Justia Missouri Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Appellant, who was incarcerated, sought a dissolution of his marriage to his wife. The circuit court entered an order dismissing Appellant’s petition. Appellant appealed, challenging the constitutional validity of the application of Mo. Rev. Stat. 544.275 and Mo. Rev. Stat. 491.230 to him, asserting that these sections violated his right to due process because they denied him the right to be present in court to litigate his civil action and further denied him any reasonable alternatives to appearance in person. The Supreme Court transferred the appeal to the court of appeals, holding that Appellant failed to raise a real and substantial constitutional challenge to the validity of either statute so as to invoke the Court’s exclusive appellate jurisdiction. View "McNeal v. McNeal-Sydnor" on Justia Law

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Mother and Father dissolved their marriage pursuant to a judgment of dissolution that granted Mother and Father joint legal and physical custody of their two minor children. Mother later announced her intent to relocate the children and moved to modify the dissolution judgment requesting that she be given sole legal and physical custody. The trial court approved Mother’s proposed relocation, modified legal custody of the children to sole legal custody in favor of Mother, and concluded that Mother and Father should continue to share joint physical custody of the children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court’s approval of Mother’s relocation was supported by substantial evidence, and the record also contained substantial evidence supporting a change from joint to sole legal custody in Mother. View "Pasternak v. Pasternak" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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This case centered on a petition to dissolve a same-sex marriage. The circuit court, sua sponte, dismissed the action on grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and constitutional and statutory authority to dissolve a same-sex marriage due to the state constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction because the plain language of Mo. Const. art. V, 14 provides that Missouri circuit courts have jurisdiction over all civil cases and matters, and a petition for dissolution of marriage is a civil case or matter falling within the jurisdiction of the circuit court. View "In re Marriage of M.S." on Justia Law

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The juvenile officer for the 10th Judicial Circuit filed an Emergency Petition for Protective Custody in the juvenile division of the circuit court after Mother denied the existence of her five-year-old son, JC. At an initial hearing, Mother appeared without JC and repeatedly testified under oath that JC did not exist. Mother subsequently surrendered JC to the juvenile officer and conceded that JC was her child. Thereafter, Mother was charged with perjury based on the false testimony she gave at the protective custody hearing. Mother moved to suppress her testimony on the ground that the conduct of the protective custody hearing violated her right to counsel and her privilege against self-incrimination. The motion was overruled, and Mother was found guilty of one count of perjury. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in overruling Mother’s motion to suppress; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to prove that Mother committed perjury. View "State v. Churchill" on Justia Law

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After Mother applied for child support enforcement services, the Family Support Division (FSD) issued an administrative child support order stating the proposed rights and obligations of Mother and Father. Mother disagreed with the calculation of Father’s monthly support obligation and filed a petition for judicial review of the FSD support order. Before Mother’s petition could be heard, Mother and Father settled on terms more favorable for Mother than the FSD order. The trial court entered judgment on the basis of the parties’ stipulation. The court then dismissed Mother’s petition for judicial review as moot. Thereafter, Mother filed an application to have FSD pay her attorney fees under Mo. Rev. Stat. 536.087. The trial court dismissed the application, concluding that Mother did not prevail on her petition for judicial review because it became moot when the trial court entered a superseding judgment. Mother appealed, arguing that even though her petition for judicial review was dismissed, she nevertheless prevailed against FSD because the dismissal resulted from a more favorable judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Mother obtained a favorable settlement from Father in this case, rather than FSD, the trial court correctly dismissed Mother’s attorney fee application under section 536.087. View "Garland v. Ruhl" on Justia Law

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The trial court in this case ordered the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services (Division) not to include Mother’s name in the child abuse and neglect central registry as a sanction for the Division’s failure to comply with the ninety-day statutory deadline for investigations and determinations. The Division noted that its investigation into Mother’s alleged neglect of her children would be extended for “good cause” before it eventually determined that the evidence substantiated the allegations of Mother’s neglect. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the legislature did not provide for a sanction in the event that the Division fails to meet the statutory deadline, and courts are not authorized to create one. View "Frye v. Levy" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Father, a California resident, sent his children (Children) to Missouri, and later that year, the Children began to live with their mother. In 2011, the Children were taken into protective custody. In 2012, the circuit court found that the record supported three separate legal grounds for termination of Father’s parental rights, including neglect, and concluded that termination of parental rights would be in the Children’s best interest. The court of appeals affirmed the judgments terminating Father’s parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court’s determinations that Father neglected the Children and that it was in the best interest of the Children to have Father’s parental rights terminated were supported by substantial evidence. View "In re J.A.R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In 2012, the trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights over Child, determining that Mother, who had been under psychiatric care for three years before the termination hearing, had abused or neglected Child in that she had a mental condition that rendered her unable to provide Child the necessary care, custody and control and that she failed to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or education to Child even though she had the financial resources to do so. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in discrediting testimony from Mother’s psychiatrist and therapist regarding her mental condition at the time of the termination hearing or in finding Mother’s custody of another child did not show Mother could provide the necessary care, control or custody to Child; (2) substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Mother’s personal relationships presented a potential harm for Child despite Mother’s therapy; and (3) the trial court did not err in finding that Mother’s de minimus financial support to Child did not show that she provided adequate support to Child before the termination hearing. View "In re Interest of Q.A.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Mother and Father’s divorce was dissolved in 2006 by a Texas district court. In 2009, Father initiated post-dissolution child custody proceedings in the St. Charles County circuit court. A guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed for the minor children. In 2011, the trial court entered a judgment deciding the custody and visitation rights of the parents and ordering Father to pay guardian ad litem fees, among other costs. Father appealed. In response to Father’s notice of appeal, the GAL filed a motion to secure costs on appeal seeking payment from Father or Mother so that she could draft and file an appellate brief. The trial court sustained the motion. The court of appeals affirmed on appeal. In 2012, the trial court ordered Father and Mother to each pay toward the GAL’s services rendered on appeal. Father appealed that judgment, arguing that the GAL had no legal authority to participate in the appeal from the trial court’s judgment and, if such authority did exist, the GAL’s claimed fees were not supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Father was precluded from raising his claims, having failed to timely and properly pursue or preserve them. View "Brown v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The marriage of Husband and Wife was dissolved in 2003. In 2005 and 2006, the trial court reduced Husband's child support obligations and made no change to his maintenance obligation. While Husband's second appeal was pending, Wife filed a motion for attorney's fees on appeal. The trial court ordered Husband to pay $7,500 of Wife's attorney fees on appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mo. Rev. Stat. 452.355, which grants the circuit court subject matter jurisdiction to enter an award of attorney fees on appeal while the appeal is pending, is not unconstitutional; (2) section 452.355 is not unconstitutionally vague because it provides sufficient guidance so as to allow a person of ordinary intelligence to understand the standards to be applied by the circuit court in making an award of attorney fees; and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Wife attorney's fees on appeal.View "Goins v. Goins" on Justia Law