Articles Posted in Family Law

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Amelia Johnson, fka Boe (Mother), brought a permissive appeal seeking to challenge custody and support orders issued by the magistrate court in hers and Erik Boe's divorce. Mother and Father divorced in 2010 and, at that time, stipulated to a joint-custody arrangement regarding their two minor children, L.R.B. and L.E.B. (collectively, the Children). That custody arrangement governed until 2015, when Father relocated from Southeast Boise to Meridian. The moved caused disputes over physical and legal custody, which schools the Children should attend, and issues pertaining to child support. A two-year course of litigation ensued, with Mother and Father ultimately stipulating to a partial judgment that resolved physical custody and trying issues concerning legal custody, the Children’s schools, and child support to the magistrate court. As relevant here, the magistrate court ruled that the Children were to attend the schools assigned to Father’s Meridian, Idaho home (the Meridian Schools), and that Mother and Father were each entitled to one dependency exemption. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined Mother's challenges concerning physical custody were moot: the challenges themselves did not create a real, substantial controversy for the Court to resolve. Further, the Court determined the magistrate court did not err by assigning the Children to the Meridian Schools, nor did it abuse discretion in allocating the two dependency exemptions. View "Boe v. Boe" on Justia Law

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Marya Woods (Mother) appealed the denial of her petition for modification of the custody schedule for her two minor children: H.W. (Son) and T.W. (Daughter). Both Karl Woods (Father) and Mother sought to modify the schedule. The magistrate court denied both parents’ petitions to modify based upon its finding that there existed no substantial, permanent, or material changes that warranted modification of the custody arrangement. On appeal, Mother argued the magistrate court abused its discretion in finding no substantial or material change existed. Finding no reversible error in the magistrate court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed: the magistrate court’s finding that there was no substantial and material change in circumstance was supported by substantial and competent evidence. View "Woods v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Both of ten-year-old Jane Doe II’s parents passed away in 2017. A family friend with whom Jane and her mother had been living (“Friend”) petitioned for guardianship of Jane. Jane’s father’s twin sister (“Aunt”) also petitioned for guardianship. During proceedings the magistrate court appointed a local attorney, Auriana Clapp-Younggren (“Clapp-Younggren”), to serve as both the attorney and the guardian ad litem for Jane. After trial the magistrate court followed Clapp-Younggren’s recommendation and awarded temporary guardianship to Friend so that Jane could finish the school year, but appointed Aunt as Jane’s permanent guardian. Friend appealed the magistrate court decision. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court abused its discretion by failing to conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether Jane possessed sufficient maturity to direct her own attorney. The final decree appointing Aunt as Jane’s permanent guardian was vacated and the case was remanded so that the magistrate court can conduct a hearing to determine whether Jane possessed sufficient maturity to direct her own attorney prior to a new trial. View "In the Interest of Jane Doe II (under 18)" on Justia Law

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L.P. and E.P. were half-siblings who lived with their maternal grandmother until her sudden death. The Department of Health & Welfare filed a petition for custody of the children under the Child Protection Act (CPA) and placed both children in the home of the Does, E.P.’s paternal grandmother and step-grandfather. The Department submitted a permanency plan identifying the goal of termination of parental rights and adoption by relative. Early in 2015, the magistrate court approved the permanency plan. After several months of tension between the Does and L.P., the Department acceded to the Does’ request that L.P. be removed from their home. The Department did not inform the magistrate court of the change in circumstances for several months. Following a trial on issues of neglect, abandonment, and consent, the magistrate entered an order terminating the parental rights to both children. The Department was designated as guardian of both children. The Does moved to intervene in the CPA case. The magistrate judge denied the motion. The court then entered an order prohibiting the Department from removing E.P. from the Does’ home without court approval. In early 2016, the Department filed a report and an expert’s sibling assessment that concluded the children should be placed together because of the strong attachment between them. In September 2016, the Department filed a post-termination permanency plan that requested a change in the permanency goal from adoption by relative to adoption by non-relative. Due to factual deficiencies, the magistrate judge rejected that amended permanency plan. In January 2017, the Department filed a second amended permanency plan that sought to move forward with adoption of both children by L.P.’s non-relative foster parents. After a comprehensive review of the case, the magistrate court rejected the amended permanency plan with regard to E.P. but approved it with regard to L.P., removed the Department as guardian of E.P., and appointed Jane Doe as E.P.’s guardian. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court abused its discretion by disregarding the sibling placement priority and the Department’s primary role when considering the permanency plans. Furthermore, the Court determined the magistrate court abused its discretion by preventing the Department from removing E.P. from the Does’ home and terminating the Department's guardianship over E.P. All magistrate court orders with regard to E.P. were vacated, and on remand, this case was ordered to be assigned to a new magistrate judge for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Health & Welfare v. Does I" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the magistrate court in an expedited appeal regarding the termination of John Doe (2017-32)'s parental rights. John Doe is the father of minor children KB and AB (the “Children”). The Children entered the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s (“IDHW”) custody in December 2014 after the Twin Falls Police declared them to be in imminent danger. The Children were in their mother’s (“Mother”) care when the police arrested her for possession of a controlled substance. Law enforcement described the condition of Mother’s home at this time as “filthy, cluttered, and containing numerous safety hazards, including raw sewage being present in the basement.” An Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) case plan, filed January 2015, included number of enumerated tasks for both Doe and Mother to complete in order for them to reunite with the Children. The case plan sought to provide Doe and Mother a framework to address “stable housing, sanitary living conditions, the need to obtain controlled substance abuse treatment, to remain clean/sober, and [to] stay out of jail.” Mother relapsed within weeks of a December 2016 order and was arrested for felony possession, kicked out of Drug Court, and went to prison. IDHW sought to terminate Doe and Mother’s parental rights. Doe had not completed his required drug treatment regimen by a first trial, he became more actively involved in his treatment plan by the time of a second trial. Doe showed other encouraging signs between the first and second trial as well, including significant progress on his case plan. However, the magistrate court noted that, despite progress, Doe still had not completed his case plan nor reunified with his children in the intervening period between the first and second trial. The court issued a Memorandum Decision granting termination of Doe and Mother’s parental rights on October 2, 2017, and entered a corresponding judgment ten days later on October 12, 2017. Mother did not appeal, but Doe timely filed his notice of appeal. The Supreme Court found the magistrate court’s December 2016 order stating that termination was not in the Children’s best interest was irreconcilable with IDHW’s first official recommendation following that order that termination “remains” in the Children’s best interest. The magistrate court’s October 2017 decision following the second trial highlighted Doe’s failure to reunify with the Children as a substantial factor in his ultimate decision to terminate. The magistrate court’s procedural error in not entering judgment for Doe and dismissing the petition upon finding that termination was not in the Children’s best interest affected Doe’s fundamental rights in this case. View "Dept. of Health & Welfare v. John Doe (2017-32)" on Justia Law

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John Doe (Father) appealed a decision to terminate his parental rights to his minor child Jane Doe II (Child). The magistrate court terminated Father’s parental rights on a petition from Child’s Stepfather and Mother, Jane Doe I (Mother), after finding that Father had abandoned Child and termination was in Child’s best interest. On appeal, Father argued that the magistrate court’s findings are not supported by substantial and competent evidence. Father testified that he was incarcerated for having sex with three girls that were underage. Father also testified that he may not be released from prison for an additional thirteen years. Father testified that Child may not even remember or recognize him. Father further testified about the satisfactory nature of Child’s care with Mother. With this evidence in the record, the magistrate court’s finding that termination was in the best interest of Child is supported by substantial and competent evidence of Father’s conduct, both before and after incarceration. Further, the magistrate’s legal conclusion to terminate Father’s parental rights follows from its factual findings. Finding no abuse of discretion or reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "Jane Doe I v. John Doe (2017-31)" on Justia Law

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John Doe (2017-27) (“the father”) and Jane Doe (2017-27) (“the mother”) appealed magistrate court judgments terminating their parental rights to their daughters (“Z.W.” and “N.W.”). The magistrate court terminated the mother and father’s parental rights on the grounds of neglect, abuse, inability to discharge parental responsibilities, and chronic abuse and/or neglect, and also found termination was in the best interest of the children. The mother only challenged the termination of her parental rights as to N.W., while the father challenged the termination of his parental rights as to both of the children. The sole issue the father argued on appeal was that the magistrate court did not have substantial and competent evidence to find terminating his parental rights was in the best interest of both children. Finding no abuse of discretion in judgments against either parent, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the magistrate court. View "Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare v. John & Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe (Mother) appealed a magistrate court’s termination of her parental rights to her minor child, A.L. (Child). The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights to Child on August 26, 2016, and an amended petition on June 30, 2017. After a two-day trial, the magistrate court found termination proper on several bases of neglect and entered an order to that effect. On appeal, Mother argued the magistrate court’s decision was not based on substantial, competent evidence, and that termination was in the child’s best interests. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the magistrate court’s judgment. View "IDHW v. Doe (2017-36)" on Justia Law

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This cases involved the statutory termination of parental rights by two adoptive parents after John Doe I (“Child”) was alleged to have sexually assaulted a sibling. John and Jane Doe adopted Child in June 2016. The Does’ adoption came after a previous out-of-state adoption of Child was ended through legal termination of parental rights (a “disrupted adoption”). In September 2016, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (“the Department”) received a report from Jane Doe that Child had sexually assaulted his younger sister (aged nine), another adoptive child of the Does. Child was twelve years old at the time of the incident. Thereafter, the Does worked with the Department and juvenile corrections personnel to determine the best course of action with regard to Child. In October 2016, Child’s juvenile corrections proceeding was expanded to a child protective proceeding, and he was placed in shelter care with the Department. The expansion order specified that “[t]he parents indicate [Child] will never be able to return to their home due to the safety of the other children.” Child was subsequently taken to a residential care facility in Utah (“the Utah facility”) to receive treatment, including mental health services. The treatment program was not permanent placement, but Child’s completion of the program was expected to take up to a year. Shortly after Child was taken to the Utah facility, the magistrate court decreed that Child was to be placed under the protective custody of the Department because it would be contrary to Child’s welfare to remain in the Does’ home. The magistrate court then held a hearing on the case plan submitted by the Department and approved the plan without any objections from the parties. The magistrate court ultimately entered judgments (one for each parent) terminating the Does’ parental rights on three grounds: inability to discharge parental responsibilities, best interest of the Does and Child, and voluntary consent. Child appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court record did not support the finding of termination: “[w]ithout compelling substantive evidence, the primary argument for the Does’ unfitness appears to be premised on the same idea that undergirded the Department’s argument as to Child’s best interest: namely, Child cannot return to the Does’ home due to the nature of the sexual assault incident and the presence of the victim and other children in the home.” The Supreme Court reversed the termination of parental rights and the order of guardianship, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Health & Welfare v. Doe I (2017-21)" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe and John Doe (2017-19) (“Mother,” “Father,” and collectively, “Parents”) appealed a magistrate court’s Final Judgment terminating their parental rights to Jane Doe II (“Child”). Jane Doe I and John Doe I (“Grandmother,” “Grandfather”) initiated the underlying action by filing a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and a Petition for Adoption. The magistrate court issued a Final Judgment terminating Parents’ parental rights after concluding that Parents had abandoned Child and that the termination of Parents’ parental rights was in Child’s best interest. On appeal, Parents challenged the magistrate court’s conclusion that Child was abandoned and that termination of parental rights was in Child’s best interest. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the termination. View "John & Jane Doe (2017-19) v. John & Jane Doe I" on Justia Law