Justia Oregon Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Petitioner M.A.B. applied for a Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) protective order against respondent on October 9, 2017. Respondent and petitioner were married in 2014. Together, they had a son, J, who was born in 2015. During the marriage, respondent suffered from depression, for which he took medication. He sometimes also drank to excess. Petitioner testified that respondent raped her twice: once in March 2017 and once in May 2017. The incident in May included respondent dragging petitioner away from J while petitioner was breast feeding. In June 2017, petitioner expressed her unhappiness with the marriage. Respondent replied that, if petitioner left or divorced him, he would kill her and take J. In July 2017, petitioner took J, moved in with her parents, and filed for dissolution. After the separation, respondent made frequent attempts to contact petitioner by phone, email, and text message. At prearranged meetings, respondent regularly exhibited anger toward petitioner. After a hearing, the trial court continued the protective order in its entirety. On appeal, respondent conceded that the trial court’s findings were sufficient to establish that he had abused petitioner within 180 days of petitioner seeking the protective order. Respondent argued, however, that the evidence was insufficient to establish the two other elements: that petitioner was in imminent danger of further abuse from respondent and that respondent presented a credible threat to petitioner’s physical safety. The Court of Appeals agreed with respondent that the evidence was insufficient to show that petitioner was in imminent danger of further abuse from respondent. The court, as a result, reversed the trial court’s order without considering whether respondent represented a credible threat to petitioner’s physical safety. Because the appellate court did not consider whether respondent represented a credible threat to petitioner’s physical safety, the Oregon Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the appeals court to determine that issue in the first instance. View "M. A. B. v. Buell" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the dissolution of a domestic partnership, specifically, how to distribute the appreciation in value of a home in which the parties lived during their time together. The trial court found the parties intended to live as a married couple and share in the appreciation of the home. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in coming to that conclusion. On review, the parties dispute whether the Court of Appeals applied the correct standard of review and whether that court correctly concluded that the parties should share in the appreciation in the home. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals applied an incorrect standard of review, but that it ultimately reached the correct decision. View "Staveland and Fisher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Before the Oregon Supreme Court in this case was a child custody dispute arising out of father’s motion to modify a custody determination made at the time of the dissolution of the parties’ marriage, which awarded mother sole legal custody of child. At the conclusion of the modification proceeding, the trial court found that there had been a material change in circumstances concerning mother’s ability to parent child and that a change of custody from mother to father was in child’s best interest, and it awarded sole legal custody of child to father. On mother’s appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court on the ground that, as a matter of law, there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the court’s finding of a change in circumstances and, thus, that custody modification was not warranted. The Supreme Court found sufficient evidence in the record supported the trial court’s ruling that father had proved a change of circumstances. The Court also addressed an issue that the Court of Appeals did not reach: whether the trial court erred in concluding that a change in custody was in child’s best interest. The Court held the trial court did not err in so concluding. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Botofan-Miller and Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In the juvenile court, mother moved to terminate the court’s wardship over her child, A, and vacate the general guardianship the court had established. Mother’s motion was premised on her assertion that the factual basis for the court’s jurisdiction over A no longer existed. The juvenile court did not determine whether the factual basis for its jurisdiction over A continued to exist; instead, it denied mother’s motion on the ground that mother had failed to establish that vacating the guardianship was in A’s best interests. Mother appealed, and the Court of Appeals vacated the juvenile court’s judgment, holding that, if mother established that the factual basis for the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over A no longer existed, then the juvenile court was required to terminate its wardship over A and, consequently, could not continue the guardianship. Because the juvenile court had not determined whether it was required to terminate its wardship over A, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the juvenile court to make that determination. A’s guardian, petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court concluded the juvenile court had to first determine whether it was required to terminate its wardship over A because, if it was, then the guardianship could not continue. The decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. The judgment of the juvenile court was reversed, and the case was remanded to the juvenile court for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Human Services v. J. C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The juvenile court determined that mother was unfit and that it was improbable that child could be returned to mother’s care within a reasonable period of time, satisfying the requirements of ORS 419B.504. However, the court determined, the Department of Human Services had not established, as ORS 419B.500 required, that termination of mother’s parental rights was in child’s best interest. The court acknowledged that the department had proved that child had a need for permanency that could be met by terminating mother’s parental rights and permitting child’s foster parents, his maternal uncle and aunt, to adopt him. However, the court also found that child had an interest in maintaining his bond with his mother and her parents. The court suggested that child’s need for permanency could be satisfied by permitting his foster parents to serve as his permanent guardians and concluded that it was not in his best interest to terminate mother’s rights. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition. In an en banc, split decision, the Court of Appeals determined that child’s pressing need for permanency could have been satisfied if he were “freed for adoption” and that, although naming child’s foster parents as his guardians might mitigate the effects of past disruptions, “leaving open the possibility of a return to mother creates its own instability” and was a “less-permanent” option that was not in child’s best interest. As the division in the Court of Appeals indicated, this was "a close case." The Oregon Supreme Court did not adopt the reasoning of the juvenile court in its entirety, it agreed with its conclusion that, given the particular facts presented here, it was in child’s best interest that his mother’s parental rights not be terminated. The Court of Appeals was reversed and the juvenile court affirmed. View "Dept. of Human Services v. T. M. D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In juvenile dependency cases consolidated for review, the issue centered on the permanency plans for two children and half-siblings, L and A, under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Department of Human Services (DHS) arranged for the children to be placed in relative foster care with their maternal aunt. The juvenile court held hearing in accordance with statutory timelines after L had been in relative foster care for about 15 months and A for about 12 months. At the hearing, DHS asked the juvenile court to change the permanency plans for the children from reunification to adoption. The juvenile court did so, but the Court of Appeals reversed, in two separate opinions. DHS sought review, arguing the Court of Appeals had erroneously interpreted the statutes pertaining to changing permanency plans for children within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with DHS that the Court of Appeals incorrectly construed the statutory requirements at issue. Because DHS met its burden to show that the requirements in ORS 419B.476 for changing the permanency plans away from reunification had been met, it was parents’ burden, as the parties seeking to invoke the escape clause, to show that there was a “compelling reason” under ORS 419B.498(2) for DHS not to proceed with petitions to terminate parental rights. The Supreme Court also rejected parents’ arguments that evidence in the record did not support the trial court’s findings in these cases. Accordingly, the decisions of the Court of Appeals were reversed and the judgments of the juvenile court were affirmed. View "Dept. of Human Services v. S. J. M." on Justia Law

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In 2005, the child who was the focus of this proceeding was born. He had an autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, including speech delays, and other significant health issues. In 2010, when the child was five years old, his mother and father divorced. Mother had been his primary caretaker, and she was awarded sole legal custody. In 2015, when the child was 10 years old, the Oregon Department of Human Services investigated reports that mother was neglecting the child’s basic needs and risking his safety by allowing him to have contact with her significant other, L. The department issued a “founded disposition” based on its administrative determination that mother had neglected the child through a “[l]ack of supervision and protection.” The department then filed a petition to obtain dependency jurisdiction over the child. When a parent appeals a jurisdictional judgment making the Department the legal custodian of the parent’s child and that wardship is subsequently terminated, the department may file a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot. In this case, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded termination of such a wardship did not necessarily render the appeal moot; whether dismissal is appropriate will depend on the particular circumstances presented. In this case, the Supreme Court concluded the department met its burden to prove that a jurisdictional judgment would have no practical effect on the rights of the parties and was therefore moot. View "Dept. of Human Services v. A. B." on Justia Law

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In consolidated juvenile dependency cases, father appealed judgments changing the permanent plans for one of his children from reunification with a parent to guardianship and for another child from reunification to another planned permanent living arrangement. Father argued that his trial counsel was inadequate for failing to appear on his behalf at the hearing in which the juvenile court decided to change the permanent plans. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a parent could raise a claim of inadequate assistance of counsel for the first time on direct appeal from judgments changing the permanent plans for his children from reunification with a parent to permanent plans of guardianship and APPLA. After review, the Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative. The Court concluded: (1) the unchallenged rationale of "Oregon ex rel Juv. Dept. v. Geist" (796 P2d 1193 (1990)), was applicable to a direct appeal from judgments that make such changes in the permanent plans for children who were wards of the court in dependency cases; and (2) the legislature’s enactment, following the Supreme Court's decision in "Geist," of a statute that provided a juvenile court procedure for modifying or setting aside a dependency judgment while an appeal from the judgment was pending, did not obviate the need for a direct appeal remedy for father’s claim of inadequate assistance of counsel. View "Dept. of Human Services v. T. L." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review was whether discovery of the parties’ assets had to be provided in a marital dissolution action after the parties entered into a settlement agreement, but before the trial court has ruled on a contested motion to enforce the agreement. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court in this case did not satisfy its duty under ORS 107.105(1)(f)(F) to ensure that the parties had fully disclosed their assets before it decided the husband’s motion to enforce a mediated agreement and entered a judgment of dissolution based on that decision. Accordingly, the Court reversed that portion of the decision of the Court of Appeals that upheld the trial court’s discovery ruling, vacated the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, and reversed the judgment of dissolution. The case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Pollock v. Pollock" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on two issues: whether the legal presumption described in "Troxel v. Granville," (530 US 57 (2000) (plurality opinion)), that a fit parent acts in the best interests of her child, applied to a modification proceeding in which petitioner-mother sought to modify a stipulated dissolution judgment that granted legal custody to respondent-grandmother; and (2) whether mother had to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances to modify the dissolution judgment. Daughter, who was approximately seven years old at the time of the hearing on mother's motion, lived with her paternal grandmother for her entire life. Mother and father lived with grandmother in Oregon when daughter was born in 2003. When daughter was approximately six months old, mother and father separated, father left Oregon, and mother and daughter continued to live with grandmother. Three months after the separation, mother moved out of grandmother's residence and left daughter in grandmother's sole care. In the months that followed, mother struggled with depression, started drinking alcohol heavily, and was unable to maintain steady employment. Mother then decided to move to Virginia. Before mother moved, father and grandmother engaged legal counsel, who prepared the marital settlement agreement. Mother first filed a motion to modify custody in 2006 but voluntarily dismissed that motion. Two years later, in 2008, she filed a second motion to modify custody and, in the alternative, to modify parenting time and child support. That 2008 motion is the filing at issue in this case. The trial court denied mother's motion to modify the judgment and grant custody to her based on the change-in-circumstances rule and the best interest of the child, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon review, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, but based on different reasoning. The Court concluded that: (1) mother was not entitled to the Troxel presumption that her custody preference was in the child's best interest; and (2) mother was not prejudiced when she was held to the substantial change-in-circumstances rule. Ultimately, the Court affirmed the trial court's determination that a modification of the custody provisions of the judgment was not in the best interest of the child. View "Epler v. Epler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law