Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maine Supreme Judicial Court
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the portion of the judgment of divorce denying Sarah Teske's request to change her name and otherwise affirmed the judgment, holding that the court's rationale for denying the name change was erroneous.Tegan Teske filed a complaint for divorce from Sarah. Sarah filed an answer and counterclaim but did not request that the court change her name. Before a final hearing, each party submitted a proposed judgment to the court. Sarah's proposed judgment included a provision changing her name to her former name, Sarah Chagnon. The court subsequently entered a divorce judgment that did not change Sarah's name. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded with instructions to amend the judgment to provide that Sarah Teske's name be changed to Sarah Chagnon, holding that the trial court erred in not granting Sarah's request to change her name to her former name. View "Teske v. Teske" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the juvenile court placing A.I. in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, holding that the juvenile court correctly applied the preponderance of the evidence standard when it determined whether to place A.I. in the custody of the Department.On appeal, Mother argued that the matter should be remanded to the juvenile court so that findings can be addressed under a clear and convincing standard rather than a preponderance of the evidence standard. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding that A.I.'s dispositional hearing fell on the less-intrusive end of the continuum and that the juvenile court did not err when it applied the preponderance of the evidence standard in the proceedings below. View "State v. A.I." 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 record contained sufficient evidence for the trial court to find by clear and convincing evidence that Mother was unfit and that termination was in the best interest of the child.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the district court's findings as they relied to Mother's unfitness were supported by the evidentiary record, such as evidence regarding Mother's inability to remain child-focused and her longstanding health issues; and (2) there was neither error nor abuse of discretion in the district court's determination that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest. View "In re Child of Louise G." 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 children, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that Father was parentally unfit and that the court did not abuse its discretion in finding that termination was in the best interests of the children.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the record contained sufficient evidence for the trial court to find by clear and convincing evidence that Father was unable or unwilling to protect the children from jeopardy or take responsibility for the children within a time reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs or in finding that Father failed to make a good faith effort to rehabilitate and reunify with the children and was therefore unfit to parent the children; and (2) the record contained sufficient evidence for the trial court to conclude that termination was in the children's best interests. View "In re Children of Jason C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Parents' parental rights to their three children, holding that the trial court did not commit clear error or abuse its discretion.In terminating Parents' parental rights the trial court concluded that Parents were unwilling or unable to protect the children from jeopardy and that these circumstances were unlikely to change within a time calculated to meet the children's needs and that Parents had been unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the children within a time reasonably calculated to meet the children's needs. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department of Health and Human Services presented sufficient evidence upon which the trial court could find that Parents were parentally unfit; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that termination was in the children's best interests; and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in questioning Father or any other witness pursuant to Me. R. Evid. 614. View "In re Children of Jamie P." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed separate judgments entered by the district court terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to the children, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Mother's parental rights were terminated pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 22, 4055(1)(A)(1)(a) and (B)(1), and Father's parental rights were terminated pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 22, 4055(1)(B)(2)(a) and (b)(i)-(ii). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in finding that Mother knowingly and voluntarily contented to the termination of her parental rights; and (2) as to Father, the district court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion in finding at least one ground of parental unfitness and that termination was in the best interests of the children. View "In re Children of Brandon D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court granting Susan Colucci's complaint for divorce, holding that the court did not have an adequate evidentiary basis from which it could make the findings necessary for it to set aside the parties' dog to the correct party.On appeal, Stephen Colucci argued that the district court erred in awarding the parties' dog, Louise, to Susan because the dog was his nonmarital property. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that because the parties did not present any evidence of who, whether Susan or Stephen, acquired Louise five years before the marriage, the district court should have reopened the record for the parties to submit additional evidence regarding the ownership of Louise prior to entering a final judgment. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Colucci v. Colucci" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court granting Pamela Dobbins's motion to enforce the terms of a divorce judgment and a later court order acceptable for processing (COAP) federal retirement benefits, holding that the court lacked the authority to order Mark Dobbins to retire.In the COAP, the court stated that Mark was required to retire at age sixty-two. When Mark turned sixty-two years old, Pamela filed a motion to enforce the divorce judgment and COAP. Mark filed a motion for relief from judgment, arguing that the divorce judgment and COAP were ambiguous and that the court was not authorized to require him to retire at a specific age. The district court denied relief, finding that the divorce judgment and the COAP were enforceable as written. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the court lacked the authority to order Mark to retire at a certain age. View "Dobbins v. Dobbins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the district court dismissing, for lack of standing, Appellant's petition to establish de facto parentage of his stepson, holding that Appellant was entitled to a hearing to determine his standing.Appellant filed a petition to be adjudicated the child's de facto parent after the mother died unexpectedly. With the petition, Appellant included an affidavit alleging facts to support the existence of a de facto parent relationship with the child. The court dismissed the petition for lack of standing, concluding that Appellant could not establish a necessary element of standing even if the facts in his affidavit were true. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding (1) Appellant's assertions, if believed, could have led to a find that he had standing; (2) Respondent's affidavit generated disputed material facts that must be resolved to determine Appellant's standing; and (3) the court abused its discretion in refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve those factual disputes. View "Libby v. Estabrook" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father and Mother's parental rights to their five children, holding that the district court's findings were sufficient to support the court's ultimate determination that the parents were unable to protect the children from jeopardy or take responsibility for them in a time reasonably calculated to meet their needs.On appeal, the parents argued that the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services to rehabilitate the parents and reunify them with the children were insufficient and that the court erred in determining that the termination of the parents' parental rights was in the children's best interests. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) competent evidence support the court's finding that the Department's efforts were reasonable under the circumstances of this case; and (2) the court did not commit clear error or abuse its discretion when it determined that the termination of the parents' parental rights was in the children's best interests. View "In re Children of Jacob S." on Justia Law