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Berkley v. Calhoun

Supreme Court of Delaware

May 4, 2018

SARA BERKLEY [1] , Respondent Below-Appellant,
KRISTY CALHOUN, Petitioner Below-Appellee, and BRANDON BERKLEY and TAMARA CALHOUN, Respondents Below-Appellees.

          Submitted: February 23, 2018

          Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File Nos. CK15-02648 Pet. Nos. 15-026543 and 15-20226

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and TRAYNOR, Justices.


          Leo E. Strine, Jr. Chief Justice

         Upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The appellant, Sara Berkley ("Paternal Grandmother"), filed this appeal from an order of the Family Court dated August 3, 2017. Among other things, the Family Court's order granted two petitions for guardianship filed by the appellee, Kristy Calhoun ("Maternal Grandmother"). After careful consideration, we find no error or abuse in the Family Court's judgment. Accordingly, we affirm.

         (2) The record reflects that the appellees, Brandon Berkley ("Father") and Tamara Calhoun ("Mother"), are the parents of two children, M.C. (born July 31, 2010) and C.B. (born April 12, 2013).[2] Father and Mother are both addicts and have spent time incarcerated. In April 2015, Paternal Grandmother filed an emergency, ex parte petition for guardianship of the children, which was granted. The children have lived with Paternal Grandmother, her husband, and six of their nine children since the issuance of that emergency order.

         (3) Maternal Grandmother filed a petition for guardianship of M.C. in August 2015 and a petition for guardianship of C.B. in June 2016. After various continuances were requested and granted, the Family Court held a hearing on the petitions on June 8, 2017.[3] The Family Court heard testimony from an employee at People's Place (a supervised visitation site), Maternal Grandmother's therapist, Maternal Grandmother, Maternal Great-Grandmother, Paternal Grandmother, Mother, and Father.

         (4) The undisputed testimony established that Mother and Father were both incarcerated at the time of the hearing and, therefore, the children were dependent in their care. Mother and Father both consented to Maternal Grandmother's guardianship of the children. At the time of the hearing, Paternal Grandmother had not allowed Maternal Grandmother contact with the children for more than a year and a half.

         (5) In addition to the undisputed testimony, the Family Court also found that both grandmothers have good relationships with the children and with their extended families. Before April 2015, Mother (and sometimes Father) and the children lived with Maternal Grandmother. Since April 2015, the children have adjusted well to living with Paternal Grandmother, and C.B.'s health issues have improved. Paternal Grandmother, however, has not allowed the children to visit with Maternal Grandmother for more than a year and a half and has refused to share information concerning the children's well-being, schooling, and medical care. Paternal Grandmother also filed a motion to reduce Maternal Great-Grandmother's court-ordered weekly telephone contact with the children and filed a Protection for Abuse petition against her, which was dismissed.

          (6) In reviewing Maternal Grandmother's petitions for guardianship, the Family Court applied the legal standard set forth in 13 Del. C. § 2330(c), which applies when a guardianship petition is filed against a current guardian and each parent consents to the proposed guardianship.[4] Applying that standard, the court is required to consider the best interests of the children. The best interest factors are set out in 13 Del. C. § 722.[5]

         (7) In considering the evidence, the Family Court found that some of the best interest factors weighed in favor of Paternal Grandmother, some weighed in favor of Maternal Grandmother, and some were neutral. The Family Court found that Paternal Grandmother had done a good job caring for the children and that the children were well-adjusted to their current home, school, and community. The Family Court also found, however, that Paternal Grandmother had shown an unwillingness to cooperate with Mother's side of the family and had damaged the children's relationships with Mother and Mother's family. The Family Court found evidence that the children would thrive in Maternal Grandmother's care and considered the wishes of both Mother and Father, who consented to Maternal Grandmother's guardianship. After balancing the factors, the Family Court concluded that it was in the children's best interests to grant Maternal Grandmother's petitions for guardianship.

         (8) Our appellate review of a Family Court guardianship decision includes a review of both the law and the facts.[6] If the Family Court correctly applied the law, we review for an abuse of discretion.[7] We will not disturb the Family Court's factual findings if those findings are supported by the record.[8] If the determination of facts turns on the credibility of the witnesses who testified under oath in court, we will not substitute our opinion for that of the trial judge.[9]

         (9) After careful consideration of the parties' respective positions on appeal and after a thorough review of the record, the Court has determined that this appeal should be affirmed on the basis of the Family Court's well-reasoned decision dated August 3, 2017. It is clear that the trial judge considered the evidence under the appropriate legal standards and applied a logical deductive process in concluding that granting Maternal Grandmother's guardianship petitions was in the best interests of the children. There is no rational support in the record for Paternal Grandmother's contention that the Family Court did not ...

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