Justia Wyoming Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order denying Cheryl Tarter's motions to amend or set aside the default divorce decree entered against her, holding that the default decree was void for failure of service by publication. A process server unsuccessfully attempted to serve Cheryl with the divorce complaint filed by Charles Tarter. Charles subsequently filed an affidavit in support of service by publication and published legal notice in the local newspaper. Cheryl did not answer, and the district court clerk entered default. The court subsequently entered the default decree dividing the couple's property and debt. Later, Cheryl filed a motion to amend or set aside the default decree, claiming that good cause existed to set the default decree aside. Cheryl then filed an amended motion asserting the default decree was void because Charles had failed to comply with the service by publication requirements in Wyo. R. Civ. P. 4. The district court denied the motions. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Charles failed to comply with Rule 4 in several respects, and these failings, individually and collectively, deprived the court of personal jurisdiction over Cheryl, rendering the default decree void. View "Tarter v. Tarter" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this custody dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court declining jurisdiction over the issue of child custody and ceding jurisdiction to a California court, the state where Mother and the child resided, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. After the parties divorced, Father filed a petition to modify custody of the parties' child, alleging that Mother's act of alienating him from the child was a material and substantial change in circumstances. The district court entered an order ceding jurisdiction over the petition to the applicable California court. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's child support calculation; (2) the district court acted within its authority in ordering Father to pay Mother's attorney fees for Father's contempt; (3) the district court did not err in granting Mother's motion to transfer jurisdiction over Father's petition to modify custody to a court in California; and (4) Mother was entitled to attorney fees and costs on appeal pursuant to Wyo. R. App. P. 10.05(b). View "Fleet v. Guyette" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Husband's motion seeking an order compelling Wife to sign a joint return for their 2013 federal income tax and pay half of the tax, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. In 2014, Wife and Husband divorced, In 2019, Husband filed his motion for an order requiring Wife to sign the joint return and half the tax. The district court ordered Wife to sign the 2013 joint tax return and ruled that the parties were each responsible for half of the tax and that Husband was responsible for the penalties and interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) it was appropriate for the district court to order Wife to sign the joint return; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion by ordering Wife to pay half of the tax. View "Begley v. Begley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying for lack of subject matter jurisdiction Petitioner's petition for an order recognizing her change of sex and gender so that she could amend her birth certificate, holding that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction. Petitioner's birth certificate identified her as male, but Petitioner identified and held herself out as female. Petitioner petitioned the district court for an order recognizing her change of sex and gender pursuant to its power of general jurisdiction and Wyo. Stat. Ann. 35-1-424(a). The district court denied the petition, concluding that neither the Wyoming Constitution, Wyo. Stat. Ann. 35-1-424, nor the rules of the Wyoming Department of Health (WDOH) granted it subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Wyoming Constitution and precedent require a presumption in favor of district court subject matter jurisdiction; (2) the Vital Records Act provides the district court subject matter jurisdiction to address Petitioner's petition for sex change; and (3) therefore, the district court has subject matter jurisdiction. View "MH v. First Judicial District Court of Laramie County" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law, Health Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court awarding primary custody of the parties' children to Father and granting Mother visitation, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by prohibiting Mother from using alcohol during visitation. When the parties divorced, the district court awarded primary custody of the children to Mother and visitation to Father. The original decree incorporated an order prohibiting the parties from engaging in any excessive drinking or use of illegal substances. Father later filed a petition to modify custody to award him primary use of the children based on Mother's improper of alcohol and controlled substances. On remand, the district court awarded Father primary custody. The court then entered a written order granting Mother visitation and ordering Mother to refrain from using alcohol and to subject herself to chemical testing during the visitation periods. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered Mother to refrain from using any alcohol during visitation with the children. View "Kidd v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court increasing Father's child support obligation, denying Father's petition to modify custody, and refusing to modify visitation, holding that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that there was a material change of circumstances to reopen the child support order in this case and by refusing to modify visitation. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) abused its discretion by reopening the stipulated child support order without requiring Mother to show a change in circumstances regarding child support other than a twenty percent change in the presumptive support amount; (2) did not abuse its discretion by denying Father's request for primary custody of the children but did abuse its discretion by refusing to modify visitation; and (3) did not err by failing to explain its reasons for not following the guardian ad litem's recommendation regarding custody. View "Kimzey v. Kimzey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to two of his children, holding that the district court did not err in admitting evidence relating to the children's mother and half siblings and that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that Father's parental rights could be terminated under Wyo. Stat. Ann. 14-2-309. A jury concluded that clear and convincing evidence supported termination of Father's parental rights on the grounds that the children had been abused or neglected by Father and the Department of Family Services' reasonable efforts had been unsuccessful in rehabilitating the family and that the children had been in the State's custody for fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months and that Father was unfit to have custody and control of the children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) evidence concerning Father's relationship with the children's mother and half siblings was relevant to the question of whether Father was currently fit to parent the children and thus was admissible; and (2) there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find clear and convincing evidence that Father was unfit at the time of the termination hearings. View "Clark v. State, Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court entering a divorce decree in which it awarded a 160-acre parcel of land to Wife and required Husband to satisfy any unpaid property taxes, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in its property division and assignment of debt or in considering attorney's fees as a factor in its property division. During much of their marriage, Wife and Husband lived on a 160-acre parcel of land owned by Husband's parents. After Husband's parents deeded the parcel to Husband, Wife filed for divorce. The district court awarded the property to Wife and required Husband to satisfy any unpaid property taxes. The Court noted that Wife's requests for an award of attorney's fees during the proceedings were considered in arriving at its division of property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in the disposition of property or in its consideration of attorney's fees. View "Malli v. Malli" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this dispute arising from Father's claim that Mother failed to reimburse him for the parties' child's medical costs the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment denying Mother's motion to set aside the court's judgment requiring her to pay not only the medical costs but also the attorney fees and costs Father incurred in collecting the amounts owed and post judgment interest, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Father was given primary custody of the parties' child. The parties were directed to split evenly the child's medical costs. Father later filed a motion for order to show cause why Mother should not be held in contempt for failing to pay one-half of several medical bills Father had presented for payment. The district court entered an award for Father comprising the amount consisting of the balance owing and an award of pre and post judgment interest, as well as attorney fees and costs. Mother moved for relief from the judgment pursuant to Wyo. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5) and (6). The district court denied the request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mother was not entitled to relief under rule 60(b)(5) and that the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the fees and costs. View "Olson v. Schriner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's divorce decree, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in determining child support and dividing marital property but did err by issuing a visitation order to vague to support understanding and compliance. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err by finding Father was not voluntarily underemployed; (2) the district court did exceed the bounds of reason in dividing the marital property; and (3) the district court's visitation plan was not sufficiently definite to promote understanding, compliance and enforcement. The Court remanded the case for the district court to order visitation in enough detail to promote understanding and compliance, in accordance with Wyo. Stat. Ann. 20-2-202(a)(i). View "Edwards v. Edwards" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law