Winter 2016: Reported Cases Summaries

By Emily Nowlin, Jordana Kershner and Svana Calabro

Koll v. Edelstein 

SJC-11868 (December 10, 2015)

The Husband appealed from the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) single justice’s decision denying his petition without a hearing.

During the course of the parties’ divorce proceedings, the parties signed a stipulation to sell the marital home, but were unable to agree upon many of the details.  As a result, the Probate and Family Court judge appointed a special master to sell the home and oversee the removal of property from the home. 

The Husband then filed a petition with the single justice of the Appeals Court seeking relief from the order that appointed the special master.  The Appeals Court justice denied his petition.  The Husband then filed a petition with the single justice of the SJC who denied the petition without a hearing.  The Husband appealed.  

Pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 2:21, in order for the appeal to be presented to the full court the appellant must demonstrate that “review of the trial court decision cannot adequately be obtained on appeal from any final adverse judgment in the trial court or by other available means.”

The SJC found that Husband did not and could not make such a showing because there is no reason why he could not obtain adequate review of the judge’s order through a direct appeal from the final divorce judgment.  Therefore, because Husband could obtain review of the final divorce judgment, the Court held that the single justice did not err or abuse his discretion in denying relief under G.L. c. 211, §3.

Judgment affirmed.

Hoegen v. Hoegen

14-P-1491 

On cross-complaints for modification, the trial court held that the father was not obligated to include income from vested restricted stock units (RSUs) as part of his gross income for purposes of calculating child support. The trial court agreed with the father’s argument that the mother had waived any interest in the father’s stock plan as part of the parties’ separation agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that it would be proper in this case to consider the RSUs as part of the father’s gross income and that the trial court’s failure to consider the disparity in the standards of living between the parties’ households is inconsistent with the principles underlying the child support guidelines.  The Court of Appeals concluded that it did not need to address the mother’s claim that her waiver of any interest in the father’s stock plan was invalid due to the father’s failure to properly disclose the details of that plan because mother cannot waive her children’s right to appropriate child support pursuant to the guidelines.

The Court of Appeals also: (1) vacated and remanded the trial court’s order denying the mother’s request for a retroactive award because the trial court had not made written findings explaining its rationale for not making the award of child support retroactive; and (2) remanded for the trial court to determine whether to award attorney’s fees to the mother and, if so, the appropriate amount.

Recinos v. Escobar

SJC-11986 (March 4, 2016)

Probate and Family Court dismissed twenty year-old Plaintiff’s complaint for special findings under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J)(2012), citing lack of jurisdiction because the party was over age eighteen. § 1101(a)(27)(J) allows unmarried immigrant children under twenty-one years old who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent to apply for “special immigrant juvenile,” or “SIJ” status. SIJ status allows the child to remain in the United States while applying for permanent residence.  Id.  Before a child can apply for SIJ status, a “juvenile court,” or any court that makes determinations regarding the care and custody of minors, must find: (1) that the child is dependent on the court; (2) that abuse, neglect, or abandonment by the child’s parent(s) makes a reunion impossible; and (3) that it is not in the child’s best interests to return to her home country.  Id.   Once the court makes those findings, the child is able to continue the application process through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) agency before her twenty-first birthday.  8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (2009). 

Plaintiff appealed the dismissal, noting that § 1101(a)(27)(J) allowed applicants under twenty-one years old, and asked that her appeal be heard as soon as possible because of her impending twenty-first birthday. The Supreme Judicial Court took the appeal on its own motion.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Probate and Family Court had jurisdiction over children between eighteen and twenty-one for purposes of 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J) determinations. The Court stated that the Family and Probate Court could invoke equity jurisdiction under M. G. L. c. 215, § 6 to fill the “gap” between the age restriction set by the federal statute, twenty-one, and the age of minority in Massachusetts, eighteen, as it has done in cases involving “adult children” under twenty-three years old.  Eccleston v. Bankosky, 438 Mass. 428, 434-435 (2003). The Court noted that both 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J) and M. G. L. c. 119, § 1 are aimed at protecting children from abusive or inadequate parenting, and that the plaintiff, as someone who had experienced years of abuse, was the intended beneficiary of both laws.  The Court further ruled that “dependency” on the court, as required by the statute, can be satisfied a demonstration of abuse, or abandonment by one or both parents.

Dismissal reversed and remanded with instructions to hear and process the case as expeditiously as possible.