Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the district court finding that Father's two children were in circumstances of jeopardy but vacated in part the orders granting two parental rights motions to modify, holding that the court erred, in part, in granting the motions to modify. This consolidated appeal concerned proceedings to determine parental rights and responsibilities and child protection proceedings involving Father, the two children, and the biological mother of each child. The district court entered judgments that (1) found both children were in circumstances of jeopardy; (2) granted a motion to modify an order governing parental rights and responsibilities between Father and the mother of the older child; and (3) granted a motion to modify an amended divorce judgment between Father and the mother of the younger child. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed in part the motions to modify, holding (1) the court did not clearly err in determining that each child was in circumstances of jeopardy; and (2) as to the motions to modify, the court erred by requiring that future contact between Father and each child be dependent upon the recommendation of the child's therapist because this transferred the court's responsibility for determining the best interest of the children. View "In re Children of Richard E." 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 pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4055(1)(B)(2)(a), (b)(i), (ii), holding that there was sufficient record evidence to support the court's findings of parental unfitness and best interest by clear and convincing evidence. The court terminated Mother's parental rights to the child on the grounds that Mother was unable to protect the child from jeopardy and unable to take responsibility for the child and that these circumstances were unlikely to change in a time reasonably calculated to meet the child's needs. The court further found that termination of Mother's rights was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that there was no abuse of discretion in the court's determination that the termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest. View "In re Child of Amber D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment entered by the district court finding that Mother's child was in circumstances of jeopardy pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4002(6), 4035(2), and ordering the child remain in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the court's determination that the child was in jeopardy. On appeal, Mother challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the court's finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the child was in circumstances of jeopardy. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that, taken together, the court's supported factual findings were sufficient to support its determination that the child would be "subject to a threat of serious harm" if he were returned to the custody of Mother. View "In re Child of Whitney M." 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 competent evidence in the record supported the court's finding that Mother was parentally unfit and that the court did not err in finding that the Department of Health and Human Services had made reasonable efforts to reunify and rehabilitate Mother's family. Based on the evidence before it, the district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother met two of the four definitions of parental unfitness. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the court's judgment terminating Mother's parental rights; and (2) the court did not err in finding that the Department had made reasonable efforts to reunify and rehabilitate the family. View "In re Child of Amelia C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that Mother and Father's child was in jeopardy pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4035, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not err in applying the presumption in Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4035(2-A) regarding Father's prior convictions for sex offenses against children, nor did it impermissibly shift the burden of proof to the parents in violation of their due process rights; and (2) the district court's ultimate determination, by a preponderance of the evidence, of jeopardy was not clearly erroneous. View "In re Child of Ryan F." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that Mother's child was in circumstances of jeopardy to the child's health or welfare and ordering that the child remain in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, holding that Mother's due process right was not violated and that the court's factual findings were not clearly erroneous. Specifically, the Court held (1) in the proceedings below, there was no error, obvious or otherwise, that deprived Mother of a fair trial or resulted in a substantial injustice; and (2) contrary to Mother's argument, the district court's supported findings established as more likely than not that returning the child to Mother's custody would cause the child serious harm or the threat of serious harm. View "In re Child of Brooke B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's and Mother's parental rights to their child, holding that the court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the district court's findings of the parents' parental unfitness; (2) the district court did not commit clear error or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of the parents' parental rights was in the child's best interest; (3) the rehabilitation and reunification efforts made by the Department of Health and Human Services were sufficient; and (4) the court did not abuse its discretion by admitting out-of-court statements made by the parties' child. View "In re Child of Nicholas W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated in part the judgment of the district court determining Father's and Mother's parental rights and responsibilities as to their son, holding that the court must clarify or amend its findings as to Mother's gross income. In its judgment, the district court awarded Mother primary physical residence of the parties' child and set Father's continuing child support obligation. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment in part, holding (1) because the judgment contained no explanation of how the court determined Mother's gross income, the matter is remanded for the district court to consider the apparently undisputed evidence about Mother's receipt of fringe benefits and to justify or amend its calculation of Mother's gross income; (2) the court did not err in calculating Father's gross income by imputing income to him during his period of incarceration; and (3) because the court must clarify or amend its findings as to Mother's gross income, the portion of the judgment pertaining to attorney fees is also vacated. View "McLean v. Roberston" 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 children, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) competent evidence in the record supported the court's finding that both parents in his case were parentally unfit; (2) the court did not commit clear error or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of both parents' parental rights was in the best interests of the children; and (3) the court did not err in finding that the Department of Health and Human Services had made reasonable efforts to reunify and rehabilitate Father's family, despite the Department's failure to create a written plan for Father. View "In re Children of James B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of divorce in this case, holding that there was no merit in Husband's arguments concerning a premarital agreement and a 401(k) plan Husband created during the marriage and that any error in the district court's consideration of the value of Husband's non marital property in its property distribution was harmless. On appeal, Husband argued that the district court (1) erred by interpreting the parties' premarital agreement as not applicable to the 401(k) plan and by failing to consider his testimony that the 401(k) plan was funded in part with nonmarital property, and (2) abused its discretion by making contradictory findings regarding its consideration of his nonmarital real estate and the debt associated with that property. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court did not err in concluding that the 401(k) plan was marital property; and (2) any error in the manner of the court's consideration of the value of Husband's nonmarital real property was harmless. View "Dow v. Billing" on Justia Law