Justia California Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court that Mother had established one of a series of enumerated exceptions to avoid termination of parental rights, holding that the court of appeals erred in its analysis.The trial court in this case found that Child was likely to be adopted but that Mother had established the parental-benefit exception precluding termination of parental rights. The court therefore declined to terminate parental rights and ordered that Child remain in foster care subject to periodic review. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that because Mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse and because the benefits of the potential adoptive home and the risks of foster care, a reasonable court could not find that Child's relationship with Mother outweighed the benefits of adoption. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeal's holding that no reasonable court could apply the parental-benefit exception given Mother's substance abuse and mental health issues was in error. View "In re Caden C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) in this juvenile case, holding that where the prosecutor has not given advance notice and has not made an adequate showing to justify the lack of notice, the court must give sufficient time for counsel and the minor to prepare and respond to the application before any order is issued.At issue was whether a juvenile court may, when a minor is the subject of a juvenile wardship petition, issue a TRO notice under Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 213.5, subdivision (b) without advance notice to the minor. The Supreme Court held (1) section 213.5, subdivision (b) incorporates the notice requirements set forth in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 527, subdivision (c); and (2) because no notice was provided before the hearing in this case, the juvenile court's issuance of the TRO exceeded its authority under section 213.5. View "In re E.F." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court held that when reviewing a finding that a fact has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must view the record in light most favorable to the prevailing party below and give due deference to how the trier of fact may have evaluated the credibility of witnesses, resolved conflicts in the evidence, and drawn reasonable inferences from the evidence.A probate court appointed limited coconservators for O.B., a young woman with autism. O.B. challenged the order, arguing that the proof did not clearly and convincingly establish that a limited conservatorship was warranted. The court of appeal rejected O.B.'s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, concluding that the clear and convincing standard of proof "disappears" on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when reviewing a finding of fact that has been proved by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must determine whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could have found it highly probable that the fact was true. View "In re Conservatorship of O.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding which presumption governs the characterization of joint tenancy property in a dispute between a couple and the bankruptcy trustee of one of the spouses.The Supreme Court held (1) Cal. Evid. Code 662 does not apply when it conflicts with the Cal. Fam. Code 760 community property presumption; (2) when a married couple uses community funds to acquire property with joint tenancy title on over after January 1, 1975 the property is presumptively community property under Cal. Fam. Code 760 in a dispute between the couple and a bankruptcy trustee, and for properly purchased before January 1, 1975, the presumption is that separate property interests arise from joint tenancy title; and (3) joint tenancy titling of property acquired by spouses using community funds on or after January 1, 1985 is not sufficient by itself to transmute community property into separate property. View "Speier v. Brace" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal upholding the ruling of the superior court denying the requests of Bianka M., a minor, for an order placing her in her mother’s sole custody and for findings that would enable her to seek “special immigrant juvenile” (SIJ) status under federal immigration law, holding that the superior court erred in concluding that it could not issue either a custody order or findings relevant to SIJ status unless Bianka first established a basis for exercising personal jurisdiction over her father and joined him as a party to the action.Bianka entered the United States unaccompanied and without prior authorization. In a family court action, Bianka asked to be placed in the sole custody of her mother, who had left Honduras for the United States years before, and sought findings enabling her to seek special immigrant juvenile status, alleging that her father, who resided in Honduras, abandoned her. The superior court denied the requests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the superior court erred in requiring Bianka’s father to be joined as a party in her parentage action seeking SIJ findings because he received adequate notice and took no steps to participate; and (2) the action may proceed regardless of Bianka’s perceived immigration-related motivations for filing the action. View "Bianka M. v. Superior Court" on Justia 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