Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
Ghoussoub v. Yammine
Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law
Walterscheidt v. Hladik
Husband filed a petition seeking appointment as guardian over his wife. The parties' daughter, Christy Hladik, objected and sought to have herself appointed. In July 2020, the trial court entered the Court's First Amended Plan for Care and Treatment of Ward and Management of Property of the Ward. A month later, the trial court appointed daughter as guardian over the person and property of Wife. Husband appealed, and on the Oklahoma Supreme Court's own motion, the matter was retained. After reviewing the record and briefs, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's rulings. View "Walterscheidt v. Hladik" on Justia Law
Friend v. Friend
Procedurally, after an initial determination of child support and custody, Appellee Kirsten Friend (Mother) sought to modify the child support order and applied to find Appellant Brian Friend (Father) in contempt, claiming he had not paid child support for several months. The district court granted Mother's motions. The trial court found Father in indirect contempt and increased the child support payment. Mother asked for attorney fees and costs, dividing the request into fees incurred for the request to modify child support and fees incurred for the contempt request. Father objected but conceded the only issue was whether Mother was legally entitled to the fees. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that, where a prevailing party is entitled to attorney fees below, they are also entitled to appellate attorney fees; where an award of attorney fees is within the trial court's discretion, a prevailing party may be granted appellate attorney fees. View "Friend v. Friend" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Adoption of S.A.H.
S.A.H. was born out-of-wedlock on February 3, 2009. S.A.H.'s mother (Mother) had sole legal custody of S.A.H. until Mother could no longer care for the minor child due to a terminal illness. In Case No. 118,986, Appellant S.A.H.'s maternal first cousin (Cousin) appealed the district court's denial of her motion to vacate an order finalizing the adoption of the minor child to Appellees, S.A.H.'s paternal grandparents (Grandparents). In Case No 119,218, Cousin appealed the dismissal of her petition for general guardianship based on Grandparents' adoption of S.A.H. The issues these cases presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the adoption court erred in granting the adoption of the minor child to Grandparents based on the consent of S.A.H.'s father (Father) while Cousin had a claim for general guardianship pending; and (2) whether the guardianship court erred in dismissing Cousin's petition for guardianship due to the adoption. The Supreme Court answered both in the negative: Cousin held no constitutional or statutory right to unwind Grandparents' adoption to which Father consented. Due to Grandparents' adoption of the minor child, a guardianship was not necessary. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of S.A.H." on Justia 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