Justia Missouri Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
In re Interest of J.P.B.
A juvenile officer filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Father, who was in prison, and Mother. After a trial, the circuit court entered a judgment terminating both parents’ parental rights. The court found that termination was in the best interest of Child and, with respect to Father, found three separate grounds for termination, including the ground that Father was unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 211.447.5(6)(a). On appeal, Father challenged, among other things, the constitutional validity of section 211.447.5(6)(a). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 211.447.5(6)(a) is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Father’s case; (2) the circuit court’s findings were supported by substantial evidence and were not against the weight of the evidence; and (3) Father’s challenges to the circuit court’s procedural rulings were unavailing. View "In re Interest of J.P.B." on Justia Law
Blanchette v. Blanchette
The circuit court registered Kelly Blanchette and Steven Blanchette’s foreign judgment of dissolution and two subsequent judgments modifying custody visitation and support, all issued in West Virginia. Kelly had asked the Missouri county court not to register the latest West Virginia modification but to grant her proposed modification instead. Steven responded by filing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under the Uniform Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The circuit court registered all three West Virginia judgments and dismissed Kelly’s competing motion to modify on the grounds that West Virginia retained exclusive continuing jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the West Virginia judgment of dissolution and both subsequent modifications were not void for lack of jurisdiction, and the Missouri court did not err in registering them in Missouri; and (2) Kelly received reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding the second custody modification sufficient to satisfy due process. View "Blanchette v. Blanchette" on Justia Law
McNeal v. McNeal-Sydnor
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
Pasternak v. Pasternak
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
In re Marriage of M.S.
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
State v. Churchill
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
Garland v. Ruhl
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
Frye v. Levy
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
In re J.A.R.
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
In re Interest of Q.A.H.
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