Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law

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This case concerned the arrival in Massachusetts of four minor siblings from a Nepalese refugee camp through a minor refugee program. The children’s parents subsequently arrived, but had very limited contact with the children after their arrival. The Department of Children and Families petitioned the probate and family court to free the children for adoption by terminating parental rights. The mother moved to deny the petition. The judge denied the motion and reported the matter to the appeals court, asking whether the Code of Federal Regulations allows the Department to petition for termination of parental rights under the circumstances of this case. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judge’s denial of the mother’s motion to deny the Department’s petition, holding that the Code of Federal Regulations allows the Department to proceed to seek a termination of parental rights where unaccompanied refugee minors are present in the United States pursuant to the minor refugee program and the parents arrive in the United States but make no attempt to reunite with their children. View "In re Adoption of Yadira" on Justia Law
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During the divorce proceedings of Husband and Wife, Wife did not pursue her claim for alimony. Four years after the divorce judgment, Wife sought and obtained an alimony award. Both parties appealed. On appeal, both parties agreed that the judge erred by commencing the durational limit of alimony on the date of the first temporary alimony payment but disagreed on the appropriate commencement date. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case with instructions to reevaluate the alimony judgment, holding (1) under the circumstances, the durational limit of general term alimony under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 49(b) starts to run on the date that the alimony was awarded, not on the date of the divorce judgment or on the date temporary alimony was awarded; (2) the income earned from overtime pay must be considered in making an initial alimony award determination under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 34, regardless of whether that determination is made before or after the divorce judgment; and (3) where a judge awards alimony under section 34, the judge must specifically address the issue of health insurance coverage for the recipient spouse. View "Snow v. Snow" on Justia Law
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Clifford George and Jacquelyn George divorced in 2002. In 2013, Clifford filed a complaint seeking to modify his alimony obligation based on Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 49(b), part of the Alimony Reform Act, which became effective nearly ten years after the parties’ divorce. Section 49(b) provides that general term alimony for certain marriages shall not continue for longer than seventy percent of the number of months of the marriage. A judge can deviate from the durational limit where doing so is required in the interests of justice, and the Act provides a schedule for when complaints for modification based on the new durational limits can be brought for alimony obligations that predated the effective date of the Act. The probate and family court judge denied Clifford’s complaint for modification, finding that deviation beyond the durational limits of the Act was warranted. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed on other grounds, holding that Clifford’s complaint was filed prematurely. View "George v. George" on Justia Law
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Karen Partanen and Julie Gallagher were in a committed, nonmarital relationship for twelve years. Using in vitro fertilization and with Partanen’s full participation and consent, Gallagher fave birth the two children. The parties jointly raised the children until their separation. Partanen subsequently filed this action to establish full legal parentage pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209C, 6(a)(4). Gallagher filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. A judge of the probate and family court allowed the motion, concluding that Partanen could not be deemed a presumed parent under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209C, 6(a)(4) because she was not the children’s biological parent. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) a person may establish herself as a child’s presumptive parent under the statute in the absence of a biological relationship with the child; and (2) the assertions in Partanen’s complaint were sufficient to state a claim of parentage under the statute. Remanded. View "Partanen v. Gallagher" on Justia Law
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As part of a judgment of divorce, the probate and family court judge awarded Wife sixty percent of Husband’s interest in the present value of a discretionary spendthrift trust. Husband appealed, arguing that the judge abused her discretion by including the trust in the marital estate. The Appeals Court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order dividing Husband’s interest in the trust, holding that Husband’s interest in the trust was so speculative as to constitute nothing more than an expectancy, and therefore, it was not assignable to the marital estate. Remanded. View "Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl" on Justia Law
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Ellen Duff-Kareores and Christopher Kareores were married in 1995 and divorced in 2004. The divorce judgment obligated Christopher to pay Ellen alimony every month. In 2004, Christopher resumed living with Ellen and the parties' children, and in 2012, the parties remarried. In 2013, Ellen filed a complaint for divorce. After a trial, the probate and family court judge concluded that the length of the parties’ marriage for purposes of calculating the durational limits of a general term alimony award to Ellen was eighteen years - the period from the date of the parties’ first marriage through the date that Christopher was served with the complaint in the second divorce. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment establishing the amount and duration of alimony, holding that the alimony award was based on an incorrect calculation of the length of the parties’ marriage, as the judge’s findings did not support a determination that the parties had an economic marital partnership within the meaning of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, 48 during the period following the service on Christopher of the divorce complaint in the first marriage in 2003 until the parties began cohabiting in 2007. Remanded. View "Duff-Kareores v. Kareores" on Justia Law
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B.V.G., a young woman with intellectual disabilities, has been in the sole custody of her father for many years. He was named her temporary guardian when B.V.G. reached age 18. Her maternal grandfather sought to intervene in B.V.G.'s father's permanent guardianship proceedings, asserting that his relationship with B.V.G. has been restricted by her father, that B.V.G. has indicated expressly her desire to communicate with him and has sought contact with him via social media, and that such a relationship is in B.V.G.'s best interests. Concluding that the grandfather lacked standing because he was not an "interested person" within the meaning of G.L. 190B, 5-306(c), a judge denied the motion. The Appeals Court affirmed the denial, on different grounds. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed, first holding that the grandfather had standing. The statute is intended to provide a means by which an individual interested in the welfare of an incapacitated person can advocate on behalf of that person and the Massachusetts implementation of the Uniform Probate Code encourages a broad right of advocacy in favor of an incapacitated person's protected interest in a limited guardianship. Once a judge has concluded that a proposed intervener is an "interested person," nothing more is required to establish that person's entitlement to intervene. View "Guardianship of B.V.G." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a parent whose minor child is the subject of a guardianship petition has a right to counsel when and if the parent petitions to have the guardian removed or to have the terms of the guardianship modified. Plaintiffs, the mothers of minor children for whom guardians were appointed pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 190B, 5-206, commenced this action challenging a written policy of the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court Department concerning the appointment of counsel in cases involving guardianships of minors under chapter 190B. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that by limiting the right to counsel to proceedings for the initial appointment of guardians, the Chief Justice’s policy contravened the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Guardianship of V.V. and violated their due process rights. The Supreme Judicial Court held that an indigent parent who seeks to remove a guardian for a minor child and to regain custody of the child or seeks to modify the terms of a guardianship by substantially changing the terms of visitation with a minor child has a due process right to counsel and to be so informed, provided that the parent presents a meritorious claim for removal or modification. View "L.B. v. Chief Justice of Probate & Family Court Dep’t" on Justia Law
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Petitioner was divorced from Respondent pursuant to a judgment of divorce nidi in 2014. In 2015, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment. A judge of the probate and family court denied the motion. Petitioner petitioned for review. A single justice of the Appeals Court denied the petition and then denied a motion for reconsideration. The Appeals Court struck Petitioner’s notice of appeal. Thereafter, Petitioner filed a substantially similar petition in the county court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. A single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court denied the petition. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner did not demonstrate that the denial of relief from the divorce judgment could not be addressed through the ordinary appellate process. View "Lasher v. Leslie-Lasher" on Justia Law
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These cases were appeals of consolidated care and protection petitions concerning six children. The biological mother of the six children, the biological father of the two oldest children, and four of the children appealed from the provisions of decrees of the juvenile court denying parental visitation after termination of the parental rights of the mother, father, and the biological father of the four younger children. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the juvenile court judge’s orders denying posttermination or postadoption parental visitation, holding that there was no error in the judge’s decrees in this case. View "In re Adoption of Douglas" on Justia Law
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