided L.M. excellent care for essentially her entire 10-month life. Yet, the E.'s are also "good people and excellent parents as well" and have adopted L.M.'s sister. L.M. thrives in both environments. The tipping point was the relationship between L.M. and V.E., who "hit it off immediately" and "simply love each other." The court found that it is in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from Kate and Jaime's care so that she may be placed with the E.'s. On appeal, Kate and Jaime claimed the juvenile court erred by applying the "wrong" legal standard: the court first had to determine if it was in L.M.'s best interest to be removed from their care, without regard to whether it was in L.M.'s best interest to be placed with the E.'s. Kate and Jaime further claimed that under this standard, focusing only on grounds for removal, the order had to be reversed because the juvenile court recognized that they provided excellent care and did nothing wrong. The Court of Appeal determined that, even assuming that Kate and Jaime were entitled to rights afforded to prospective adoptive parents, the juvenile court applied the correct legal standard, and it affirmed because the court's findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re L.M." on Justia Law

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Father appealed the denial of his motion to modify judgment because DCFS failed to give him adequate notice of dependency proceedings involving his children. The Court of Appeal held that the juvenile court erred by finding that notice through publication was adequate, because DCFS's efforts did not constitute reasonable due diligence. The court also held that the Hague Service Convention applied in this case because father is a resident of Mexico, and there was no compliance with the Convention as to notice for the jurisdictional and dispositional hearings. Accordingly, the court reversed all orders as to father and remanded with instructions to commence de novo with arraignment and adjudication after providing father with proper notice. View "In re D.R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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B.F. (father) purported to appeal a juvenile court order denying his petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388, in which he requested family reunification services and increased visitation with his twin sons, J.F. and C.F. Although the order denying father’s petition was appealable, and father filed his notice of appeal within the time to appeal from that order, the notice of appeal expressly stated father was only appealing the order terminating his parental rights to the boys that was entered 44 days after denial of his petition. Because father’s notice of appeal was clear and unambiguous about what he meant to appeal, the Court of Appeal felt it could not liberally construe it to embrace the omitted order denying the section 388 petition. Therefore, the Court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to review that order. And, because father presented no reasoned argument why the juvenile court erred by terminating his parental rights, father waived his challenge to the sole order properly before the Court. View "In re J.F." on Justia Law

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Six children appealed the juvenile court’s dispositional order granting reunification services to their parents. The court found that Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5 (b)(5) and (b)(6) applied, warranting bypass of reunification services. But the court found that the bypass provisions were overridden under section 361.5 (c)(2) and (c)(3) because reunification was in the best interest of the children, services would likely prevent reabuse, and it would be detrimental not to provide them. The Court of Appeal agreed with the children that the findings under section 361.5(c)(2) and section 361.5(c)(3) were not supported by substantial evidence, and reversed on those grounds. Although the only issue on appeal was whether substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s findings, the Court's analysis addressed a legal issue of first impression, holding the term “testimony” as used in section 361.5(c)(3), referred to in-court oral statements of live witnesses, not to other forms of evidence. View "In re A.E." on Justia Law

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

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

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

Posted in: Family Law