Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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In 2013 and 2014, mother Jordain Bradford was involved in relationships with both Shad Hamberlin and Matthew Edwards. She did not marry either man. On September 24, 2014, Bradford gave birth to a minor child, T.J.H. Bradford and Hamberlin discussed the timing of her pregnancy and decided that Hamberlin had to be T.J.H.’s father. Bradford did not discuss the pregnancy with Edwards, nor were any additional objective measures, such as a paternity test, taken at that time. When T.J.H. was over nine months old, Bradford and Hamberlin each signed and notarized a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity Affidavit (“VAP”), in which they both acknowledged that Hamberlin was the biological father of T.J.H. The State of Idaho then issued a birth certificate listing Hamberlin as T.J.H.’s father. Bradford and Hamberlin lived with T.J.H., generally in Bradford’s parents’ home, until around September 2016, when they separated. Hamberlin filed suit to establish child custody and child support for T.J.H. Bradford initially answered the petition by admitting, among other things, that she and Hamberlin were the biological parents of T.J.H. and that “both parties should have legal custody and joint physical custody of T.J.H. . . .” Bradford reversed course less than one month later, amending her answer to disavow that Hamberlin was a biological parent of T.J.H., and positing that Hamberlin should not have custody. Bradford amended her answer again in January 2017. This pleading continued to deny that Hamberlin was a biological parent of T.J.H., and affirmatively asserted that Hamberlin “has [no] legal right to have any of the care, custody and control of the minor child. . . .” Bradford also asserted for the first time, as an affirmative defense, that Hamberlin “is not the biological father of the minor child at issue in this matter.” The magistrate court rejected the mother’s effort to rescind the VAP and the district court affirmed that ruling. Bradford appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hamberlin v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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Brandi and Brandon Kelly were married and had a son. After about two years of marriage Brandon filed for divorce. Once the divorce was final the magistrate court awarded sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the child to Brandon. Brandi filed a permissive appeal, arguing the magistrate court erred by relying on an inadmissible parenting time evaluation and following the recommendations of a biased evaluator. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court abused its discretion by permitting Brandon to hire Dr. Jane McNaught to perform a parenting time evaluation as his expert. "[M]ost of the errors stem from the magistrate court's reliance on Brandon's experts," and the court specifically declined to appoint Dr. McNaught as the court's expert under IRFLP 719. "Parenting time evaluators must adhere strictly to the ethical principles that govern their conduct as a neutral." The Supreme Court determined the facts of this case established how the court’s appointment of Dr. McNaught violated these legal standards. While there was some evidence in the record to support the magistrate court’s custody decision, that evidence was so tainted by the court’s reliance on Dr. McNaught’s testimony, the Supreme Court found it was unreliable. In addition, the magistrate court abused its discretion in ordering Brandi to undergo psychological evaluation and counseling as recommended by Dr. McNaught. The Supreme Court affirmed certain evidentiary rulings for guidance upon remand, but it did vacate the custody judgment and remanded for a new trial. View "Kelly v. Kelly" on Justia Law

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Brandi and Brandon Kelly were married and had a son. After about two years of marriage Brandon filed for divorce. Once the divorce was final the magistrate court awarded sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the child to Brandon. Brandi filed a permissive appeal, arguing the magistrate court erred by relying on an inadmissible parenting time evaluation and following the recommendations of a biased evaluator. The Idaho Supreme Court vacated the child custody judgment, finding the magistrate court abused its discretion in allowing Brandon's hired expert's opinion on parenting time. "The use of parenting time evaluations is unique to custody disputes;" the authority for and parameters guiding the use of such evaluations were governed by court rule IRFLP 719. "These evaluators are performing a 'judicial function,' entitling them to quasi-judicial immunity, because of the important, impartial work they perform as an extension of the court. ... The importance of an evaluator’s neutrality cannot be overemphasized." The Court affirmed certain evidentiary rulings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Kelly v. Kelly" on Justia Law

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This case was an expedited appeal of a magistrate court’s termination of the parental rights of John Doe (Father) to his eight-year-old minor child (IW). John and Jane Doe I, the maternal grandmother and step-grandfather (collectively “Guardians”), filed a petition to adopt IW and terminate Father’s parental rights. Guardians alleged that Father abandoned IW and that termination was in her best interests. The magistrate court granted the Guardians’ petition, and Father timely appealed. Finding substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate court's findings, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Does v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Mother Jane Doe appealed a magistrate court’s termination of her parental rights to her child T.G.E. At the time she gave birth, Mother had pending felony drug charges and an active warrant for her arrest; the child’s umbilical cord tested positive for methamphetamine at birth. Following a termination hearing, the magistrate court found termination proper based on neglect and entered an order to that effect on December 8, 2017 (the Order). However, in a subsequent decree (the Decree) issued on December 15, 2017, the magistrate court stated Mother’s parental rights were being terminated based on abandonment. The court also terminated Father’s parental rights however, Father had voluntarily relinquished his parental rights and was not a party to this appeal. On appeal, both Mother and the Department raised procedural issues relating to the conflicting Order and Decree. Subsequently, the Idaho Supreme Court remanded the case for entry of a new judgment terminating Mother and Father’s rights to Child, and stated the Order would constitute the findings of fact and conclusions of law. Mother appealed, contenting the magistrate court erred when it terminated Mother’s parental rights. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the ultimate termination. View "DHW v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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Mother Jane Doe appealed a magistrate court’s judgment terminating her parental rights to her minor children. The judgment also terminated the parental rights of the children’s father, who appealed in a separate action. The children were placed in the custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the “Department”) following a March 2016 petition under the Child Protection Act (“CPA”). After the filing of the petition, the parents stipulated to an unstable home environment. In June 2016, the magistrate court ordered the parents to follow case plans provided by the Department. Roughly eight months later, the State filed a motion to terminate both parents’ parental rights based on failure to comply with their case plans and prior neglect. After holding a trial, the magistrate court terminated both parents’ parental rights. Mother argued on appeal that the Department did not make adequate efforts to reunify the family and that the magistrate court erred by finding that the Department’s efforts were reasonable. Unpersuaded by Mother’s arguments, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "DHW v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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Father John Doe appealed a magistrate court’s judgment terminating his parental rights to his minor children. The judgment also terminated the parental rights of the children’s mother (she appealed in a separate action). Prior to the termination, the children and parents were the subject of a Child Protection Act (“CPA”) proceeding for over two years. When the prosecutors first filed a petition under the CPA, the parents were listed with separate addresses, but were living together. However, the parents ended and rekindled their relationship at various times prior to and during the CPA proceeding. By the time of trial, Father and Mother were permanently separated. The Department became involved in early March 2016 after receiving reports of drug use and neglect involving the children. Prior to this, the Department had received referrals for the family on two occasions in 2013 and 2014. The Department’s investigation revealed that both children had been born premature, exposed to drugs in-utero, and tested positive for methamphetamine at birth. Based on these concerns, the Lincoln County Prosecutor’s Office filed a petition under the CPA in March 2016. In June 2016, the court ordered the parents to follow case plans provided by the Department. Eight months later, the State filed a motion to terminate the parental rights of both parents based on failure to comply with the case plan and on prior neglect. After holding a trial, the court terminated both parents’ parental rights. Father argued on appeal the magistrate court’s finding of neglect was not supported by substantial, competent evidence and that the court erred by not considering how Father’s periods of incarceration affected his ability to comply with the case plan. The Idaho Supreme Court was not persuaded by Father’s arguments and affirmed termination. View "DHW v. John Doe" on Justia Law

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John Doe (“Father”) and Jane Doe (“Mother”) appealed a magistrate court's judgment terminating their parental rights to two children (“D.E.” and “T.E.”). The magistrate court terminated Mother and Father’s parental rights on the grounds of neglect and found that termination would be in the best interests of the children. Mother challenged the termination of her parental rights to both children, alleging the magistrate court’s decision was not supported by substantial and competent evidence and that her due process rights were violated when a microphone malfunctioned on days three and four of the termination hearing, resulting in no audio recording for those days. Father claimed the magistrate court erred in denying him a jury trial and in allowing admission of a police video over his objection, and that the magistrate court erred in finding that he failed to comply with his case plan and that the magistrate court’s decision to cease reasonable efforts and visitation was unreasonable. Finding that the magistrate court had substantial and competent evidence to terminate Mother's parental rights to the children, and that her due process rights were not violated when there were issues with the courtroom microphones during hearing days three and four, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed as to the termination of Mother's rights. Similarly, the Court found substantial and competent evidence to support termination of Father's rights; the magistrate court's finding that Father failed to comply with the case plan was reflected in that evidence. The magistrate court’s decision to not reinstate reasonable efforts and allow visitation was supported by substantial and competent evidence. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed termination of Father's rights too. View "DHW v. Jane Doe & John Doe" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe (Mother) appealed a magistrate court order terminating her parental rights to her child. The child was born with methamphetamine in her system and was declared in imminent danger, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare assuming temporary custody. The case plan entered into for parental reunification focused primarily on abstinence from controlled substances and drug treatment. But Mother struggled with beginning drug treatment and repeatedly relapsed into using methamphetamine. The Department petitioned that Mother’s parental rights be terminated. A three-day termination hearing was held and the magistrate court terminated Mother’s parental rights to Child after finding that she neglected the child and that termination was in the child’s best interest. Mother appealed, arguing that the magistrate court’s finding of neglect was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, and that the court erred in determining termination was in the child’s best interest. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "DHW v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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This case began as a highly contentious divorce proceeding between vexatious litigant-appellant Ronald Van Hook and his then-wife Dawn Cannon, in which Van Hook lost custody of his children (hereinafter the Canyon County divorce case). Van Hook was represented by legal counsel only for portions of the divorce proceeding as each of his attorneys withdrew from the case. Following each attorney’s departure, Van Hook filed a new series of pro se motions and objections to the court, which were similar and repetitive. Van Hook filed numerous motions to amend the magistrate court’s temporary custody and visitation orders, disqualify the magistrate judge assigned to the case, change venue, and find Cannon in criminal contempt. He also filed multiple petitions for a writ of habeas corpus. His pro se motions and petitions were continuously denied and largely found to be frivolous. When Van Hook appealed the Canyon County divorce case, the district court found Van Hook’s motion to recuse the magistrate judge frivolous, and that his appeal was also without foundation. The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review arose from an administrative order declaring Van Hook a vexatious litigant under Idaho Court Administrative Rule 59. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Van Hook: met I.C.A.R. 59 (d)(1) because he commenced more than three pro se litigations that were adversely determined against him; met I.C.A.R. 59 (d)(2) because he repeatedly attempted to relitigate the final divorce and custody determinations by the magistrate court; and met I.C.A.R. 59 (d)(3) because he repeatedly filed frivolous motions and pleadings. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the prefiling order declaring Van Hook a vexatious litigant. View "Order Re: Vexatious Litigant (Van Hook)" on Justia Law