Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his two youngest children, holding that Father's due process rights were not violated during the termination proceedings and that the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that termination of Father's parental rights was in the children's best interests. On appeal, Father argued, among other things, that the district court erred in denying his motion to continue when he was absent during the second day of the termination hearing because he had been arrested shortly before the proceedings began. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the resumption of the termination hearing when Father was not present did not deprive him of his right to due process; and (2) the court's best interest determination was well within its discretion. View "In re Children of Benjamin W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the court did not err by finding that Mother was parentally unfit and that termination was in the child's best interest. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) competent evidence supported the court's determination that Mother was parentally unfit; and (2) given the court's proper findings of the child's need for safety, security, and permanency, and Mother's failure to have met those needs, the court did not err in concluding that termination was in the best interest of the child. View "In re Child of Katherine C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to their child, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of the parents' parental rights would be in the child's best interest. On appeal, Father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence regarding the court's determination that he was unfit, and both parents argued that the court erred in concluding that termination of their parental rights was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court did not clearly err by finding that Father was unlikely to become fit within a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination was in the child's best interest where the permanency plan for the child was adoption or a permanency guardianship with the child's grandmother. View "In re Child of Kimberly K." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the order of the district court modifying child support and spousal support, holding that there was no error except in the court's calculation of the child support obligation. After James Sulikowski and Sandra Sulikowski divorced Sandra filed a motion to modify child support, alleging that James's income and increased substantially since the divorce. Thereafter, James filed a motion to terminate spousal support, alleging that Sandra's income had increased substantially and that Sandra had been cohabiting in a relationship functionally equivalent to marriage. The court modified James's child support obligation and reduced James's spousal support obligation while ordering Sandra to repay James for his overpayment of spousal support. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the child support order but otherwise affirmed, holding that, among other things, the court erroneously calculated the weekly child support obligation using the amount listed in the child support table for two children instead of three children but as to the remainder of the order, the district court did not err. View "Sulikowski v. Sulikowski" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding by clear and convincing evidence that the four children of Mother and Father were in circumstances of jeopardy as to each parent and that continued custody of the children by either parent was likely to cause them serious emotional or physical damage, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in relying on out-of-court statements made by the children; (2) under state and federal law, the evidence was sufficient to support the court's required factual findings by clear and convincing evidence that the children were in circumstances of jeopardy and that returning the children home would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage; and (3) the parents' argument that the evidence did not support the court's dispositional order was interlocutory and not cognizable here. View "In re Children of Danielle H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Nancy Bergin a divorce from Daniel Bergin, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion in setting parental rights and responsibilities between the parties as to their three minor children and by denying Nancy's request for an order for protection from abuse. Specifically, the Court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in (1) granting Daniel primary residence of the children and final decision-making authority in regard to the children; (2) allowing an expert on parental alienation to testify; (3) declining to award Nancy continuing spousal support; and (4) denying Nancy's request for an order for protection from abuse. View "Bergin v. Bergin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating the parental rights of Mother and Father to their children, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the court's determination that the parents were parentally unfit and that the court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination was in the children's best interests. Specifically, the Court held (1) the lower court's findings were sufficient to support the court's determinations that both parents were unwilling or unable to protect the children from jeopardy and these circumstances were unlikely to change within a time reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs and that termination of the parents' parental rights was in the children's best interest; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motion for relief from the judgment on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel and in concluding that no hearing was necessary. View "In re Children of Meagan C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that Father's children were in circumstances of jeopardy to their health or welfare in Father's care, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. On appeal, Father argued, among other things, that the court violated his due process rights in entering the jeopardy order because the matter was initiated due to the failure of the Department of Health and Human Services to continue to pay in a timely manner for the family's temporary housing, which resulted in Father's arrest for criminal trespass. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) although Father was correct that the Department's delay in payment contributed to the situation, the circumstances upon which the court based its jeopardy finding were well supported in the record; and (2) the court did not err in finding an existing threat of serious harm to the children that necessitated the entry of a jeopardy order. View "In re Children of Philip M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to his child pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(ii), (iv), holding that Father was not denied a fair hearing and that the court did not err by drawing an adverse inference from Father's invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege. On appeal, Father argued that the district court's judgment violated his due process rights because the court predicated factual findings that he was involved in illegal drug activity in part on his invocation at trial of his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) Father received a fair hearing; (2) the court did not err by considering evidence of Father history of drug-related criminal conduct and substance abuse, established in part by adverse inferences, as factors that contributed to the determination of parental unfitness; and (3) the court was entitled to conclude that Father was parentally unfit within the meaning of at least one statutory definition of that legal standard. View "In re Child of Scott A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Mark Belliveau's complaint for divorce from Janet Whelan because the parties were never legally married, holding that the court did not err by declining to adopt the putative spouse doctrine or the doctrine of marriage by estoppel. For twenty-six years, the parties in this case held themselves out to be a married couple. Belliveau ultimately filed a complaint for divorce. Whelan sought to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the parties were never legally married. The court agreed with Whelan and dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed after declining Belliveau's request that the Court adopt one, or both, of two equitable doctrines, holding (1) the parties did not comply with the statutory requirements to enter into a valid marriage; and (2) the adoption of either the putative spouse doctrine or the doctrine of marriage by estoppel would be an infringement on the Legislature's function. View "Belliveau v. Whelan" on Justia Law