Articles Posted in Family Law

by
The juvenile court erred in using a per se rule that “[h]itting a child with a belt or strap or another object is abuse” because the rule is overbroad and alters the statutory meaning of “abuse” within the meaning of the Utah Code. This case involved four children. Mother was the mother of all four children, and Father was the biological father of the younger two. The State filed a petition seeking to adjudicate the children as abused and neglected under Utah Code 78A-6-105. The parties stipulated to a number of findings of fact. The juvenile court determined that Parents abused the children under section 78A-6-105. Parents appealed, arguing that the juvenile court erred when it concluded that spanking a child with a belt, without any additional proof of harm, constitutes abuse within the meaning of Utah law. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the stipulated facts did not support an abuse determination. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
Ten years after the parents of B.W.D. and her younger sisters divorced, B.W.D. filed an amended petition alleging that Father had abused and neglected her younger sisters. B.W.D. petitioned the juvenile court to transfer custody solely to her. The juvenile court sua sponte dismissed the petition without giving B.W.D. an opportunity to be heard, basing much of its decision on Utah Code 78B-13-802, which provides that a court must decline jurisdiction if it would have jurisdiction only “because a person invoking the jurisdiction has engaged in unjustifiable conduct.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the juvenile court erred in applying an “unjustifiable conduct” test, and its inconvenient-forum determination was deficient, leading it to erroneously deny B.W.D.'s petition. View "In re S.W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
The district court terminated Father’s parental rights with respect to his child, making the child legally available for adoption by her stepfather. Father appealed the termination order. The court of appeals certified the case for transfer to the Supreme Court. At issue before the Supreme Court were Father’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and claims to the right to counsel under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and under the due process clause of the Utah Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Father had a federal due process right to counsel in the district court proceedings and that that right was erroneously denied in violation of Father’s federal due process rights. View "In re K.A.S." on Justia Law

by
Mother’s parental rights to her daughter were terminated. During the termination proceedings at the juvenile court, Mother was unrepresented by counsel. At the end of the proceeding, the juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother was unfit as a parent and that it was in the best interests of the child to be placed with Adoptive Parents. Mother appealed, challenging on multiple constitutional grounds Utah Code 78A-6-1111(2), the statutory scheme that provides appointed counsel for indigent parents in state-initiated parental termination proceedings while denying such counsel for indigent parents in privately initiated proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) section 78A-6-1111(2) is not facially unconstitutional; but (2) the court erred in relying on the statute to deny Mother’s request for counsel without considering Mother’s circumstances and due process rights. View "In re E.K.S." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed an action seeking to establish his paternity in and custody over a child he believed to be his son (Child). Both Plaintiff and Mother were residents of Colorado. Mother travelled to Utah two days before Child’s birth and gave birth to Child in Utah. Mother then relinquished Child to a Utah-based adoption agency. For reasons unrelated to this appeal, the district court dismissed the case, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. After remand, Adoptive Couple intervened in Plaintiff’s action to request that his suit be dismissed, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Utah Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The district court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that Utah was not Child’s home state for purposes of the UCCJEA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by dismissing Plaintiff’s case on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. View "Nevares v. Adoptive Couple" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
A 14-year-old student at Juan Diego Catholic High School suffered serious and life-threatening injuries while using a lift to replace light bulbs in the auditorium, during his drama class. The lift tipped over as students pushed it from one light fixture to another, causing him to suffer life-threatening injuries, including traumatic brain injury. His parents filed a lawsuit, individually and as parents and guardians of the student, claiming negligence and vicarious liability, and seeking to bring a personal claim for loss of filial consortium. The district court dismissed the loss of filial consortium claim and certified the dismissal as final. The Utah Supreme Court vacated, adopting a cause of action for loss of filial consortium to allow parents to recover for loss of filial consortium due to tortious injury to a minor child in cases where the injury meets the definition set forth in Utah Code section 30-2-11, the spousal consortium statute. The court concluded that such a cause of action is not legislatively preempted. View "Benda v. Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law, Injury Law

by
Before the child of Mother and Father was born, a process server personally delivered a prebirth notice (“the Notice”) to Father informing him that Mother intended to place Child up for adoption. The Notice advised Father that he may lose all rights relating to Child if he did not take certain steps within thirty days. Forty-two days after he received the Notice, Father filed a paternity action and affidavit with the district court. Adoptive Parents subsequently petitioned to adopt Child. Mother then gave birth to Child, and Mother and Father executed and filed a voluntary declaration of paternity naming Father as Child’s father. The next day, Mother relinquished her parental rights and surrendered Child to Adoptive Parents. Father filed a motion to intervene in Child’s adoption proceeding. The district court denied the motion on the grounds that Father did not meet the requirements of the Prebirth Notice Statute by pursuing his rights within the Statute’s thirty-day time period. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the Notice did not contain all of the information the Statute requires, Father’s failure to comply within the thirty-day time frame did not deprive him of his ability to contest Child’s adoption. View "In re Baby Q." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
K.C., a minor child, was removed from the custody of her mother. Nearly seventeen months after K.C. had originally been removed from Mother’s custody and after a permanency hearing, the juvenile court terminated reunification services. The State then filed a petition for termination of parental rights. Mother argued that Department of Child and Family Services had not complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that, therefore, the State was incapable of making “reasonable efforts” toward reunification. The juvenile court determined that the ADA is not a defense in a termination proceeding and, even if the ADA applied, Mother had not suffered from any failure to comply with the ADA because Mother’s disabilities were accommodated. The court then terminated Mother’s parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the ADA applies to the provision of reunification services under Utah Code 78A-6-312 and 78A-6-507; but (2) the juvenile court judge did not abuse his discretion in deciding that Mother’s requested modifications to the reunification plan in question were not reasonable. View "In re K.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
The paternal grandparents of I.J. filed a petition for visitation after the grandparents and I.J.’s mother disagreed over visitation. After a trial, the court ruled in favor of the grandparents, concluding that they had rebutted the statutory presumption “that a parent’s decision with regard to grandparent visitation is in the grandchild’s best interest,” that the grandparents had a substantial relationship with I.J., that denial of visitation had likely caused harm to I.J., and that grandparent visitation was in I.J.’s best interest. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a visitation order under Utah Code 30-5-2 is subject to strict scrutiny review, requiring proof that a grandparent visitation order is narrowly tailored to advance a compelling governmental interest; and (2) because there was no such proof on the record in this case, the grandparents failed to establish a legally sufficient basis for an order of visitation. View "Jones v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
In 2010, the divorce court entered a decree of divorce dissolving the marriage of Charles Dahl and Kim Dahl. Kim appealed, challenging several of the district court’s rulings in the divorce case. Kim also appealed the dismissal of her claims in a separate, but related, lawsuit involving marital assets contained in the Dahl Family Irrevocable Trust. The district court consolidated, sua sponte, these cases for the purposes of appeal and remanded the consolidated case to the divorce court, holding that the Trust should have been joined as a party to the divorce action. View "Dahl v. Dahl" on Justia Law