Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Maine Supreme Court
In re E.L.
Mother and Father were the parents of two young daughters. Father was psychologically abusive to the family, most particularly to Mother. When Father, who was not a dentist, expressed his intent to perform dental work one of his daughters, Mother left the home with the children and obtained a child protection order against Father. The district court subsequently found that Father had subjected the children to circumstances of jeopardy and found the existence of an aggravating factor as defined by 22 Me. Rev. Stat. 4002(1-B)(A)(1). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) appropriately considered Father’s past actions when it found that the children had been placed in circumstances of jeopardy; and (2) correctly found that Father’s abuse was chronic, heinous and abhorrent to society. View "In re E.L." on Justia Law
In re Guardianship of Young
In 2012, Sarah Clifford and Debra Clifford petitioned the probate court for temporary guardianship of Tasha Young’s minor child. The court granted the Cliffords a temporary guardianship for a period of six months. Young appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support the award of temporary guardianship and that the court erred in its evidentiary rulings at trial and in denying her request for expert witness fees. Because the temporary guardianship expired by the time the Supreme Court heard the appeal, the matter was moot, and the Court dismissed the appeal. View "In re Guardianship of Young" on Justia Law
In re K.S.
While Mother and S.S.’s divorce was pending, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) filed a petition for a child protection order on behalf of K.S., Mother’s child, alleging that Mother and S.S. placed K.S. in jeopardy. The jeopardy hearing and divorce hearing were held at the same time. The district court subsequently entered an order awarding DHHS custody of K.S. and finding that S.S. (1) was K.S.’s de facto parent, (2) placed K.S. in jeopardy, and (3) was entitled to reunification services. Mother appealed, arguing that S.S. was not entitled to any reunification services or other rights regarding K.S. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) as K.S.’s de facto parent, S.S. was entitled to the same rights as Mother, including reunification efforts; and (2) there was sufficient evidence to support the finding of jeopardy. View "In re K.S." on Justia Law
Griffin v. Griffin
Husband and Wife were married and had a daughter who was born in 2006. In 2009, Husband filed a complaint for divorce. In 2012, the family law magistrate appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the child. In 2013, after a trial, the district court entered an amended divorce judgment awarding shared parental rights and responsibilities in most respects, allocating primary residence of the child to Husband, and ordering that Mother engage in post-judgment counseling with a counselor approved by the GAL. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the consent provision of Maine’s Interception of Wire and Oral Communications Act authorizes a parent to vicariously consent, on behalf of his or her minor child, to intercept the child’s oral or wire communications with another party when the parent has a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that it is necessary and in the child’s best interest to do so, and the record supported the district court’s determination that Father provided such vicarious consent in this case; and (2) the district court erred in ordering that the GAL continue services post-judgment to approve Mother’s counselor. View "Griffin v. Griffin" on Justia Law
Eaton v. Paradis
After the district court allocated primary residence of two minor children to Father, the children began residing with Father’s mother (“Grandmother”). Mother later sought primary residence and sole parental rights and responsibilities with regard to the children. In response, Grandmother filed a petition for de facto parental rights. The district court denied Grandmother’s petition, concluding that Grandmother failed to present sufficient evidence of her status as a de facto parent to establish that she had standing in a parental rights and responsibilities proceeding. Because the Supreme Court clarified, in Pitts v. Moore, the concepts necessary for a determination of de facto parenthood after the district court denied Grandmother’s petition, the Court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for reconsideration in light of the Court’s opinion in Pitts. View "Eaton v. Paradis" on Justia Law
Pitts v. Moore
Amanda Moore and Matthew Pitts were in an “on again, off again” relationship when Moore learned she was pregnant. The child was born in 2009. In 2011, Pitts filed a complaint seeking parental rights and responsibilities concerning the child. Moore asserted that Pitts was not the child’s biological father, and Pitts stipulated to that fact. The matter thus proceeded as one of asserted de facto parenthood. The district court determined that Pitts was the child’s de facto parent and that continued contact with Pitts was in the child’s best interest. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that pursuant to the Court’s newly-announced two-part standard pursuant to which de facto parenthood petitions must be evaluated, the matter must be remanded. View "Pitts v. Moore" on Justia Law
In re M.S.
In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) filed a petition for termination of Mother and Father’s parental rights to M.S., alleging that Mother had failed to take responsibility for her mental health issues, her substance abuse, and her abusive relationship with Father, and that Father had failed to protect M.S. from the risk of harm posed by Mother. After a hearing, the district court terminated both parents’ parental rights to M.S. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court erred in excluding the testimony of a DHHS caseworker regarding Father’s care for his daughter from a prior relationship, but the error was harmless; and (2) sufficient evidence supported the termination of the parents’ parental rights. View "In re M.S." on Justia Law
Hutchinson v. Cobb
In 2008, the district court entered a divorce judgment that awarded primary residence of Mother and Father’s child to Mother with specific rights of contact to Father. After the initial divorce judgment was entered, the parties filed multiple post-judgment motions on issues of custody and visitation. A hearing was held on Mother’s latest motion to modify, in which the district court determined that the parties’ child was competent to testify. The testimony was taken in chambers and off the record. Based on the testimony, along with Mother’s testimony, the district court concluded that it was not in the child’s best interest to continue to have unsupervised contact with Father. The Supreme Court vacated the order, holding (1) a trial court may not, in a civil proceeding, and in the absence of an agreement of the parties, take testimony from a child witness in chambers and off the record; and (2) the court’s ultimate decision to modify Father’s rights of contact based on the testimony was error, and the error was not harmless. View "Hutchinson v. Cobb" on Justia Law
In re Adoption of T.D.
Mother gave birth to a child in 2009. Mother arranged with a couple to adopt the child, and the couple was appointed the child’s temporary guardians (Guardians) while adoption proceedings commenced. However, subsequent genetic testing revealed that R.M. was the child’s father. The Guardians had filed a petition to terminate R.M.’s parental rights, which the probate court denied, concluding that the Guardians had not met their burden of proving that R.M. was unfit to parent the child. The probate court then ordered that the child be moved to Indiana, where R.M. lived. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the probate court did not err by concluding that the Guardians had not met their burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that R.M. was unfit to parent the child. View "In re Adoption of T.D." on Justia Law
In re G.W.
The Department of Health and Human Services initiated proceedings against Father with regard to his child, G.W. After a termination hearing, the district court determined that the Department had demonstrated all four statutory grounds for termination and that termination was in the best interest of the child. Father appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, holding (1) the district court did not violate Father’s due process rights by proceeding with the termination hearing without Father’s participation by telephone; and (2) the record contained sufficient evidence to support the district court’s finding that, by clear and convincing evidence, termination was in G.W.'s best interest. View "In re G.W." on Justia Law