Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family 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
In the Matter of: A.A.
A.A. (Child) was born in August 2014. Father was present in the hospital on the day of her birth. At that time, Child and Mother tested positive for phencyclidine (PCP). The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) was notified, and the case was referred to Family Centered Services. Mother entered a residential drug treatment facility, and Child was temporarily placed with a friend until Child later joined Mother at the facility. Shortly after completing treatment, Mother tested positive for PCP and marijuana. In June 2015, when Child was nine (9) months old, DHS removed Child from Mother's home and two (2) months later placed Child with her current kinship foster parent. During that time, Father was incarcerated. When released, Father was "mostly consistent" in following the court-approved individualized service plan with respect to Child. However, on the first scheduled day of unsupervised visitation, Father abandoned the opportunity to visit, and instead, stabbed a man in the chest with a knife. Upon his arrest, Father had six (6) individually wrapped bags of marijuana. After he was released on bond on May 20, 2017, Father met with DHS on May 26th to discuss reengaging in services and scheduling visitation. On June 6, 2017, Father had a supervised visit with Child but chose not to schedule further visits due to the uncertainty of his schedule. On June 9, 2017, DHS submitted referrals for Father to resume work on his ISP. Father never contacted DHS again. Father was ultimately sentenced to ten years for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. When termination of parental rights proceedings were initiated against him, Father agreed that it was unfair for Child to have to wait for his release from prison, but he stated that he also thought it would be unfair if he did not receive another opportunity to correct conditions. Father testified that he was participating in a step-down program, which would move him to a halfway house by the end of the year and allow early release within three (3) to five (5) years based on good behavior. Father admitted that he did not try to call or visit Child or DHS from June to November 2017, even though he was released on bond during that time. Nevertheless, his parental rights were terminated. He appealed, challenging whether the State presented clear and convincing evidence to support the termination. Finding the evidence sufficient to support termination, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of: A.A." on Justia Law
Antini v. Antini
Appellant Angela Antini and Appellee Matthew Antini were parents to two children. In 2013, the parties were divorced under New York law. In the decree, the New York court awarded Appellant physical custody over the children with the parties sharing joint legal custody. Appellee was granted visitation rights and ordered to pay child support. Prior to the entry of the Judgment of Divorce, Appellant moved with the children from New York to Maine. In April 2014, Appellee picked the children up in Maine for visitation but transported them to Oklahoma and, despite Appellant's requests and her subsequent trip to Oklahoma to recover the children, Appellee refused to return them. After it became apparent that Appellee was not going to return the children, Appellant registered the New York divorce decree as a foreign judgment in a Maine court and filed a motion for contempt against Appellee. Appellee did not return the children, so the Maine court found Appellee in contempt. He ignored an offer to purge his contempt by returning both children; Appellee never returned the children to Maine. Because of this failure to return the children, the Maine court issued a bench warrant for Appellee. In December 2014, Appellee filed a petition in the District Court of Stephens County, Oklahoma, to register the New York divorce decree in Oklahoma and asked the court to assume custody jurisdiction. Appellee's petition did not reference the Maine proceedings. Appellant filed a special appearance to object to the registration of the New York divorce and also sought a writ of habeas corpus requesting custody of the children. The trial court concluded it lacked jurisdiction over Appellee's petition, Maine retained child custody jurisdiction, and ordered the return of the children to Appellant. The Oklahoma court also denied and dismissed the petition to register the New York decree in Oklahoma. Appellant filed a pro se motion to modify custody to the Maine court, requesting sole custody of the children and granting Appellee supervised visitation. Appellee responded with an answer and counterclaim, but then failed to appear. The Maine court then granted Appellant's motion and ruled it had exclusive and continuing jurisdiction over the children. No appeal of the Maine court's decision was entered and the decision is now final under Maine law. Appellant thereafter moved for costs and attorney's fees in Oklahoma, which was denied. She appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined Appellant was entitled to reasonable and necessary expenses including attorney fees borne by her counsel. View "Antini v. Antini" on Justia Law
Kohler v. Chambers
Kelley Kohler (Father) and Carolynn Chambers (Mother) were the biological parents of R.L.K., born April 17, 2012. Father received orders directing him to report for basic training and advanced individual training with the United States Army National Guard. Prior to leaving, Father filed a motion seeking an order authorizing the temporary transfer of his custody and visitation rights with R.L.K. to his spouse. Father maintained he was a "deploying parent" under the Oklahoma Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. The trial court found the ODPCVA was controlling and vested Father's wife with the right to exercise visitation with R.L.K. during his absence. Mother appealed the judgment arguing the trial court erred as a matter of law by finding Father was a "deploying parent" as defined by the ODPCVA. In a case of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court, it reversed the trial court, finding Father was not a "deploying parent" because his temporary transfer was not "in support of combat, contingency operation, or natural disaster" as mandated by 43 O.S.2011 section 150.1. View "Kohler v. Chambers" on Justia Law
In the Matter of C.M.
In 2013, DHS removed R.M, C.M., and E.M., then eight (8) years and six (6) months, six (6) years and ten (10) months, and four (4) years and ten (10) months old respectively, from Mother's custody. The questions this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review were whether: (1) the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) provided reasonable efforts to reunite Mother with Children; (2) the State presented clear and convincing evidence to support the termination of parental rights; and (3) Mother's trial counsel provided effective assistance. The Court answered all questions in the affirmative, and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "In the Matter of C.M." on Justia Law
Christian v. Christian
Husband and Wife were divorced following a four-day trial. On June 30, 2016, a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, memorializing the trial court's rulings, was filed in the proceeding. On July 15, 2016, Husband and Wife both filed motions seeking reconsideration of certain aspects of the Decree. Husband subsequently filed a response to Wife's motion, arguing it had not been filed within ten days; and therefore, was not timely under 12 O.S. 2011 sec. 653. The trial court denied Wife's motion, concluding it had been filed out of time. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of Wife's motion to reconsider, also concluding Wife's motion was not timely filed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted Wife's petition for certiorari, and determined both tribunals erred by miscalculating the ten-day deadline in section 653 in light of the time computation requirements in 12 O.S. 2011 sec. 2006(A). View "Christian v. Christian" on Justia Law
Lay v. Ellis
The district court found respondent-appellant Warren Ellis, Jr. guilty of contempt related to his failure to follow the terms of a divorce decree and separation agreement. Ellis appealed when the trial court issued a certified interlocutory order for immediate appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the respondent's petition for review. Subsequently, Ellis submitted a purge plan to the trial court to purge his contempt. Upon completion of the purge plan, the trial court issued a summary order purging the contempt. Ellis again appealed the finding of contempt, arguing that because the Supreme Court did not grant his previous petition to review the interlocutory order, he was unconstitutionally denied access to Court. He also argued the trial court: (1) improperly applied res judicata to a previous bankruptcy court proceeding; (2) improperly interpreted the separation agreement; and (3) erred in finding him guilty of contempt. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held respondent was not unconstitutionally denied access to Court, and that the trial court did not err in its application of res judicata, in its interpretation of the separation agreement, or in finding the respondent in contempt. Consequently, it affirmed the trial court. View "Lay v. Ellis" on Justia Law
In the matter of J.L.O.
Mother gave birth to Child J.L.O. in 2016. When Child was less than two weeks old, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) removed Child from Mother's custody, and shortly thereafter the State filed a petition requesting the court adjudicate Child deprived. On June 13, 2016, Tulsa Police pulled over Child's natural parents for expired tags. During the impound inventory, Tulsa Police found multiple items containing brown residue which the searching officer confirmed as heroin, via field test. Mother admitted to using heroin previously, but claimed that she had quit after learning she was pregnant. While Child was in the NICU for weight loss, hospital staff observed Mother with symptoms of continued heroin use including: passing out on a toilet, falling asleep with Child on her chest, and dozing off while standing up. The State alleged that Mother's actions constituted "neglect, failure to provide a safe and stable home, threat of harm, and substance abuse by [the] caretaker." Mother failed to appear for the hearing; ultimately termination proceedings were initiated and granted. Mother raised five issues on appeal; finding no reversible error, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed termination of her parental rights. View "In the matter of J.L.O." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Adoption of M.A.S.
The question this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review was whether the trial court's order declaring M.A.S. eligible for adoption without the biological father's consent, pursuant to Okla. Stat. tit. 10, sec. 7505-4.2(B)(1) and (H)(2011), was supported by clear and convincing evidence. The child’s stepfather filed an application to adopt M.A.S. without the biological father’s consent. In the application, the stepfather alleged that that Father had not substantially complied with the court's child-support order and that Father had failed to maintain a substantial and positive relationship with M.A.S. Because of this, the stepfather asserted father's consent was not required. In its order, the trial court acknowledged “there may have been some obstacles interposed to make maintaining such a relationship difficult but this court established parameters whereby visitation could occur and the Respondent / Natural Father has not taken advantage of those opportunities, which conduct this court finds to be wilful. Therefore, the Petitioner's application for an order declaring this child to be eligible for adoption without the consent of the Natural Father is sustained.” The Supreme Court found that the trial court proceedings were “extremely unusual:” no evidentiary hearing was held concerning the application for adoption without consent or the child's best interests; and thus, no evidentiary testimony was gathered concerning the father's ability or inability to comply with the court-ordered support obligation during the relevant period. Rather, the parties agreed that the trial judge's ruling would be based solely on the parties' stipulations and briefs. “That, it cannot do.” The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of M.A.S." on Justia Law