Articles Posted in Family Law

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The Alamosa County Department of Human Services interviewed Mother, who admitted that she was addicted to prescription medications, although she denied selling drugs from her home. Mother had a history of prior referrals to the Department, and her older children had previously been temporarily removed from her home due to her drug use. Meanwhile, the father of the children had been incarcerated following a criminal conviction and remained in custody at the time the Department conducted its investigation. Father had a history of methamphetamine use. In light of the foregoing, the Department filed a dependency and neglect petition with regard to E.M., L.M., and E.J.M. (the “Children”). Although both Mother and Father initially denied the allegations contained in the petition, they subsequently entered admissions, and the court adjudicated the Children dependent and neglected. This case called on the Colorado Supreme Court to decide whether the State could seek to terminate a parent’s parental rights under the relinquishment provision of the Colorado Children’s Code (the “Code”), section 19-5-105, C.R.S. (2017), when the child is already subject to a dependency and neglect proceeding under Article 3 of the Code, sections 19-3-100.5 to -805, C.R.S. (2017). The Court concluded that when a dependency and neglect proceeding is pending, the State can terminate parental rights only through the procedures set forth in Article 3 of the Code and cannot use the more limited processes provided in Article 5. View "Colorado in Interest of L.M." on Justia Law

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The Arapahoe County Department of Human Services filed a petition in dependency or neglect concerning minor child R.S., and naming both parents as respondents. The mother requested a bench trial to adjudicate the dependent or neglected status of the child; the father requested a jury trial. The court held a single adjudicatory trial, with the judge serving as fact-finder with respect to the Department’s allegations against the mother, and a jury sitting as fact-finder with respect to the allegations against the father. The judge ultimately concluded that the child was dependent or neglected “in regard to” the mother. In contrast, the jury, as the father’s fact-finder, concluded there was insufficient factual basis to support a finding that the child was dependent or neglected. In light of these divergent findings, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent or neglected and continued to exercise jurisdiction over the child and the mother, but entered an order dismissing the father from the petition. The mother appealed the adjudication of the child as dependent or neglected; the Department appealed the jury’s verdict regarding the father, as well as the trial court’s denial of the Department’s motion for adjudication notwithstanding the verdict. In a unanimous, published opinion, the court of appeals dismissed the Department’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the dismissal of a single parent from a petition in dependency or neglect based on a jury verdict was not a final appealable order because neither the appellate rule nor the statutory provision governing appeals from proceedings in dependency or neglect expressly permitted an appeal of a “no adjudication finding.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that, with limited exceptions, the Colorado Children’s Code authorized appealed in dependency and neglect cases of “any order” that qualified as a “final judgment.” Here, the trial court’s order dismissing the father from the petition was not a “final judgment,” so the court of appeal lacked jurisdiction and properly dismissed the Department’s appeal. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals but under different reasoning. View "Colorado in Interest of R.S." on Justia Law

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In this dependency and neglect case, respondents were foster parents who intervened in the trial court proceedings and participated in a hearing on the guardian ad litem’s (“GAL”) motion to terminate the parent-child legal relationship between the mother and the child. The trial court denied the motion. Neither the Department nor the GAL appealed the trial court’s ruling. Instead, the foster parents appealed, seeking to reverse the trial court’s order. The narrow question before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the foster parents had standing to appeal the trial court’s ruling. The court of appeals concluded they did. The Supreme Court granted the GAL’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals’ decision and reversed: “although section 19-3-507(5)(a) permits foster parents to intervene in dependency and neglect proceedings following adjudication, foster parents here do not have a legally protected interest in the outcome of termination proceedings, and section 19-3-507(5)(a) does not automatically confer standing to them to appeal the juvenile court’s order denying the termination motion at issue, where neither the Department nor the GAL sought review of the trial court’s ruling.” View "Colorado in Interest of C.W.B., Jr." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was the narrow issue of whether sovereign immunity barred an award of attorney’s fees against a public entity. The trial court found that the Moffat County Department of Social Services (“the Department”) committed a discovery violation in the course of a dependency and neglect proceeding, and it awarded attorney’s fees to Petitioner C.K. pursuant to Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 37. The court of appeals vacated the fee award, holding that it was barred by sovereign immunity. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. There are two additional relevant, yet distinct, issues that remained to decide whether an award of attorney’s fees is proper in this case: (1) whether, under the facts of this case, C.R.C.P. 37 applied to proceedings governed by the Children’s Code, and, if it did, (2) whether C.R.C.P. 37 contained the express language required to authorize attorney’s fees against a public entity. While the Court discussed these issues briefly to give context to its holding, ultimate resolution was left to be addressed on remand. View "C.K. v. Colorado in the Interest of L.K." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a juvenile court validly terminated a mother’s parent-child legal relationship without first entering a formal written order adjudicating her children as dependent or neglected. The juvenile court accepted the mother’s admission that her children were neglected or dependent, but did not enter a formal order before it terminated the mother’s parental rights approximately a year later. The court of appeals held that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to terminate the mother’s parental rights because it had not entered the order. The Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals that the trial court’s failure to enter an order adjudicating the children’s status as neglected or dependent divested the trial court of jurisdiction. Because the trial court accepted the parents’ admission, the Supreme Court concluded the purpose of the adjudicative process was met and the children’s status as neglected or dependent was established, thus permitting state intervention into the familial relationship. Moreover, both the Department and the mother proceeded as if the court had adjudicated the status of the children: the mother participated in subsequent hearings and attempted to comply with the trial court’s treatment plan; she never sought to withdraw her admission; and she never challenged the trial court’s jurisdiction or otherwise objected below to the trial court’s verbal or written termination orders finding that the children had been adjudicated neglected or dependent. Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s failure to enter an adjudicative order confirming the children’s status as neglected or dependent did not impair the fundamental fairness of the proceedings or deprive the mother of due process. View "Colorado in Interest of J.W." on Justia Law

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Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C. represented Kristy Casagranda (“Wife”) during dissolution proceedings against her then-husband Brian Todd Dixon (“Husband”). The Firm asserted a charging lien for its fees under Colorado’s attorney’s lien statute against assets the court awarded to Wife during the divorce and obtained a court order recognizing that lien. The firm later filed a motion for an entry of judgment enforcing its charging lien against maintenance payments Husband owed to Wife, seeking to have Husband redirect those payments to the Firm. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that an attorney’s charging lien could not attach to a maintenance award. The court of appeals affirmed. Because the attorney’s lien statute’s plain language provided that a charging lien attached to any judgment that an attorney helps a client obtain, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed. View "Stoorman v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Petitioner Scott Foster’s former wife, Bronwen Foster (“Wife”), filed for dissolution of marriage and hired attorney John Plock to represent her. As part of the dissolution proceedings, the trial court ordered a parental responsibilities evaluation (“PRE”). The PRE was performed by Dr. Andrew Loizeaux. A second PRE was subsequently conducted by Dr. Edward Budd. Neither evaluation was favorable to Foster. The PREs were confidential and were not to be “made available for public inspection” without an order of the court. Foster was found guilty of violating a protection order issued in the dissolution proceedings. A deputy district attorney prosecuting the protection order matter filed the PREs with the criminal court for use in sentencing. Plock filed a motion in the dissolution proceedings, admitting that he had disclosed the PREs to the deputy district attorney. While the dissolution of marriage proceeding and the criminal cases were pending, Foster filed eleven separate lawsuits against those involved in the PRE process conducted by Dr. Loizeaux. Wife was named as a defendant, but Plock was not. The lawsuits alleged various claims, including defamation and outrageous conduct. The eleven cases were consolidated into one case. The defendants each moved to dismiss the case. Foster subsequently amended his complaints. In Foster’s amended complaint against Wife, he alleged among other things that she, through her attorney, caused both of the PREs to be disclosed in the criminal case. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether mutuality was a necessary element of defensive claim preclusion. Multiple divisions of the court of appeals concluded that mutuality need not be established for the defensive use of claim preclusion, but the Supreme Court disagreed, instead concluding that mutuality was a necessary element of defensive claim preclusion. The Court also concluded that mutuality existed in this case, as did the remaining elements of claim preclusion, and therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals on other grounds. View "Foster v. Plock" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Lisa Grimicko (Wife) filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. In it, she petitioned for spousal maintenance and an equitable division of the marital assets and debts. Wife sought information from Nickifor Gromicko's (Husband) employer, International Association of Certified Home Inspectors ( InterNACHI). Wife alleged that Husband founded the company in 2004, and served as InterNACHI's Chief Operating Officer. Although Husband initially indicated he had no objection to making certain InterNACHI records available, he subsequently refused to produce them, contending that he was merely an employee of the company, and had no authority to provide the records. Husband's counsel, who also served as InterNACHI's general counsel, filed a brief on behalf of the company regarding access to the requested records. The trial court made no ruling on the records request. In response, Wife served a subpoena, and InterNACHI moved to quash the subpoena. In its motion, InterNACHI argued that many of the documents were privileged and confidential, and irrelevant to the dissolution proceedings. Wife maintained that the records were relevant to both spousal maintenance and division of marital property. The trial court denied InterNACHI's motion, and ultimately ordered InterNACHI to produce the records. Finding that the trial court did not take an active role in managing Wife's discovery request, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded for the trial court to make findings about the appropriate scope of discovery in light of the reasonable needs of the case. View "In re Marriage of Gromicko" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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This case centered on whether a father could use the doctrine of laches to defend against a mother's claim for interest on his child support debt. In the precedential case "Hauck v. Schuck," (353 P.3d 79 (1960)), the Colorado Supreme Court decided laches did not apply to a claim for unpaid child support that accrued within the statutory limitations period. The court of appeals determined in the present case, that laches could not apply to bar one parent's right to collect interest on arrearages owed by the other parent. The Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this matter to address whether laches was an appropriate defense in an interest-collection action, and also to resolve "the arguable tension" in "Hauck." The Court concluded that laches could be asserted as a defense to a claim for interest on child support arrearages, and therefore reversed the court of appeals. View "In re Marriage of Johnson" on Justia Law

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After a jury found that the environment of M.L.’s four children was injurious to their welfare, the trial court adjudicated the children dependent or neglected. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to resolve two points: (1)whether determination of a child’s status as dependent or neglected under the injurious environment provision of Article 3 of the Colorado Children’s Code must take into account each parent’s actions or failures to act; and (2)whether findings as to parental fault are required to adjudicate a child dependent or neglected under the same provision. Mother (“M.L.”) appealed a jury’s finding that the environment for four of her five children was injurious to their welfare and the trial court’s resulting adjudication. Relying on "Troxel v. Granville," (530 U.S. 57 (2000)), the court of appeals agreed with M.L. and reversed the trial court’s adjudication. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Troxel’s due process requirements did not necessitate that the State prove that both parents lack the availability, ability, and willingness to provide reasonable parental care before a child may be adjudicated dependent or neglected under the injurious environment provision. Additionally, the Court held that neither the plain language of the dependency or neglect statute nor Troxel required the State to prove parental fault when adjudicating a child dependent or neglected under the injurious environment provision. Hence, the trial court’s jury instructions were consistent with the plain language of the statute and the trial court did not err when it allowed the jury to find that the children’s environment was injurious to their welfare without first requiring the jury to make findings of parental fault. View "Colorado in the Interest of J.G." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law