Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law

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Plaintiffs, a married couple, filed an application with the Department of Children and Families for a license that would enable them to become foster and preadoptive parents. The Department denied the application because of Plaintiffs’ use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in their home. A hearing officer affirmed. Plaintiffs appealed, alleging that the Department’s decision was inconsistent with its regulations, was arbitrary and capricious, and was not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiffs also argued that the Department’s decision impermissibly infringed on their right to the free exercise of their religion under the Federal and State Constitutions because physical discipline is an integral aspect of their Christian faith. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department’s decision to deny Plaintiffs’ application was supported by substantial evidence, was not arbitrary or capricious, and was based on a reasonable interpretation of its enabling legislation; and (2) the substantial burden that the Department’s decision imposed on Plaintiffs’ sincerely held religions beliefs was outweighed by the Department’s compelling interest in protecting the welfare of foster children. View "Magazu v. Dep’t of Children and Families" on Justia Law

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In the course of their divorce proceedings, Husband and Wife signed a stipulation that they would sell the marital home. The parties were unable to agree on the details, and a judge in the Probate and Family Court appointed a special master to sell the home and to oversee the removal of personal property from it. Husband filed a petition with a single justice of the Appeals Court pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, 118 seeking relief from the order appointing the special master, asserting that he was against the sale of the home. The Appeals Court justice denied the petition. Husband then filed the instant Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 petition. A single justice denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that relief was properly denied in this case. View "Koll v. Edelstein" on Justia Law
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During the divorce proceedings of Husband and Wife, the trial judge found that Husband’s alleged abuse of one of the parties’ two minor children had not been proved by a preponderance of the evidence. A judgment of divorce nisi issued, which granted Husband unsupervised parenting time with the children. Wife moved for a stay pending appeal. The probate and family court and a single justice of the Appeals Court denied the motions. Wife subsequently filed this petition pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking a stay. A single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the single justice’s denial of a stay, holding that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion by denying a stay pending appeal. View "C.E. v. J.E." on Justia Law
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Petitioners, J.S. and V.K., a married same-sex couple, filed a joint petition for adoption seeking to adopt their son Nicholas. Nicholas was conceived through in vitro fertilization using a known sperm donor and was born to J.S. Petitioners filed a motion to proceed with the adoption without further notice, arguing that no consent other than their consent was necessary, and no notice to any other person was required. A probate and family court judge denied Petitioners’ motion and reported the following question: Must the lawful parents of a child give notice to the known biological father/sperm donor pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 210, 2 in conjunction with their petition for adoption? The Supreme Judicial Court answered the question in the negative, holding that Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 210, 2 does not require the lawful parents of a child to give notice of the petition for adoption to a known sperm donor. View "Adoption of a Minor" on Justia Law
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After the parties in this case separated, a California court entered a judgment establishing monthly child and spousal support payments payable by Father to Mother. Father subsequently moved to Massachusetts, and the California support order was registered in the probate and family court. Thereafter, the child support division of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue initiated contempt proceedings against Father. A probate and family court judge issued multiple orders that sought to enforce the California support order. The orders incorporated the parties’ stipulated agreements regarding issues that had not been included in the order of the California court. Several years later, the probate and family court found Father in contempt for having failed to make certain payments. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) to the extent the probate and family court orders modified the California support order, they were void, as the stipulated agreements did not extend the jurisdiction of the probate and family court to modify the California support order; and (2) the probate and family court had authority to hold Father in contempt for failing to comply with the probate and family court’s orders that sought to enforce the California support order. View "Cohen v. Cohen" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the probate and family court appointed Mother’s grandmother (“Great-Grandmother”) as the permanent guardian of Mother’s minor child. Mother subsequently filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4), alleging that the judgment was void for lack of due process because she was not appointed by counsel in the guardianship proceeding. The probate and family court denied the motion. While Mother’s appeal from that denial was pending, the court granted Mother’s petition for removal of the guardian and vacated the guardianship. The child was returned to Mother’s custody. The Court dismissed Mother’s appeal as moot but exercised its discretion to address the issue of whether Mother was entitled to counsel. The Court held that a parent whose minor child is the subject of a guardianship proceeding and who cannot afford counsel has a right to have counsel appointed and to be so informed. View "In re Guardianship of V.V." on Justia Law

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Joseph Doktor and Dorothy Doktor were divorced by a judgment nisi entered in January 1992. The judgment incorporated a separation agreement that obligated Joseph to pay alimony to Dorothy until the death or remarriage of Dorothy. The alimony provision merged with the judgment. In 2013, Joseph filed a complaint for modification seeking termination of the alimony obligation under the retirement provision of the Alimony Reform Act, which provides that “general term alimony orders shall terminate upon the payor attaining the full retirement age.” A probate and family court judge dismissed the complaint for modification, concluding that the retirement provision applies prospectively, and therefore, Joseph was required to establish that there had been a material change in circumstances warranting modification and that Joseph had not met this burden. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the retirement provision of the Act was not applicable to modification of the alimony judgment in this case; and (2) the judge did not abuse her discretion in concluding that the parties’ circumstances did not warrant modification of the alimony judgment. View "Doktor v. Doktor" on Justia Law
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George Rodman and Roberta Rodman were divorced in 2008. The parties entered into a separation agreement that was incorporated into and merged with a judgment of divorce nisi. The separation agreement obligated George to pay Roberta alimony in the amount of $1,539 per week until the death of either party or Roberta’s remarriage. In 2013, George filed a complaint for modification seeking to terminate his obligations to pay alimony to Roberta on the ground that he had reached “full retirement age” as defined by the Alimony Reform Act, which became effective March 1, 2012. A probate and family court judge denied the motion, concluding that the Act was not to be applied retroactively to judgments entered before March 1, 2012. George appealed, arguing that, because his agreement merged with the judgment, it was always subject to modification based on his having reached the age of retirement, and therefore, his complaint for modification did not conflict with the proscription against retroactive application set forth in the Act. The Supreme Judicial Court held that the retirement provision of the Act does not apply retroactively to alimony orders in divorce judgments that entered before March 1, 2012. View "Rodman v. Rodman" on Justia Law
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Chester Chin and Edith Merriot were divorced in 2011. Pursuant to a merged provision of the parties’ separation agreement, Chin was obligated to pay alimony until the death of either party or Edith’s remarriage. In 2013, Chin filed a complaint for modification seeking to terminate his alimony obligation, asserting that, as changed circumstances, he had reached full retirement age and Merriot had been cohabiting with another person. A probate and family court judge dismissed the complaint, concluding (1) neither the retirement or cohabitation provision of the Alimony Reform Act applied retrospectively to divorce judgments ordering general term alimony that were in existence prior to the effective date of the Act on March 1, 2012; and (2) under the change of circumstances standard in effect before March 1, 2012, Chin was not entitled to modification of the alimony order. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) with respect to the alimony obligation, the retirement and cohabitation provisions of the Act apply prospectively and therefore afford no basis upon which to terminate the alimony order; and (2) there was no abuse of discretion in the judge’s findings that there were no changed circumstances that would require an adjustment to the amount of alimony Chin had been ordered to pay. View "Chin v. Merriot" on Justia Law
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The Department of Children and Families filed a petition for the care and protection of Quan, who was one year old. Mother and Father stipulated to the entry of decrees adjudicating Quan to be in need of care and protection, committing him to the custody of the Department, and terminating their parental rights. The judge accepted the stipulations and entered final decrees terminating the parents’ parental rights. Approximately nine months later the parents moved for relief from the final decrees. A juvenile court judge vacated the decrees terminating the parents’ parental rights on the ground that there had been a material mistake of law or neglect. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order granting the parents’ motions for relief from the final decrees terminating their parental rights, holding that without a record of what transpired at the colloquies conducted before the judge accepted the stipulations, it could not be said that the motion judge’s findings were supported by or contrary to the evidence. View "In re Adoption of Quan" on Justia Law
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