Articles Posted in Family Law

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Respondent-guardian Djamila B. was appointed by a family court as kinship guardian to children Mahdjid and Aliah. Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD) brought abuse and neglect proceedings against the guardian and the children's biological parents. Prior to seeking adoption for the children, CYFD filed a motion to dismiss the guardian from the abuse and neglect proceedings, arguing the guardian was not an appropriate party to a termination of parental rights proceeding because the guardian was not a parent. The children's court granted CYFD's motion without revoking the kinship guardianship. The Court of Appeals reversed the children's court ruling, holding that the guardian was a necessary and indispensable party to the abuse proceedings. After its review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' outcome, but on different grounds. The Court held that while kinship guardians were not necessary and indispensable parties to abuse and neglect proceedings, kinship guardians, nonetheless, have a statutory right to a revocation hearing in accordance with the revocation procedures of the Kinship Guardian Act prior to being dismissed from abuse and neglect proceedings. "There is no need for separate filings and hearings in the original family court that appointed the kinship guardian because the children’s court presiding over the abuse and neglect proceeding has jurisdiction over the kinship guardian and the subject matter of the case to make decisions that are ultimately in the best interests of the children. In addition to matters involving the guardian, the children's biological father intervened in this appeal arguing his due process rights were violated because he was not given a fair opportunity to voice concerns in the dismissal of Guardian from the abuse and neglect proceedings. The Supreme Court found it was unnecessary to address the Father's claim in view of its holding on the primary issue. View "In re Mahdjid B. and Aliah B." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kathrin Kinzer-Ellington was appointed guardian ad litem pursuant to Rule 1-053.3 NMRA to help determine the best interests of minor children whose parents were involved in a custody dispute. As the case grew more and more contentious, Father David Kimbrell sued both Mother Lorraine Kimbrell and the guardian ad litem in tort as next friend of his oldest daughter, Lily Kimbrell, alleging that their conduct had injured the child. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether a parent has standing to sue a Rule 1-053.3 guardian ad litem during a pending custody proceeding. The Court held that a Rule 1-053.3 guardian ad litem is protected by absolute quasi-judicial immunity from suit arising from the performance of his or her duties unless the guardian ad litem’s alleged tortious conduct is clearly and completely outside the scope of his or her appointment. A parent does not have standing to sue a guardian ad litem appointed in a custody proceeding on behalf of the child because: (1) the parent has been found to be unable to act in the best interests of the child, and (2) such a lawsuit would create a conflict of interest in the custody case. View "Kimbrell v. Kimbrell" on Justia Law

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The district court concluded that "Grace H.'s" father's parental rights should be terminated pursuant to a finding of abandonment without establishing that the conditions of neglect, by abandonment, could be not be cured. The father appealed that ruling, arguing that an ambiguity in Section 32A-4-28 led to an incorrect ruling. He averred that the Children Youth and Families Department (the Department) "used its unfettered discretion to pursue a theory of abandonment under Section 32A-4-28(B)(1) without establishing that it made reasonable efforts to cure the causes of neglect, as required by Section 32A-4-28(B)(2)." While the Supreme Court did not agree with the father’s framing of the issue on appeal, it did agree that Section 32A-4-28 was ambiguous with respect to when abandonment may be used as a basis for termination of parental rights. Furthermore, the Court also agreed that this ambiguity led to the improper termination of his parental rights in this case. For that reason, the Court reversed the district court’s ruling. View "In the Matter of Grace H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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This case presented the Supreme Court with an issue of first impression: whether the New Mexico Emancipation of Minors Act authorizes a district court to declare a minor emancipated for some rather than all enumerated purposes contained in the Act. Petitioner Jhette Diamond (Daughter), then sixteen years old, petitioned the district court in for a declaration of emancipation pursuant to the Act. Daughter left the home of her mother Adrienne Diamond (Mother) at age thirteen and had been living with several different households. Mother did not appear at the hearing or otherwise oppose the petition. Daughter, represented by counsel, told the district court that she had moved out of Mother’s home due to domestic violence and substance abuse issues. Daughter had no intention of returning to live with Mother, who maintained a relationship with the man whose violent behavior and substance abuse had contributed to Daughter's decision to leave. The district court issued a "Declaration of Emancipation of Minor" in March 2007, finding that Daughter had been living independently and managing her own financial affairs without support from Mother, determining that emancipation would be in Daughter’s best interest, and declaring Daughter "an emancipated minor in all respects, except that she shall retain the right to support from [Mother]" pursuant to the Act. Mother, represented by counsel, objected to child support to an emancipated minor. Agreeing with Mother, the Court of Appeals held that "New Mexico law does not permit a minor emancipated pursuant to [the Act] to collect child support payments," and does not permit “an emancipating court to pick and choose the purposes for which a child is emancipated." Upon review of the legislative history of the Act, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act's directive that emancipation may be declared for "one or more purposes" expressly authorized partial emancipation. Furthermore, the Court did not find "management of one's financial affairs" and entitlement to support as inherently contradictory. In response to Mother's argument that Daughter receiving public welfare benefits was not "managing her affairs" in the same manner as receiving child support is not managing one's affairs, the Court found that Mother did not offer an explanation for why the source of the support should be determinative of Daughter's ability to manage her affairs. In rendering its judgment, the district court "faithfully followed the procedural requirements of the Act and reached a result consistent with the Act's plain language." Because the Court of Appeals failed to give effect to that language, the Supreme Court reversed that court's decision. View "Diamond v. Diamond" on Justia Law

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Bani Chatterjee and Taya King are two women who were in a committed, long-term domestic relationship when they agreed to bring a child into their relationship. King adopted a child from Russia. Chatterjee supported King and Child financially, lived in the family home, and co parented Child for a number of years before their commitment to each other foundered and they dissolved their relationship. Chatterjee never adopted Child. After they ended their relationship, King moved to Colorado and sought to prevent Chatterjee from having any contact with Child. Chatterjee filed a petition in the district court to establish parentage and determine custody and timesharing. Chatterjee alleged that she was a presumed natural parent under the former codification of the New Mexico Uniform Parentage Act, (NMSA), and was the equitable or de facto parent of Child, and as such, was entitled to relief. In response to Chatterjee’s Petition, King filed a motion to dismiss. The district court dismissed the Petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Chatterjee then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court. The Court of Appeals held that Chatterjee did not have standing to seek joint custody absent a showing of King’s unfitness because she is neither the biological nor the adoptive mother of Child. The Court further held that presumptions establishing a father and child relationship cannot be applied to women, and a mother and child relationship can only be established through biology or adoption. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether Chatterjee pleaded sufficient facts in her Petition to give her standing to pursue joint custody of Child under the Dissolution of Marriage Act. The Court concluded based on the facts and circumstances of this case, that the facts pleaded by Chatterjee were sufficient to confer standing on her as a natural mother because: (1) the plain language of the UPA instructs courts to apply criteria for establishing a presumption that a man is a natural parent, to women because it is practicable for a woman to hold a child out as her own by, among other things, providing full-time emotional and financial support for the child; (2) commentary by the drafters of the UPA supports application of the provisions related to determining paternity to the determination of maternity; (3) the approach in this opinion is consistent with how courts in other jurisdictions have interpreted their UPAs, which contain language similar to the New Mexico UPA; and (4) New Mexico’s public policy is to encourage the support of children, financial and otherwise, by providers willing and able to care for the child. View "Chatterjee v. King" on Justia Law

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Several months after being granted sole legal and physical custody of Patrick D. (Child), Brian D. and Peggy D. (Grandparents) filed a petition for guardianship and custody pursuant to the Kinship Guardianship Act. Julie Ann D. (Mother), Grandparents’ daughter, consented to the guardianship, but Freedom C. (Father) opposed it. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court found both Mother and Father unfit to raise Child. The district court granted guardianship to Grandparents, granted time-sharing privileges to both Mother and Father, and held that it would review the guardianship arrangement in twenty-four months. Father appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court. The Court of Appeals held that the consent provision in Section 40-10B–8(B)(1) was not satisfied because both parents did not consent to the guardianship. The Supreme Court granted a petition for writ of certiorari filed by Grandparents to consider: (1) whether application of the Act is appropriate under the circumstances of this case; and (2) whether any of the prerequisites for its application were met. Because the Court concluded that Section 40-10B-8(B)(3) was met under the facts, circumstances, and procedure of this case, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remand to the district court to schedule a hearing to review the guardianship arrangement as previously anticipated by its order. View "Freedom C. v. Brian D." on Justia Law