Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Custody and Visitation: Upon Divorce, Ex Stepparents Have No Standing to Petition Visitation

Strauss v. Tuschman, 2009 UT App. 215, (Utah Court of Appeals, August 6, 2009).
Stepfather developed a parental relationship with Daughter, a child from Mother’s prior relationship. Upon separation, Stepfather requested visitation with the child. Mother allowed it, and the district court granted Stepfather visitation. Visitation became increasing difficult to facilitate. The district court bifurcated the case and signed a divorce decree. Stepfather continued to attempt visitation. Mother now objected to visitation. The district court continued to enforce Father’s visitation under Gribble v. Gribble, 583 P.25 (Utah 1978).
Prior to the trial Mother filed a motion in limine arguing that Stepfather had no standing under the newly decided case of Jones v. Barlow, 154 P.3d 808 (Utah 2007). This time the district court agreed and found that Stepfather lacked standing. Stepfather appealed. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and found that while parties are married a non-biological father may stand in loco parentis and may have standing to petition visitation. However, upon divorce the biological parent may end the in loco parentis relationship at will. Thus eliminating Stepparent’s standing.
Unrelated note: the Court did not award attorney fees to mother because she failed to set forth a legal basis for such an award.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Divorce: Stipulations are NOT binding on the Court—Arbitration of child custody disputes is against public policy.

Bryner v. Bryner, 2009 UT App. 217, (Utah Court of Appeals, August 6, 2009).
The parties reached a stipulation. However, neither the parties nor the mediator put the agreement in writing. Later the parties did not agree to the content of the stipulation. Parties filed cross motions to enforce their respective versions of the agreement. At the hearing, the parties reached a number of agreements, including joint-custody and to arbitrate future custody issues. After the hearing, but prior to final judgment, Father obtained and ex parte civil stalking injunction against Mother. Because of the injunction, the court ruled that it “could not determine the advisability of enforcing the parties’ stipulation.” Additionally, substituting an arbitrator for the district court was against public policy. As a result, the district court awarded mother sole legal custody and joint physical custody to the parties and omitted the arbitration clause.
Father appealed. Father’s brief focused on omitting the arbitration clause, and argued that if part of the stipulation was not adopted the entire stipulation must be rejected. Father never raised this issue at the district court level. First, because Father failed to preserve the issue the Court affirmed the trial court. Second, even if Father had preserved the issue, the appeal failed on the merits. The Court found that the district court has discretion to adopt some or all of the stipulation. Stipulations are not binding on the court and can enforce portions that are fair and reasonable.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Failure to Marshal=Dismissal; Inheritance=Separate Property; Encouragement≠Enhancement; Repository≠Comingling; Forgery=Unjust Enrichment;

Kimball v. Kimball, 2009 UT App. 233, (Utah Court of Appeals, August 27, 2009).

Prior to the case analysis, the Court summarized the marshaling requirement. In short, when marshaling the evidence the appellant must provide all evidence in support of the trial court’s ruling, and then must identify which evidence carries the “fatal flaw.” Failure marshal results in dismissal. When reviewing the property distribution, the Court that although husband had encouraged wife to wait for a better offer on her inherited stock (which resulted more money for wife), such encouragement was not sufficient enhancement to overcome the separate property presumption on inheritance. Similarly, placing of proceeds from the sale of stock into a marital account does not automatically change separate property into marital property. Particularly if the property is adequately traced out and removed from the joint account. Husband forged several checks drawn against the stock account and could not prove that he was not unjustly enriched (because he cashed the checks without wife’s permission, the trial court inferred that he was enriched). Finally, Husband requested payment of his attorney fees. Wife argued that he had no need because his family had paid for his attorney (in divorce, to be entitled to attorney fees, one must show need, the other’s ability to pay, and reasonableness of the fees). The trial court agreed with Wife, however it made inadequate findings. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded this issue. Moreover, the appellate court directed that the trial court found need and ability to pay, the court need only find what award would be reasonable, not that the fees incurred are reasonable.

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