Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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After a domestic violence incident between mother and father that was witnessed by the children, DCFS started dependency proceedings on behalf of both children. The juvenile court found jurisdiction over the children under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1), and ordered I.R. removed from father and released to mother.The Court of Appeal concluded that the evidence does not support either of the findings necessary to justify removal under section 361, subdivision (c)(1). In this case, the record does not contain substantial evidence that I.R. would be in "substantial danger" in father's care, nor does it contain substantial evidence that there were no "reasonable means" to protect I.R. other than removing her from father. Given the lack of any connection between drug use and the domestic violence underlying the petition, the court concluded that the juvenile court was acting within its discretion in denying I.R.'s request that mother submit to more extensive drug testing. Accordingly, the court reversed the dispositional order against father and remanded. View "In re I.R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Mother appeals from the juvenile court's jurisdiction and disposition orders, contending that the record lacks evidence sufficient to support those orders. In this case, Nathan E. and his siblings were removed from their parents after DCFS investigated a report of a domestic violence incident.The Court of Appeal found substantial evidence to sustain the juvenile court's jurisdictional and dispositional findings. In this case, the history of domestic violence between mother and father that DCFS outlined for the juvenile court spanned for the entire duration of their marriage. In the same year that they were married, mother stabbed father and was arrested for domestic violence and resisting an executive officer. Furthermore, DCFS's investigation revealed that the parents had their violent altercations in the presence of the children. The court concluded that substantial evidence supports the finding that the parents' ongoing domestic violence issues created a substantial risk of harm to the children; at the time of the dispositional hearing, returning the children to mother's custody posed a risk of substantial danger to them; and there existed no reasonable means of protecting the children other than removing them from mother. View "In re Nathan E." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Lucille and Lewis Keading created a trust for the benefit of their children, Kenton and Hilja. During their lifetimes, they provided financial assistance to Kenton but not to Hilja. Kenton had been imprisoned for nine years. In 2015, Hilja returned to her parents’ home to care for them, clean their house, and organize their finances. Lewis died a few months after Lucille. Days after Lewis died, Kenton recorded a deed, transferring the property from the trust to him and his father as joint tenants. He sold Lewis’s car and kept the proceeds.After discovering that Kenton had represented himself as their father’s attorney-in-fact and had executed the deed, Hilja filed suit. A court-appointed trustee joined Hilja’s suit. The court found the transfer invalid, set aside the deed, and vested title to the property with the trustee. Meanwhile, Kenton sued Hilja for libel. The court granted Hilja’s anti-SLAPP motion, concluded Kenton was liable for elder abuse and that the property transfers resulted from elder abuse.The court of appeal affirmed the judgment that found Kenton liable for elder financial abuse through undue influence and ordered him to pay $1.5 million in damages and upheld a prejudgment right to attach order. Probate Code section 859 authorizes an award of double damages for the commission of elder financial abuse without a separate finding of bad faith. The court also upheld the dismissal of Kenton’s libel action. View "Keading v. Keading" on Justia Law

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In April 2015, during marriage dissolution proceedings, plaintiff filed a request for a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) against defendant, her then-husband. The trial court granted a two-year DVRO. Defendant appealed. While that appeal remained pending, a little more than a month before the original DVRO was set to expire, plaintiff filed a request to renew the DVRO. After a hearing, the trial court granted plaintiff’s request, renewing the DVRO for five years. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the issuance of the original DVRO. Defendant, an attorney appearing in propria persona, appealed the grant of the renewed DVRO, asserting that: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to renew the DVRO while the appeal from the granting of the original DVRO remained pending; (2) the trial court erred in rendering its decision without reading the pleadings; (3) the trial court erred in excluding the witnesses and exhibits he offered; (4) the trial court erred in rendering its decision without considering the case law in the pleadings; (5) the trial court did not afford him sufficient time to present his defense; and, (6) in effect, substantial evidence did not support renewal of the DVRO. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the renewed DVRO. View "Marriage of Carlisle" on Justia Law

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After a juvenile court places a child who has been declared a dependent with a relative and declares the relative to be a "de facto parent," when the social services agency later seeks to remove the child from the relative, Welfare and Institutions Code section 387 governs. Section 387 authorizes a juvenile court to "chang[e] or modif[y] a previous [placement] order by removing a child from the physical custody of a parent, guardian, relative, or friend and directing” a different placement.Although the juvenile court followed the incorrect procedures in this case, the Court of Appeal affirmed the removal orders because the error was not prejudicial. The court explained that the juvenile court's error in evaluating the Department's request under section 385 rather than section 387 was not prejudicial for two reasons. First, the Department's initial decision to follow all of the section 387 procedures up until its last-minute change of mind means that grandmother was effectively accorded all of the process she was due under section 387. Second, the juvenile court's modification order is supported by substantial evidence. View "In re Brianna S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The parties entered into a settlement agreement, in the form of a verbal stipulation, regarding the terms of their marital dissolution. The stipulation included an equal division of the community property portion of the wife's retirement plan without any mention of the plan’s survivor benefits. The parties could not agree as to whether the husband had survivor benefits under that retirement plan and asked the court to resolve their dispute. In the alternative, the wife asked the court to vacate the stipulation.The trial court ruled that the survivor benefits were an “omitted asset” (Fam. Code, 2556) subject to an equal division under section 2610(a)(2) and the wife was not entitled to an order vacating the stipulation. The court awarded the husband $800 in attorney fees and $180 in costs in the nature of section 271 sanctions. The court of appeal affirmed that the husband is to receive a survivor benefit related to his community property share of the retirement plan. The court reversed, in part; section 271 does not permit an award of fees to a self-represented party. The court denied the husband’s separate motion for sanctions for the filing of a frivolous appeal and to cause a delay. View "Marriage of Erndt & Terhorst" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's orders exercising jurisdiction over mother's three children and removing them from their parents. The court held that the trial court properly found that the mother's conduct put her children at substantial risk of serious physical harm. The court explained that the mother routinely disappeared from her children's lives at about 5:00 p.m. until they woke her the next morning for school; it was reasonable for the juvenile court to infer the mother's drug use had something to do with this conduct; and the resulting failure to supervise the children put them at serious risk. The court also held that sufficient evidence supports the finding that father's substance abuse put one of the children, J.N., at a substantial risk of serious physical harm. Finally, sufficient evidence supports the juvenile court's dispositional order removing the children. View "In re K.B." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Martha Nevai (wife) contended the trial court erred in various orders of reimbursement to the community for spending related to wife’s separate property. She also argued the trial court erred in setting spousal support and in refusing to award her attorney fees. After review, the Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred in fixing the permanent spousal support award and in reimbursing John Klemunes (husband) for mortgage interest and property taxes on wife’s vacation home. Further, the trial court also erred in ordering that each side pay their own attorney fees. The Court reversed the relevant portions of the judgment and remanded the matter for recalculation and further consideration. Judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Marriage of Nevai and Klemunes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Anna Wozniak challenged the trial court’s characterization of a particular residence as the parties' community property. The property at issue was originally owned by Anna as her separate property, but that at some point prior to 2006, Anna transmuted this property into community property. In 2006, Grzegorz Wozniak prepared and executed an interspousal transfer deed, which, if effective, would have passed his community property interest in the residence to Anna. At trial, the parties disputed Anna’s response to Grzegorz’s attempted delivery of the interspousal transfer deed; Grzegorz testified that Anna rejected the deed, and Anna testified that she was surprised when Grzegorz presented the executed deed to her but that she ultimately took possession of it. Over the next six years, the deed was not recorded and both parties appeared to agree that it remained in the martial residence. In 2012, after an incident in which a protective order was granted in favor of Grzegorz and against Anna, Anna took possession of the deed and recorded it. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court stated in its findings that it found Grzegorz’s testimony about the deed to be credible and concluded that Anna had rejected the deed in 2006, and that as a result, no transmutation had been consummated between the parties at that time. The court further found that when Anna recorded the deed in 2012, Grzegorz no longer had the intent to transmute his community property interest to Anna. The trial court thus concluded that the property at issue was community property. On appeal, Anna contended the trial court erred in concluding that the residence was community property. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in its analysis of the law regarding the transmutation of property between spouses, and that the court’s findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "Marriage of Wozniak" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Anna Navarrete is the 33-year-old adult child of Maria Navarrete (mother) and Rodolfo Navarrete, Sr. (father), who had cerebral palsy and a speech disorder which limit her ability to answer questions and express her needs and desires. Mother has been her primary caregiver. Mother and father split up during the dispute that lead to this appeal. Mother filed a petition asking to be appointed Navarrete’s probate conservator. Navarrete’s father and older brother objected to mother’s petition, and her brother filed a competing petition asking to be appointed instead. Mother and father also sought domestic violence restraining orders against each other. An accusation was lodged against the father, that he sexually assaulted and raped Navarrette. At trial, Navarrete’s therapist, mother, and younger brother, Adrian Navarrete (Adrian), said Navarrete told them her father sexually assaulted and raped her and she fears her father. Father testified and denied the accusations. The trial court interviewed Navarrete, but concluded she wasn’t a competent witness before eliciting any testimony from her about the assaults. In the end, though the court expressed uncertainty about what had happened, it found mother hadn’t proven the accusations of sexual assault by a preponderance of the evidence, but also found Navarrete had genuine fear of her father and didn’t want to see him. The trial court appointed mother as Navarrete’s probate conservator and denied the brother’s petition. Later, after further hearings, the trial court granted father visitation and ordered Navarrete to attend joint counseling sessions with her father. The court concluded, over the objection of Navarrete, her conservator, and her attorney, that such visits were in her best interest because it would allow reconciliation in the event the accusations of sexual assault weren’t true. The visitation order was the only part of the case challenged on appeal. The Court of Appeal held trial court didi not have the authority to order Navarrete to attend joint counseling sessions with her father, and therefore reversed the order. View "Conservatorship of Navarrete" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law