Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family 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
Posted in: Family 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
In the Matter of B.K.
The State filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights pursuant to 10A O.S.Supp.2014, section 1-4-904(B)(5), alleging Mother failed to correct the conditions that led to the deprived child adjudication of B.K. B.K. was removed from the home as the result of a delusional episode in which Mother believed the police had planted listening devices in B.K.'s ears to spy on Mother. This delusional episode was reported to police by B.K.'s seventeen-year-old brother. Both a psychologist and a psychiatrist diagnosed Mother as having a delusional persecution disorder that medication would help control. When Mother said she would not take medication for the delusional disorder, the State pursued termination of Mother's parental rights because B.K. had been in DHS foster care for over 36 months. A jury returned a verdict that found Mother failed to correct the conditions. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict and terminated Mother's parental rights. Mother appealed. Upon review, a majority of the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment, finding undisputed evidence revealed Mother's mental disorder was the cause of B.K. being adjudicated deprived, not deficiencies in parenting. The majority opinion held that any termination must be based on the mental health ground found in 10A O.S.Supp.2014 sec. 1-4-904(B)(13) and, therefore, it was fundamental error to terminate pursuant to 10A O.S.Supp. 2014 sec. 1-4-904(B)(5). The State sought review from the Oklahoma Supreme Court to address whether the Legislature intended 10A O.S.2011, section 1-4-904(B)(13) to be the exclusive ground for termination in cases where a parent has a "diagnosed cognitive disorder" or can such a disorder be a "condition" leading to a deprived adjudication that a parent must correct under 10A O.S.2011, section 1-4-904(B)(5). The Supreme Court vacated the majority opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals, and held: (1) subsection 1-4-904(B)(13) did not exclusively apply, and (2) the trial court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights based on subsection 1-4-904(B)(5). View "In the Matter of B.K." on Justia Law
Boatman v. Boatman
Appellant Jennifer Boatman, now Walls (Mother), and Appellee Nick Boatman (Father) married in 2004. They have a single child, a daughter, born in 2005. The parties divorced in 2007, and equally shared time with their daughter under a joint custody plan. In 2013, Mother filed a Notice of Intent to relocate with the child, and Father objected. The trial court denied Mother's application to relocate, concluding that the proposed relocation was not made in good faith and not in the best interest of the child. It also ordered each party to pay their own attorney fees. Mother appealed both judgments in separate companion cases, and both were affirmed by the Court of Civil Appeals. The Supreme Court held that before a joint custodian can invoke the relocation provisions, the court must determine a primary physical custodian. The Court also held that the trial court did not err in directing that each party pay their own fees. View "Boatman v. Boatman" on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law
In the matter of K.S.
The question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by this case was whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied Appellant's (Biological Mother) second motion for reconsideration. In 2013, the district court terminated Biological Mother's parental rights to K.S. In 2015, Biological Mother filed a petition for guardianship over Child in Oklahoma County District Court. The district court denied the petition for guardianship without prejudice. The court noted Biological Mother's failure to serve or notify the proper parties and inability to do so in the future due to the confidentiality of adoption proceedings. The same day, Biological Mother filed a motion for reconsideration of the petition for guardianship and a motion asking the court to grant time to provide notice. The district court denied the motions for reconsideration and to grant time. The court noted that the motions were incoherent and stated that the court felt the petition contained circumstances such that the motions should be decided without a hearing under Rule 4(h) of the Rules for District Courts of Oklahoma. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's ruling, finding the district court was correct that notifying Parents of the guardianship proceeding was “an insurmountable hurdle” to Biological Mother and that it was allowed to deny the motion without a hearing. There was no abuse of discretion. View "In the matter of K.S." on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights of Schultz
Appellants Bruce Schultz and Jared Bruce mutually sought to vacate their adult adoption granted ten years prior. The issue in this case was whether the trial court lacked authority to vacate an adult adoption where both parties sought the termination of parental rights as competent adults. The trial court opined that because the Oklahoma Adoption Code, 10 O.S. 2011, section 7507-1.1, neither authorized nor prohibited the vacation of adult adoptions, it lacked authority to vacate the existing order. Appellants appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court directly, and the Supreme Court retained the first impression matter. Based on the Legislature's provisions in granting adult adoptions, parallel provisions for vacating adoptions of minor children, and the overall intent of the Adoption Code, the Supreme Court found an error warranting remand to the trial court to rehear Appellants' petition. As the trial court correctly found consent and competency of the parties, upon remand it needed only conduct a best-interest determination in deciding the matter. "With neither bad faith nor fraudulent motive of the parties, we find no evidence to suggest that the termination of rights herein would not serve their best interests." View "In the Matter of the Termination of Parental Rights of Schultz" on Justia Law
Baggs v. Baggs
Petitioner-appellant and wife, Jennifer Baggs filed for divorce from her firefighter husband, respondent-appellee, Steven Baggs. As part of the firefighter retirement plan, the husband was vested in what was known as a DROP or Plan B option created specifically for Oklahoma Firefighters. Plan B was an alternative option for firefighters' pensions available when a vested firefighter retired. It was not funded until the firefighter chose the Plan B retirement alternative. Petitioner sought any portion of the Plan B which would be attributable to the years in which she and the husband were married, in the event he chose Plan B when he retired, after the divorce was granted. The trial court declined to divide the Plan B option as marital property and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court held that, in the event the Plan B option was chosen by a vested former spouse when the firefighter retires, it was divisible to the extent that any funds deposited into it were attributable to the marital years. View "Baggs v. Baggs" on Justia Law