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 denying Mother's motion to modify an order determining her and Father's parental rights and responsibilities with respect to the parties' child, holding that the district court acted within its discretion in denying Mother's motion to modify. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court's findings were supported by evidence in the record and that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion by (1) failing to find that a substantial change in circumstances had occurred since the original determination of Mother's visitation rights with the child; and (2) determining that the child's best interests would not be served by granting Mother's motion to modify. View "Kelley v. McKee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment finding that two of Father's children were in circumstances of jeopardy pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4035(2) and that returning the children to Father's custody was likely to cause them serious emotional or physical damage pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C.S. 1901-1963, holding that the court's factual findings supported its determination that the children were in jeopardy. Specifically, the Court held that, contrary to Father's contention, the court's findings established as more likely than not that returning the children to Father's custody would cause the children "[s]erious harm or [the] threat of serious harm." 22 Me. Rev. Stat. 4002(6)(A). View "In re Children of Troy H." on Justia Law

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In this child protection proceeding the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decisions of the district court entering a jeopardy order against Father and a later order adjudicating that he was the child's father, holding none of Father's challenges to the court's orders was persuasive. At the jeopardy hearing, the court found that Father was the child's biological father, that the child was in circumstances of jeopardy to his health or welfare, and that Father's abuse of the other child constituted an aggravating factor, entering a cease reunification order on that basis. Later, based on genetic test results revealing that Father was the child's biological parent, the court issued an order adjudicating that Father was the biological parent of the child. Father appealed both orders. As to the first order, Father argued that the court was required to adjudicate that he was a parent of the child before it could consider whether he presented circumstances of jeopardy to the child. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court correctly determined that Father was judicially estopped from challenging his parentage of the child; and (2) the court did not err by adjudicating Father's parentage without holding a hearing. View "In re Child of Nicholas P." 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 in finding abandonment and did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest. On appeal, Mother argued that the court erred as a matter of law in concluding that her failure to appear on the second day of the termination hearing constituted abandonment, in finding that she had the "intent to forego parental duties," and went beyond the scope of a termination proceeding by speculating about who would adopt the child post-termination. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the court did not err in finding that Mother had the intent to forego her parental duties and had therefore abandoned the child; and (2) the court acted with in the scope of its authority in speculating that the child would be placed with the great-grandmother. View "In re Child of Olivia F." 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 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