Articles Posted in Family Law

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The first clause of Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 300(b)(1) authorizes a juvenile court to exercise dependency jurisdiction over a child without a finding that a parent is at fault or blameworthy for her failure or inability to supervise or protect her child. The court of appeal also concluded that section 300(b)(1)’s first clause does not require such a finding. In this case, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition to declare then seventeen-year-old R.T. a dependent of the juvenile court on the ground that she faced a substantial risk of serious physical harm or illness as a result of Mother’s failure or inability adequately to supervise or protect her. The juvenile court asserted jurisdiction over R.T. The court of appeal affirmed the jurisdictional and dispositional orders of the juvenile court. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that when a child’s behavior places her at substantial risk of serious physical harm and a parent is unable to protect or supervise that child, the juvenile court’s assertion of jurisdiction is authorized under section 300(b)(1). View "In re R.T." on Justia Law

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This was an appeal from a child dependency proceeding involving two minors. The children were eligible for tribal membership but were not Indian children as defined in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Rule 5.482(c) of the California Rules of Court requires a juvenile court in this scenario to “proceed as if the child is an Indian child” and to take steps “to secure tribal membership for the child.” The juvenile court in this case directed the Department of Health and Human Services to make efforts to secure tribal membership for the children. While the applications were pending, the court proceeded as if ICWA applied, held a hearing, and adjudged the children to be dependents of the court and ordered them placed with their maternal grandmother. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that Rule 5.482(c) conflicted with state law. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal to the extent it held that related Rule 5.484(c)(2) was invalid and affirmed in all other respects, holding (1) Rule 5.482(c) is invalid because it conflicts with the Legislature’s intent to enforce ICWA by codifying its provisions, including the federal definition of Indian child; and (2) Rule 5.484(c)(2) is consistent with state law and valid. View "In re Abbigail A." on Justia Law

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The juvenile court removed Isaiah W., a newborn, from the care of his parents and placed him in foster care. The court found the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) inapplicable and did not order the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to notify any tribe or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Mother did not appeal from the order placing Isaiah in foster care. More than one year later, the juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed from the second order, arguing that the juvenile court erred by failing to order the Department to comply with ICWA’s notice requirements. The Court of Appeal denied relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a parent may challenge a finding of ICWA’s inapplicability in the course of appealing from a subsequent order terminating parental rights, even if the parent did not raise such a challenge in an appeal from the initial order; and (2) in this case, the fact that Mother did not allege ICWA notice error in an appeal from the original dispositional order did not preclude her from raising the claim in this appeal. View "In re Isaiah W." on Justia Law

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Cal. Fam. Code 771(a) provides that the “earnings and accumulations of a spouse…,while living separate and apart from the other spouse, are the separate property of the spouse.” On December 30, 2008, Wife filed for dissolution of her marriage from Husband. Wife listed the date of their separation as June 1, 2006 even though she did not move out of the marital home at that date. In response, Husband listed the date of separation as of a few days after Wife’s filing of the petition. The trial court found the date of separation to be June 1, 2006. The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that physically living apart is not an “indispensable threshold requirement” for separation under section 771(a). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 771(a) requires the spouses to be living in separate residences in order for their earnings and accumulations to be their separate property. View "In re Marriage of Davis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Before Husband and Wife separated, Husband used community property funds from a joint bank account to buy an insurance policy on his life, naming Wife as the sole owner and beneficiary. At the parties’ marital dissolution proceeding, the trial court ruled that the insurance policy was community property, awarded the policy to Husband, and ordered him to buy out Wife’s interest in the policy by paying her one-half of the policy’s cash value at the time of trial. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that the trial court erred in characterizing the policy as community property and that the insurance policy was Wife’s separate property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, unless the statutory transmutation requirements have been met, the life insurance policy is community property. Remanded. View "In re Marriage of Valli" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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At issue in this divorce case was whether Husband's retirement benefits were community or separate property. Husband, a firefighter, rendered military services before he married Wife. During the parties' marriage, Husband purchased four years' worth of additional retirement credit for his premarital military services. Some of the funds Husband used to pay to obtain this additional credit came from community property. The trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife one-half of the amount the community expended to obtain the credit plus interest. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court, holding that the court acted within its discretion in using this method to compensate Wife for her share of the community's interest in the property. View "Green v. Green" on Justia Law

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Decedent was already married when he and Plaintiff obtained a marriage license and held their wedding ceremony. Three years later, Decedent was killed in an accident at a construction site. Plaintiff filed this wrongful death action against Defendant, claiming she was the putative spouse of Decedent. Defendant moved for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff lacked standing to sue in this case because she did not have the requisite "good faith belief" under Cal. Civ. P. Code 377.60 that her marriage to Decedent was valid. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant after applying an objective test for putative spouse status. The court of appeal reversed, holding that Plaintiff's subjective state of mind, if found credible by the trial court, could support a finding of good faith belief and establish putative spouse status. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 377.60 contemplates a subjective standard that focuses on the alleged putative spouse's state of mind to determine whether she had a genuine belief in the validity of the marriage; and (2) the trial court erred in applying a reasonable person test that required Plaintiff's belief in the validity of the marriage to be objectively reasonable. View "Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant (Father) was the father of two daughters and three sons. The juvenile court found that Father sexually abused one of his daughters, I.J., over a three-year period, but there was no evidence or claim that Father sexually abused or otherwise mistreated his three sons. The juvenile court then declared all the children dependents of the court. The court of appeal held that the evidence was sufficient to support the juvenile court's declaration of I.J. and her sister to be dependents of the court but divided on the question of whether the abuse also warranted the court's further declaring I.J.'s brothers to be dependents of the court. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether Father's sexual abuse of I.J. supported a determination that his sons were juvenile court dependents when there was no evidence that Father sexually abused or otherwise mistreated the boys and the boys were unaware of their sister's abuse before this proceeding began. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that when a father severely sexually abuses his own child, the juvenile court may assume jurisdiction over, and take steps to protect, the child's siblings. View "In re I.J." on Justia Law

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In this case Father's two young children were adjudged juvenile court dependents, in part because of findings under Cal. Code Welf. & Inst. 300(f), which allows an initial adjudication of dependency if a child's parent caused the death of another child through abuse or neglect. These findings were based on evidence that, in violation of law, Father transported his third child, an eighteen-month-old daughter, in an automobile without securing her in a child safety seat, and she was fatally injured when another vehicle collided with their car. The court of appeal affirmed the juvenile court's judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 300(f) does not limit is application to criminal negligence but allows the juvenile court to adjudge a child a dependent if the court finds that the want of ordinary care by the child's parent or guardian caused another child's death; (2) the juvenile court may adjudicate dependence under section 300(f) without any additional evidence or finding that the circumstances surrounding the parent's or guardian's fatal negligence indicate a present risk of harm to surviving children in the parent's or guardian's custody; and (3) the normal concepts of legal causation apply under section 300(f). View "Los Angeles Dep't of Children & Family Servs." on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a petition concerning placement of K.C., the youngest of eight children born to father (appellant) and mother, and the judgment terminating the parental rights of father and mother. At issue was whether father, who did not challenge the termination of his parental rights, had standing to appeal an order entered at the same hearing denying a petition by the dependent child's grandparents to have the child placed with them. The court held that a parent's appeal from a judgment terminating parental rights conferred standing to appeal an order concerning the dependent child's placement only if the placement order's reversal advanced the parent's argument against terminating parental rights. Therefore, the court held that the father did not have standing to challenge the order concerning placement where father had no remaining, legally cognizable interest in K.C's affairs, including his placement, because father did not appeal the judgment terminating his parental rights. View "In re K.C." on Justia Law