Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law

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Hernandez and Cardoso, citizens of Mexico, have two children: A.E., born in 2008, and M.S., born in 2002. Cardoso left Mexico with the children in 2014, allegedly to escape Hernandez's abuse and protect the children. Hernandez learned of Cardoso’s location in Chicago and sought the return of A.E. under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Cardoso agreed to return M.S. to Hernandez, but refused to return A.E. The district court heard witnesses and took testimony from the child, in chambers, outside the presence of counsel or the parties. The court found that Cardoso testified credibly that Hernandez hit her in the presence of A.E., intending that A.E. witness the abuse of his mother. The judge “observed a significant change in the demeanor of A.E. when the child discussed Hernandez, the domestic violence and the possible return to Hernandez’s custody.” The court found clear and convincing evidence of a grave risk of physical or psychological harm to A.E. if returned to Hernandez’s custody. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the credibility determination sound. Repeated physical and psychological abuse of a child’s mother by the child’s father, in the presence of the child, is likely to create a risk of psychological harm to the child. View "Hernandez v. Cardoso" on Justia Law

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Smith’s husband obtained a Capital One credit card that he used for family consumer debts. Smith subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Smith’s husband did not join Smith’s petition and was not listed as a co‐debtor. The bankruptcy court confirmed Smith’s Chapter 13 plan. During Smith’s repayment period, Capital One, through attorney Kohn, sued Smith’s husband and obtained a Wisconsin state court judgment for amounts owed on his credit card; it has not attempted to enforce the judgment. Smith initiated a successful bankruptcy court adversary proceeding, arguing that Smith’s husband’s credit card debt was covered by the co‐debtor stay due under Wisconsin marital law and alleging violations of the co‐debtor stay, 11 U.S.C. 1301(a); the Wisconsin Consumer Act; and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692(d)(e). The district court reversed, holding that “consumer debt of the debtor” does not include a debt for which the debtor is not personally liable but that may be satisfied from the debtor’s interest in marital property. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Smith’s suggested expansion of the co‐debtor stay is contrary to its plain meaning and purpose, which is to prevent undue pressure that creditors could otherwise exert by threatening action against third-parties who have co‐signed the debtor’s debts. View "Smith v. Capital One Bank (USA), N.A." on Justia Law

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Mrs. Edelson filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. She and her husband, who did not join her petition or file his own, held their Chicago home as “tenants by the entirety,” until seven months before the petition, when they conveyed it to the husband’s living trust. The conveyance states that “the beneficial interest” in the trust is held by the Edelsons, “husband and wife, as tenant[s] by the entirety.” The bankruptcy petition named Loventhal, Mrs. Edelson’s former husband, as an unsecured creditor for $92,000. Mrs. Edelson proposed a payment plan that would give Loventhal $16,000 over five years and designated the residence as exempt. Loventhal argued that the transfer to the husband’s trust eliminated the tenancy by the entirety. The bankruptcy judge, district court, and Seventh Circuit rejected his argument, citing 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(3)(B): “any interest in property in which the debtor had, immediately before the commencement of the case, an interest as a tenant by the entirety” is exempted “to the extent that such interest … is exempt from process under applicable nonbankruptcy law,” and Illinois law, which exempts tenancies by the entirety from process to satisfy judgment “against only one of the tenants.” While the trust instrument includes provisions inconsistent with tenancy by the entirety, the Joint Tenancy Act forbids any construction that would sever the tenancy by the entirety. View "Loventhal v. Edelson" on Justia Law

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During their acrimonious divorce, Paula accused Barry of serial infidelity. In discovery Barry asked her for all documents related to that accusation. Paula complied and produced copies of incriminating emails between Barry and several other women. In a separate lawsuit, Barry alleged that Paula violated the federal Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, 18 U.S.C. 2520, by surreptitiously placing an auto-forwarding “rule” on his email accounts that automatically forwarded the messages on his email client to her and that Paula’s lawyer violated the Act by “disclosing” the intercepted emails in response to his discovery request. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that Paula’s lawyer cannot be liable for disclosing Barry’s own emails to him in response to his own discovery request. The allegations against Paula, however, technically fall within the language of the Act, “though Congress probably didn’t anticipate its use as a tactical weapon in a divorce proceeding.” The emails attached to the complaint did not conclusively defeat Barry’s allegation that Paula intercepted his emails contemporaneously with their transmission, as required by the Act. View "Epstein v. Epstein" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Trentadue’s ex‐wife sought to modify placement and child support, related to one of their six children. A three-year legal dispute over custody, placement, health insurance, and child support followed, involving substantial motion practice, requests for contempt findings, engagement of experts, and evidentiary hearings. The Wisconsin state court overseeing the litigation determined that Trentadue’s conduct resulted in excessive trial time to resolve the case and awarded Trentadue’s ex‐wife $25,000 in attorney’s fees for “overtrial,” to be paid to attorney Gay. Trentadue never paid Gay. Instead, he filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. Gay countered by filing a $25,000 claim for the unpaid overtrial award and classified it as a nondischargeable, domestic support obligation entitled to priority. Trentadue objected that the obligation was imposed as a punishment, not a domestic support obligation. The bankruptcy court overruled his objection. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the restorative nature of the award. which “furthers two objectives, providing compensation to the overtrial victim for fees unnecessarily incurred and deterring unnecessary use of judicial resources.” The court also noted that Trentadue’s finances are “not so bleak,” including monthly income of six to seven thousand dollars. View "Trentadue v. Gay" on Justia Law

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For the first seven years of A.M.’s life, he lived in Illinois with his mother, Martinez. A.M.’s father, Cahue, lived nearby. The two never married, but had a private arrangement, never formalized through a court order, for custody and visitation rights. In 2013, Martinez, a Mexican citizen who worked at the Mexican Consulate in Chicago, moved to Mexico and took A.M. with her. About a year later, Cahue persuaded Martinez to send A.M. to Illinois for a visit; he then refused to return A.M. to Mexico. Martinez petitioned for his return under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, implemented by the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 22 U.S.C. 9001. The district court found that Illinois remained A.M.’s habitual residence and dismissed Martinez’s petition. The Seventh Circuit reversed and ordered the child’s return to Mexico. At all relevant times, Martinez had sole custody of A.M. under Illinois law, while Cahue had no right of custody either under Illinois law or the Convention; only Martinez’s intent mattered, and Martinez wanted A.M.’s habitual residence transferred to Mexico. View "Martinez v. Cahue" on Justia Law

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Mother and father, Mexican citizens, dated in 2001-2002. In 2002, mother gave birth to a child, D.S., in Mexico. Although mother has had physical custody of D.S., father played an active part in the child’s life. In 2013, mother and D.S. moved to Chicago. Father sought D.S.’s return to Mexico under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, to which Mexico and the U.S. are parties (International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 22 U.S.C. 9001). Once the child is in a participating country, local courts are empowered to resolve any questions about custody, support, or other family law matters. The Seventh Circuit held that the Hague Convention is no exception to the general rule, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1, that an issue about foreign law is a question of law, not fact, for purposes of litigation in federal court and that father had the necessary custodial right over D.S. at the time when mother refused to permit his return to Mexico. Because D.S.’s habitual residence is Mexico, mother’s retention of D.S. is wrongful under the Convention. The district court had adequate reason to refuse to defer to D.S.’s indications that he prefers to stay in the U.S. View "Salazar-Garcia v. Galvan-Pinelo" on Justia Law

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Ortiz filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, seeking the return of his children to Mexico City. The children are currently residing in Chicago with Martinez, their mother. Martinez accused Ortiz of sexually molesting his seven-year-old daughter and asserted that their 16-year-old son had expressed a desire to remain in the United States. The district court denied the petition to return the children. After interviewing the children and hearing testimony from Martinez and a court appointed psychologist, the court found that Martinez had wrongfully removed the children from Mexico, but that an exception to the Convention’s mandatory-return rule applied with respect to each child. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Ortiz v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Jones was murdered, leaving no will. He owned a life insurance policy through his employer. He did not designate a beneficiary. The policy provided that the proceeds ($307,000) would go first to a surviving spouse (Jones never married), second to surviving children, third to surviving parents, and fourth to his estate. Quincy claimed to be Jones’s son; Moore, claimed to be his daughter. The insurance company filed an interpleader action. After paying $24,000 for funeral expenses and $137,000 to Quincy, the company deposited the remainder with the court. Jones’s biological sister also claimed the proceeds, arguing that Jones was homosexual and had not fathered children. Jones’s income tax returns showed that he had claimed various children as dependents, sometimes omitting Quincy. A DNA test established that Moore was not his daughter. The district judge declined to order a test for Quincy because Jones had held Quincy out as his biological son and had signed an order in 1996 acknowledging Quincy (then six years old) as his son. The judge awarded Quincy the deposited funds.. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rule 35 would have allowed, but did not require, the judge to order a DNA test, given the presumption of paternity under Illinois law.View "MN Life Ins. Co. v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed district court decisions invalidating Indiana and Wisconsin laws that did not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages, whether contracted in those states or in states (or foreign countries) where they are lawful. The states gave no “reasonable basis” for forbidding same-sex marriage, but more than a reasonable basis was required because the challenged discrimination is “along suspect lines,” being against a minority and based on an immutable characteristic of the members of that minority, against an historical background of discrimination against the persons who have that characteristic. These circumstances create a presumption that the discrimination is a denial of the equal protection. The discrimination does not confer an important offsetting benefit on society as a whole and is not appropriate to its stated objectives. The court stated that: “Formally these cases are about discrimination against the small homosexual minority,” but at a deeper level, they are about the welfare of children. Children adopted by homosexual couples would be better off emotionally and economically if their adoptive parents were married. With respect to the states’ arguments about governmental interest in the welfare of children, the court noted that infertile heterosexual couples are allowed to marry. View "Wolf v. Walker" on Justia Law