Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The appointment of a guardian ad litem for a parent in a dependency proceeding radically changes the parent's role, transferring direction and control of the litigation from the parent to the guardian ad litem. While necessary to protect the rights of an incompetent parent—an individual incapable of understanding the nature and purpose of the proceeding or unable to assist counsel in a rational manner—appointment of a guardian ad litem is not a tool to restrain a problematic parent, even one who unreasonably interferes with the orderly proceedings of the court or who persistently acts against her own interests or those of her child.The Court of Appeal reversed the order appointing a guardian ad litem for mother, concluding that the appointment of a guardian ad litem for mother is not supported by substantial evidence and was not harmless. In this case, mother's clashes with counsel were not the result of any mental health disorder but were deliberate and strategic, designed to frustrate and delay proceedings she believed were going to be unfavorable to her. The court noted that, while mother is unquestionably a difficult party, a guardian ad litem cannot be appointed without any finding of her incompetence. View "In re Samuel A." on Justia Law

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The issue presented by this case arose from a family law order setting pendente lite spousal support. Appellant Mitchell Fletcher operated an investment management business. His income fluctuated considerably from year to year depending on the performance of the market. In re Marriage of Riddle, 125 Cal.App.4th 1075 (2005) held that a court had to calculate future income based on a representative sample of past income. Instead of doing that, the trial court here forecasted Mitchell’s future income based on the most recent year of historical income, which happened to be Mitchell’s best year ever by a wide margin. Given the nature of his income structure, however, it was unlikely Mitchell would repeat such a year. In the recent past, Mitchell had made as little as one-third of the amount the court based its calculation on. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court abused its discretion in calculating his prospective income on an unrepresentative sample period. In addition to managing investments, Mitchell and Jill Fletcher started a theater company. In calculating Mitchell’s income, Court of Appeal found the trial court did not consider any losses from the theater company on the ground that the theater was not “related to” the investment business. The Court agreed with Mitchell that the trial court employed the wrong legal standard in conducting that analysis. The error, however, was harmless because Mitchell did not identify any prospective theater expenses that would impact his income going forward. Nevertheless, because this issue may recur in this case, the Court set forth the proper legal standard for further proceedings upon remand. View "Marriage of Pletcher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Jeffrey "Jeff" Ashby appealed a trial court’s decision to renew a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) issued against him to protect his ex-wife Michelle Ashby. He claimed the court erred because the DVRO was not supported by substantial evidence and the court abused its discretion by failing to independently review relevant evidence relating to more current events. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded there was no abuse of discretion and Jeff forfeited his substantial evidence challenge by failing to set forth all the relevant and material evidence supporting the trial court’s decision. View "Ashby v. Ashby" on Justia Law

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Months after the juvenile court denied E.G. (Mother) reunification services, Mother filed a petition under Welfare and Institutions Code section 388 asking for reunification services. The court denied the petition and terminated parental rights to Mother’s daughter, N.F. Mother argued on appeal that the court abused its discretion by denying her section 388 petition. Both Mother and D.F. (Father) argued the court erred by refusing to apply the parental bond exception to termination of parental rights. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Mother’s section 388 petition. Mother failed to show: (1) a material change in circumstances; or (2) that granting Mother reunification services would promote N.F.’s best interests. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court concluded the court did not err by refusing to apply the parental bond exception. Accordingly, we affirm the order denying Mother’s petition and affirm the order terminating parental rights. View "In re N.F." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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N.B. was removed from her parents’ care in 2008 when she was one year old. Her grandmother, Catherine, cared for her became her legal guardian in 2012. A maternal aunt also became a co-guardian. Years later N.B. struggled with her mental health and Catherine had trouble managing her care. The juvenile court found that N.B. was suffering serious emotional damage. Services were provided. She was released to her maternal aunt’s care after she said she did not feel safe returning to Catherine’s care. The maternal aunt became “overwhelmed” and returned her to Catherine. N.B. continued to suffer mental health issues.A petition under section 388 sought to terminate the guardianship rights of the maternal aunt and the family maintenance services. Catherine and the aunt had lied about N.B.’s whereabouts and well-being, and asked N.B. to lie during home visits. N.B. was placed in a foster home. N.B. “stabilized.” The Agency recommended terminating Catherine’s legal guardianship. Catherine objected.The juvenile court observed that there was not “any doubt on anybody’s part that [Catherine] loves [N.B. and] that she is committed to [N.B.]” but expressed concern that Catherine’s behavior was contributing to N.B.’s problems. The court terminated the legal guardianship of Catherine and the maternal aunt. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Catherine’s argument the Agency was required to “follow the procedures and requirements of section 387” to terminate her guardianship. View "In re N.B." on Justia Law

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Where it is undisputed that there is a community property interest in real property, it is the obligation of both spouses to ensure that the family court has the information necessary to determine that interest, no matter which spouse brought the dissolution action. If the spouses fail to do so, the family court must direct them to furnish the missing information, reopening the case if necessary.Appellant challenges the family court's determination of the community property interest in the family home. Because the determination of the community property interest in the property at issue in this case was based upon incomplete information, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and remanded with directions to the family court to hold a limited retrial to determine the amount of community funds used to reduce the mortgage principal and to recalculate the community property interest. View "Ramsey v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the juvenile court's jurisdictional order, as well as related dispositional orders, declaring daughter a dependent child under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 and removing her from mother's custody pursuant to section 361, subdivision (c)(1). The court agreed with mother that the juvenile court erred and deprived her of due process when it amended the dependency petition to conform to proof produced at the jurisdictional hearing to include allegations based on factual and legal theories not at issue in the original petition. The court concluded that a remand for further proceedings, rather than dismissal of the case, is the appropriate relief on appeal. View "In re I.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Plaintiff and her late husband, Grant Tinker, signed a premarital agreement (PMA) that in relevant part governed the ownership and testamentary disposition of their marital home. Respondents, Larry Ginsberg and his law firm, represented plaintiff in connection with the PMA and approved the PMA as to form on her behalf. Non-attorney Sidney Tessler, Tinker's longtime accountant and business manager, negotiated terms and approved the PMA as to form on Tinker's behalf. Plaintiff, the estate, and Tinker's children subsequently litigated plaintiff's and the children's claims, which were ultimately resolved in a global settlement.Plaintiff then filed suit against Ginsberg for legal malpractice in connection with the preparation and execution of the PMA, alleging that the PMA was unenforceable due to Ginsberg’s failure to ensure that Tinker signed a waiver of legal representation. The trial court granted Ginsberg's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Tinker ratified the PMA.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that there is a triable issue of material fact as to the threshold issue of whether Tinker satisfied the requirements of Family Code section 1615 when he executed the PMA. The court explained that, if the factfinder determines that Tinker did not comply with section 1615, and the PMA was therefore not enforceable, the question becomes whether Tinker's subsequent amendments to his estate plan could ratify the PMA and thereby rectify the statutory violation. The court concluded that the trial court erred by concluding that they could and did. The court held that a premarital agreement that is not enforceable under section 1615 is void, not voidable, and accordingly cannot be ratified. Because none of the other grounds asserted in the summary judgment motion support the trial court's ruling, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on plaintiff's malpractice claim. The court denied plaintiff's request for judicial notice as moot. View "Knapp v. Ginsberg" on Justia Law

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L.O. (Father) and Z.T. (Mother) were the parents of six-year-old L.L.O. (L.), a boy born in December 2014. Father appealed a juvenile court order adjudicating L. as a dependent of the court and removing L. from parental custody. Father contended there was insufficient evidence to support the juvenile court’s findings sustaining the petition against him under Welfare & Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b) and (d) and the order removing L. from his custody. The Court of Appeal found substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding under subdivision (b) of section 300 and the order removing L. from Father’s custody. However, the Court agreed insufficient evidence supported the court’s finding under section 300, subdivision (d), and modified the order to strike the allegation under that subdivision. The order was affirmed in all other respects. View "In re L.O." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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After a two-day hearing, the trial court found L.R. (Mother) to be obsessive, aggressive, manipulative, and controlling of K.A. (Father) during a two-hour urgent care visit with the parties’ sick minor child - an incident described by the responding police officer as “boil[ing] down to being a child custody dispute.” The incident ended with Mother, who did not have physical custody, taking the child home in violation of the child custody and visitation order. Finding Mother’s conduct disturbed Father’s peace, the court issued a three-year domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against Mother for Father’s protection and included the child as a protected party. The Court of Appeal concluded Mother’s conduct might have demonstrated poor co-parenting, but it did not rise to the level of destroying Father’s mental and emotional calm to constitute abuse within the meaning of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA). Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Marriage of L.R. and K.A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law