Articles Posted in Family Law

by
Rachelle and Charles Black were married for nearly 20 years and had three sons. They raised their children in a conservative Christian church and sent them to private, Christian schools. In 2011, Rachelle told Charles that she was lesbian, and the parties divorces shortly thereafter. In the order of dissolution, the trial court designated Charles as the primary residential parent. The final parenting plan also awarded Charles sole decision-making authority regarding the children's education and religious upbringing. The record showed that the trial court considered Rachelle's sexual orientation as a factor when it fashioned the final parenting plan. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found improper bias influenced the proceedings. “This bias casts doubt on the trial court's entire ruling, and we are not confident the trial court ensured a fair proceeding by maintaining a neutral attitude regarding Rachelle's sexual orientation. Accordingly, we reverse.” View "In re Marriage of Black" on Justia Law

by
Victor and Deanna Zandi's were divorced in 2009. Their dependent daughter, T.Z., incurred approximately $13,000 in medical bills when she had a kidney stone removed while traveling outside her medical insurer’s, Kaiser Permanente, network. The superior court ordered Victor Zandi to pay 7 5 percent of the cost and Deanna Zandi to pay the remaining 25 percent. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the superior court abused its discretion by modifying the parties' 2009 order of child support, which required Victor Zandi to pay 100 percent of "uninsured medical expenses." This case presented an issue of whether out-of-network health care costs qualified as "[u]ninsured medical expenses" under RCW 26.18.170(18)(d). The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: the legislature defined "[u]ninsured medical expenses" as costs not covered by insurance. WAC 388-14A-1020 clarified that this included costs "not paid" by insurance, even if those costs would be covered under other circumstances. Because the health care expenses in this case were unambiguously within the scope of RCW 26.18.170(18)(d), financial responsibility was allocated by the 2009 order and may not be modified absent evidence of changed circumstances or other evidence consistent with the requirements of RCW 26.09.170(6)-(7). View "In re Marriage of Zandi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law, Health Law

by
Petitioner J.B. argued that his parental rights with respect to his biological child K.J.B. could not be terminated without express written findings of fact on “incarcerated parent factors” from the 2013 amendment of RCW 13.34.180(1)(f). The Supreme Court held that while explicit findings on the incarcerated parent factors were not statutorily required, consideration of the factors was mandatory. Because the trial court failed to consider the incarcerated parent factors in this case, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for consideration of the incarcerated parent factors. View "In re Parental Rights to K.J.B." on Justia Law

by
Faualuga and Billie Siufanua sought custody of L.M.S., their granddaughter. The grandparents contended that placing L.M.S. with Tony Fuga, her biological father, would cause actual detriment because the father has been mostly absent from her life and because they are the only parents she has known. But absent additional circumstances, the Supreme Court could not assume that interfering with the parent-like relationship between L.M.S. and her grandparents amounted to actual detriment. Fuga has a positive relationship with L.M.S., and he was able and willing to raise her. The grandparents failed to present sufficient facts demonstrating a specific detriment that would ensue if L.M.S. was placed with Fuga. Under these circumstances, the trial court correctly denied the grandparents' nonparental custody petition for lacking adequate cause. View "In re Custody of L.M.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
A mother sought an emergency protection order to keep her soon-to-be ex-husband away from her and their children because, she alleged, he had abused them. The father denied the allegations and sought to cross-examine one of the daughters about her claim that he had repeatedly tried to suffocate her, among other things. Evidence was presented that the daughter was suicidal, was unable to confront her father, and would be significantly traumatized by this cross-examination. The issue this case presented was whether the father had a constitutional or statutory right to question his minor daughter in court before the protection order could be issued. Finding under the facts of this case that he did not, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Aiken v. Aiken" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on under which of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act’s (UIFSA) choice of law rules Washington’s nonclaim statutes fell. Stephanie Bell and Juan Sidran Heflin were the parents of M.H. In 1994, Bell established paternity and obtained an order of child support from an Indiana circuit court. Bell and M.H. lived in Indiana at that time, but Heflin lived in Washington. In 2010, Bell registered the Indiana support order in King County, Washington for enforcement only. After various hearings, the King County Superior Court confirmed the Indiana support order. The parties then entered into a settlement agreement in 2011 where Heflin agreed to pay a sum of$120,000 in monthly payments of $2,000. After Heflin failed to abide by the terms of the settlement agreement, Bell filed the motion for wage withholding in King County Superior Court at issue in this appeal. After finding that Indiana law applied, the superior court issued the wage withholding order. The Court of Appeals reversed the wage withholding order in an unpublished opinion, finding that Washington law applied and the trial court lacked the authority to issues the wage withholding order because a time period in RCW 4.56.210(2) had passed and the Indiana judgment had expired. Bell petitioned for review. Relying on the comments to the model UIFSA and other states' interpretations of it, the Washington Supreme Court held that under UIFSA's choice of law provision, a statute authorizing wage withholding was a "remedy," whereas a nonclaim statute was a "statute of limitation." After comparing the two statutes of limitations applicable in this case, the 20-year Indiana statute of limitation controlled because it was longer. Therefore, the trial court had the authority to enter the wage withholding order, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for entry of judgment in Stephanie Bell's favor. View "In re Paternity of M.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
In June 2013, C.B.(mother) married R.B. (stepfather). C.B. and R.B. filed a petition for termination of parental rights as to C.W. (biological father) and adoption later that month of T.A.W., C.B.'s biological child and an "Indian child" under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), and the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). C.W. was non-Indian, but C.B. was, and an enrolled member of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. C.W. had been incarcerated at the time of the termination petition on charges relating to drug abuse and domestic violence. C.W.'s parental rights were ultimately terminated. In reaching its decision, the trial court found that ICWA applied to the termination proceedings and that ICWA's requirements were met beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court did not require C.B. and R.B. to prove that active efforts were undertaken to remedy C.W.'s parental deficiencies prior to terminating his parental rights and made no finding to that effect. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding: (1) ICWA and WICWA protected non-Indian and Indian parents alike; (2) the trial court erred by not making an active efforts finding; (3) the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl," (133 S. Ct. 2552 (2013)), was factually distinguishable; and (4) WICWA had no abandonment exception. C.B. and R.B. appealed. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded this case to the trial court so that it could reconsider the termination petition in light of those holdings. View "In re Adoption of T.A.W." on Justia Law

by
The child (K.M.M.) was in foster care since she was six and a half years old. She was removed from her biological parents' custody in 2009 because their serious substance abuse problems resulted in a neglectful home enviromnent. She was 11 years old at the time of trial in 2013. She had been in two foster care placements and was physically abused in one of those placements. K.M.M.'s biological father completed court-ordered services and remedied the deficiencies identified by the dependency court in prior proceedings. Nevertheless, the trial court terminated his parental rights based on its conclusion that he remained "unable to parent" due to the child's lack of attachment to him. This case required the Washington Supreme Court to determine whether parental rights could be terminated where the father was unable to parent his child due to a lack of attachment and continuing the parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the child's emotional development and mental well-being. After review, the Supreme Court concluded there was substantial evidence to support the trial court's conclusion that all necessary services have been provided to the father and that the provision of any additional services would have been futile. Furthermore, the record supported the trial court's finding of current parental unfitness based on the father's inability to parent the child. Consequently, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision to uphold the termination order. View "In re Parental Rights to K.M.M." on Justia Law

by
H.O. appealed the termination of her parental rights to her child, B.P. H.O., suffered from drug addiction, depression and other mental health issues, and the effects of long term childhood trauma. B.P., suffered too: she was born addicted to methamphetamine, endured withdrawal, was abandoned by H.O. during infancy, and experienced multiple disruptions when forming attachments with H.O. and various foster parents. On the other hand, after several tries, H.O. achieved sobriety; benefited from treatment in a structured environment; and became an attentive and caring mother to another child, A., in that structured environment. She also engaged in partially supervised, therapeutic visitation with B.P., and the two began to form what witnesses at the termination hearing called a social relationship with an emerging emotional attachment. Despite all that, the Department of Social and Health Services recommended termination of H.O.'s parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that where a child has special needs (here, special attachment needs); and where, as here, those special needs were exacerbated by the State's failure to timely provide necessary services to the biological parent; then the State has failed to prove this legislatively mandated prerequisite to termination (absent futility, which was not shown here). View "In re Welfare of B.P." on Justia Law

by
In 2013, the Washington legislature enacted amendments to the dependency statutes to expressly address incarcerated parents. Those factors barred a court from assuming that incarceration would make it impossible to parent; they focused instead on the sufficiency of the Department of Social and Health Services' (Department) services and the parent's efforts, requiring a court to evaluate those things on a case-by-case basis. Petitioner Edelyn Saint-Louis was incarcerated in the middle of a dependency proceeding that lasted over 2 years, but was released one month and ten days before the termination trial began. The main question presented by this case was one of statutory interpretation: does RCW 13.34.180(l)(t)'s requirement that certain factors be considered at the termination hearing "[i]f the parent is incarcerated" apply if the parent isn't incarcerated at that time? The Supreme Court held that based on the language and purpose of the amendments, that the answer was no. "The provision at issue in this case, by contrast, looks to the incarcerated parent's ability to parent in the future. Limiting its application to those incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing thus fits well into the statutory scheme." View "In re Dependency of D.L.B." on Justia Law