Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
In the Matter of I.T.S.
Appellant Iris Stacy (Mother) sought certiorari review of an unpublished opinion by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) that affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to I.T.S., I.M.S., and R.E.S. (Children). At issue was the trial court's sua sponte discharge of Mother's court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without representation until State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights over two years later. She argued the trial court's failure to provide her legal representation between the disposition and the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights (a period of 798 days) was contrary to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted her petition to address a question of first impression: Upon request by an Indian child's parent for counsel in a deprived child proceeding, and a finding of indigency, whether the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required court-appointed counsel for the parent at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. The Supreme Court held that section 1912(b) of ICWA required, upon request and a finding of indigency, the appointment of counsel at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. View "In the Matter of I.T.S." on Justia Law
In the Matter of K. H.
Appellants Taylor Hudson (Mother) and Cody Hudson (Father) appealed a trial court's judgments terminating their parental rights to their biological children, K.H., C.H., E.H., and C.H. Both judgments were entered on separate jury verdicts finding that clear and convincing evidence supported each parent's “heinous and shocking physical abuse” on another child of Father. After review on rehearing, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) admitting evidence of State's pending criminal child abuse charges against Parents; and (2) giving a jury instruction that listed the criminal charges to support State's amended petition for immediate termination of parental rights was “so inherently prejudicial” that it violated Parents' right to a fair trial. The judgments were reversed, and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "In the Matter of K. H." on Justia Law
Guzman v. Guzman
The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review was whether the Court of Civil Appeals properly applied the laws on parental rights in a dispute between a married couple regarding custody and visitation with a minor child who was adopted by only one of the parties prior to marriage. The Supreme Court held that it did not: the child was adopted by Respondent-Appellee Adrieanna Guzman (Adrieanna) prior to the marriage. Petitioner-Appellant Carmen Guzman (Carmen) never adopted the child. As a step-parent, Carmen had no standing to petition the court for paternity of the child. Thus, the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion was vacated, and the trial court's order granting Adrieanna's motion to dismiss was affirmed. View "Guzman v. Guzman" on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Rader
The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review centered on a child custody dispute between divorced parents where divorce actions were filed in two different states at different times. Petitioner-Appellant Ty Rader ("Father") appealed an Oklahoma trial court's order finding Kansas had exclusive, continuing child custody jurisdiction, and that Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination under Oklahoma's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the Kansas child custody proceeding was dismissed by the parties, it was of no effect in the present matter, and the Oklahoma judge erred in failing to determine whether or not Oklahoma had become the minor child's new home state under the UCCJEA at the commencement of this proceeding. Thus, the Court reversed the part of the trial court's order finding the Oklahoma court did not have jurisdiction over child custody, and remanded to the trial court to consider whether or not Oklahoma became the minor child's new home state, and, if so, to consider Respondent-Appellee Brenda Rader's ("Mother") forum non conveniens argument, pursuant to 43 O.S. section 551-207. If Petitioner failed to establish Oklahoma as the new home state, the trial judge was ordered to transfer the matter to Kansas, pursuant to the UCCJEA. View "In re Marriage of Rader" on Justia Law
In the Matter of L.M.A.
This case involved three children and a district court's judgment finding the children were deprived and father's parental rights should be terminated. The children were taken into emergency custody in 2016. The mother had been incarcerated, and the father shortly thereafter, for violation of the terms of his probation. DHS determined the home was "inadequate, dangerous, and unfit," and that the children were neglected. Their condition evinced developmental delay, lack of medical care, lack of hygiene, and lack of food. The children were removed from their home. Their mother voluntarily terminated her parental rights. The petition to terminate father's parental rights was based in part on his previous conviction for two counts of first-degree rape dating back to 2005. Father also had a previous Alaska conviction for sexual assault. After a jury trial, the children were adjudicated deprived by the court and the jury's verdict found two reasons for terminating father's parental rights. Father appealed the judgment and the Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal. After review, the Supreme Court held the evidence was sufficient for the adjudication of deprived status and termination of father's parental rights. Accordingly, the Court upheld the district court's judgment. View "In the Matter of L.M.A." on Justia Law
In the Matter of K.H.
Appellants Taylor and Cody Hudson (Hudson/parents) were arrested and charged with felony criminal child abuse in relation to the alleged abuse of one of Cody Hudson's sons. Subsequently, the State sought to terminate the Hudsons' parental rights to the four children they had together. At trial, the parents sought to preclude any evidence of the criminal charges from being presented to the jury. The trial court limited evidence of the criminal charges to only inform the jury that charges had been filed, and nothing else. The jury rendered a verdict terminating parental rights as to both parents. The Hudsons appealed. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the limited admission of evidence of the fact that parents have been charged with criminal felonies for child abuse (but not yet convicted) was made in error but did not warrant reversal; the jury's verdict was supported by the clear and convincing evidence that the abuse was heinous and shocking. View "In the Matter of K.H." on Justia Law
Metcalf v. Metcalf
The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address a question of first impression: whether the presumption that the intent of an interspousal transfer of real property constitutes a gift may be rebutted when the admitted purpose of the transfer was to illegally allude any creditor's attempts to collect on a judgment. After petitioner-appellee, Lewis Metcalf transferred some of his separate, real property into the name of his wife, respondent-appellant Bonnie Watson Metcalf, he filed for divorce. When it came time to divide their property, the husband claimed this particular real property as his separate property, even though it was now held only in his wife's name. His explanation for placing the property into his wife's name was that he was trying to avoid creditors potentially collecting on a judgment in a lawsuit to which he was a party. The trial court determined that the property in question was his separate property, and divided the couple's remaining marital property, and denied support alimony. The wife appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held: (1) the presumption of an interspousal gift may not be overcome with evidence that the sole purpose for the transfer was to defraud creditors; (2) the trial court did not err in denying the wife support alimony; and (3) each party was responsible for their own appeal related attorney fees and costs. View "Metcalf v. Metcalf" on Justia Law
Duke v. Duke
A husband and wife each requested sole custody of their minor child during divorce proceedings. Trial was held and following a hearing, sole custody of the parties' minor child was awarded to the father. Mother appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the parties had an opportunity at trial to present their evidence and make a complete trial court record and a complete appellate record. But Mother failed to preserve her challenge to the trial court's conclusion it was in the child's best interests for custody to be awarded to Father. Therefore, the district court's judgment was affirmed. View "Duke v. Duke" on Justia Law
Schneller v. Platt
Lori and Heather, a same-sex couple, conceived a child ("J.L.") through artificial insemination and co-parented together as a family for eight years. J.L. recognized Lori as her "momma" or "Momma Lori." For the first eight years of J.L.'s life, Lori was a parent to her in every respect. By Heather's own admission, Lori provided "food, clothing, and shelter" for J.L. and "supplied all the financial stability" for the entire family. Moreover, her contributions to J.L.'s wellbeing were not limited to financial support: Lori was a full and active participant in J.L.'s emotional, social, and intellectual development. The couple separated; Heather left the home they had shared, and took J.L. with her. In the initial months following their separation, Lori and Heather adhered to a regular visitation schedule for J.L. This arrangement seemed workable for seven months, until Heather suddenly denied Lori any further contact with their daughter. Since that time, Lori has neither seen nor spoken with J.L. Lori, as the non-biological parent, petitioned for shared legal custody and physical visitation under the doctrine of in loco parentis. Heather, as the biological mother, objected, asserting that the couple's genetic donor, who had never sought any determination of his own parental rights, was a necessary party to the proceedings. Agreeing that the donor's consent was a necessary requirement, the trial court dismissed Lori's petition for lack of standing. Lori appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal for lack of standing. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify the legal rights of non-biological co-parents in same-sex relationships, and reversed. "Lori did not act in the place of a parent; she is a parent. The record in this case cannot reasonably be read otherwise. Lori has emphatically demonstrated standing to seek a determination of visitation and custody of J.L. under the Ramey test. Consistent with the best interests of children in similar scenarios, we hold that non-biological same-sex parents may attain complete parity with biological parents." View "Schneller v. Platt" on Justia Law
Velasco v. Ruiz
A Mother filed a paternity petition seeking a determination of parentage, custody, visitation and child support. Attempts to serve alleged father were fraught with procedural errors. The trial court authorized service by publication; however, mother's publication notice did not comply with the timing requirements outlined in 12 O.S.Supp. 2017 section 2004(C)(3)(c). Finally, after attempting service by publication, mother's counsel filed a motion seeking a default but failed to serve the motion on father's attorney. After the trial court issued a default paternity ruling, father sought to vacate the judgment. Cumulative problems with service of process and notice warranted vacating the judgment but the trial court refused to set it aside. Father filed the underlying appeal. Considering the multitude of legal errors, weighing public policy and other equitable factors, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the trial court erred in denying Father's timely Motion to Vacate Default Judgment. The order was vacated and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Velasco v. Ruiz" on Justia Law