Articles Posted in Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order terminating the parental rights of Mother and Father to their children, holding that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the parents’ respective drug test results at the termination hearing, but the error was harmless. At the termination hearing, the district court admitted each parent’s drug testing results through the children’s court appointed special advocate (CASA) worker. The district court subsequently terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to their children, finding that the parents each failed to complete several aspects of their respective treatment plans. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, based on the plain language and legislative history of Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-112(4), the district court erred in admitting the parents’ drug test results at the hearing, but the error did not result in substantial prejudice to the parents and did not warrant reversal. View "In re I.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Mother’s motion to amend parenting plan on the basis that Mother failed to establish a changed circumstance and granting Father’s motion for child support calculation and motion for attorney fees. The Court held (1) the district court erred in concluding that there was no change in circumstance pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-219(1) that would require a hearing, and this case must be remanded for a hearing and determination of whether amendment of the parenting plan was in the child’s best interests; (2) because reversal on the above issue was required, the court’s award to Father of attorneys’ fees and costs must be vacated; and (3) because this case had been remanded, it was appropriate to vacate the monthly child support calculated by the district court and remand for calculation of child support consistent with this opinion. View "In re Marriage of Schilling" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her minor child, L.D., holding that the court erred in proceeding with termination of parental rights in the absence of a conclusive tribal determination regarding L.D.’s status as an Indian child as defined in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In its order terminating Mother’s parental rights to L.D., the district court noted that the State and Mother agreed that ICWA did not apply because L.D. was not an Indian child as defined by the ICWA. The Supreme Court held that the district court abused its discretion in terminating Mother’s parental rights to L.D. without a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership status and enrollment eligibility. The court remanded the case for a determination of whether L.D. was an Indian child based on a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership and eligibility. View "In re L.D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order terminating Mother’s parental rights to her son after holding a termination hearing. The Court held (1) based on the competent substantial evidence presented at the hearing, the district court did not clearly err in finding that Mother’s chemical dependence, which rendered her unfit to parent, was unlikely to change within a reasonable time; (2) Mother was not entitled to a new hearing on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel or plain error; and (3) the district court properly gave priority to the child’s best interests and did not abuse its discretion in ordering termination of Mother’s parental rights. View "In re J.E.L. III" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The district court erred in awarding visitation, pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 40-4-228, to a minor child’s paternal grandparents over the mother’s objection without determining whether the mother was a fit parent. The Supreme Court held that the district court in this case erroneously applied section 40-4-228 to this case involving grandparent visitation, where Mont. Code Ann. 40-9-102 is the controlling statute. When determining whether to order grandparent visitation, a court must make a determination as to whether the objecting parent is a fit parent and and then grant visitation over a fit parent’s objection only if the court finds that contact with the grandparent would be in the best interest of the child and that the presumption in favor of the parent’s wishes has been rebutted. The Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Schwarz v. Brockway" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In this appeal from an action dissolving a long-term marriage, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court distributing the marital assets upon dissolution and awarding Wife maintenance of $3,000 per month for a period of twenty-four months. On appeal, Husband challenged the award of maintenance and the inclusion of his investment accounts in the calculation of the marital estate. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court’s award of maintenance was supported by substantial evidence and was not clearly erroneous; and (2) the district court’s equitable apportionment of the marital assets between the parties was supported by substantial evidence. View "In re Marriage of Hollamon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order denying Daniel Orr’s motion to modify maintenance, which was incorporated into the parties’ divorce decree from a marital property settlement agreement. In denying the motion, the district court concluded that the agreement could not be modified absent a written agreement of the parties and, further, that Montana law precludes a district court from modifying maintenance when an agreement prohibits modification. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the maintenance provision was an inseparable part of the property distribution provided in the agreement and could not be separately modified by a court upon Daniel’s motion; and (2) enforcement of the parties’ agreement was not unconscionable. View "In re Marriage of Orr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children. The Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (DPHHS) filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights based on her failure to complete her second treatment plan. That same day, Mother notified DPHHS that she wanted to relinquish her parental rights. Mother then signed an affidavit waiving all her parental rights and relinquishing her children for adoption. Thereafter, Mother moved to revoke her relinquishment of parental rights. The district court denied the motion. Based on the relinquishment, the district court terminated Mother’s parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by denying Mother’s motion to set aside her relinquishment of parental rights where Mother’s relinquishment was not obtained by duress. View "In re N.R.A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her minor child. During the termination hearing, the Department of Public Health and Human Services moved for admission of a psychological evaluation of Mother performed as part of Mother’s treatment plan. Mother objected to the evolution’s admission on grounds that it was inadmissible hearsay. The district court admitted the psychological evaluation as a business record and limited its use to the recommendations made therein. Mother appealed, arguing that the district court erred in admitting the psychological evaluation into evidence. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that a psychological evaluation of a parent ordered by a court during an abuse and neglect proceeding may be used by the court throughout an abuse and neglect proceeding, and the court may consider any part of the evaluation for purposes of disposition of the case. View "In re M.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the summary dismissal of Mother’s petition to modify the parenting plan for her two sons with Father, holding that the district court did not err by dismissing the petition without conducting a hearing. In her petition to modify the parenting plan, Mother noted the children’s ages and their desire to live primarily with her. Father moved to dismiss the motion on the ground that it failed to demonstrate changed circumstances necessary for a hearing. The standing master summarily denied the motion. The district court affirmed, concluding that Mother failed to meet the threshold showing for a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the standing master’s decision dismissing the petition was legally correct as failing to demonstrate a change in circumstances. View "In re Parenting of R.J.N." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law