Significant Cases

Significant Family Law Cases


Corning v. Corning, 563 A.2d 379 (Me. 1989)

When husband had resided in Maine for slightly more than six months, but both parties had resided for most of their married lives in Massachusetts, the Court dismissed the husband's action relying on the fact that since the wife had not submitted herself to Maine jurisdiction it was unlikely that Maine could acquire personal jurisdiction over her for the purpose of alimony and property considerations. Even though Maine had jurisdiction over the divorce action, Massachusetts could serve as an alternative forum on all issues.

Barclay v. Eckert, 2000 ME 10

Jurisdictional questions regarding determinations of child custody are controlled both by the UCCJA (recently replaced by the UCCJEA) and by the Parental Kidnaping Prevention Act (PKPA). In the event of a conflict, the PKPA preempts the UCCJA. In the absence of a conflict, the statutes should be considered in conjunction with one another. Once Maine properly assumes jurisdiction of the custody determination, it retains jurisdiction as long as one parent continues to reside here and the children's contact with Maine continues to be more than slight. The home state determination is only necessary when determining which state court should assume initial jurisdiction for the purpose of making child custody determinations. A court may nevertheless decline jurisdiction pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Shanoski v. Miller, 2001 ME 139

Neither the PKPA nor the UCCJEA prohibit Maine from declining to exercise jurisdiction on the ground of inconvenient forum. In fact, both statutory schemes contemplate a court declining to exercise jurisdiction. Neither statute supports the interpretation that a court with exclusive continuing jurisdiction must exercise jurisdiction if another court has erroneously accepted jurisdiction.

von Schack v. von Schack, 2006 ME 30

A judgment dissolving a marriage is not a property, or in rem, judgment, even if it has collateral effects on the parties' property rights. Rather than being a property interest, marriage is a legal union resulting in a legally recognized status or relationship between the spouses.

Maine courts have jurisdiction to enter a divorce judgment without personal jurisdiction over the defendant upon compliance with 19-A M.R.S.A. Section 901(1)(A) and all other procedural requirements.

When Maine lacks personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a divorce proceeding, Maine courts must exercise their limited jurisdiction with care.

Zeolla v. Zeolla, 2006 ME 118

The court shall use the broad discretion it is granted under statute to equitably divide all the marital and non marital property, wherever that property is located. The court, having personal jurisdiction over both parties, had jurisdiction to divide all of the parties' property.

Real v. Real, 2010 ME 117

A judgment may not be entered against a member of the Armed Forces in active duty who has not appeared, without appointing an attorney to inquire into and represent the service member's interest in the action.

Prenuptial Agreements

Laquailia v. Laqualia, 2011 ME 114

When the divorcing couple's premarital agreement unequivocally bars the awarding of spousal support, neither spouse can be required to provide the other with health insurance.


Foley v. Ziegler, 2005 ME 117

A magistrate does not have authority to dispose of a final child support order when there are issues other than child support being contested.

Distribution of Property

Eaton v. Eaton, 447 A.2d 829, 831 (Me. 1982), citing Boyd v. Boyd, 421 A.2d 1356, 1357-58 (1980)

The Court is not allowed to consider fault in the distribution of property on divorce.

Murray v. Murray, 529 A.2d 1366, 1368 (Me. 1987)

The Court is required to assign a specific value to all marital property for clarity for the litigants and to facilitate appellate review.

MacDonald v. MacDonald, 532 A.2d 1046 (Me. 1987)

The value of the property is determined as of the time it is to be distributed.

Sweeney v. Sweeney, 534 A.2d 1290 (Me. 1987)

A professional license or degree earned during the marriage is not marital property.

Metivier v. Metivier, 582 A.2d 971 (Me. 1990)

A court may enforce a property distribution by making adjustments to the mechanisms necessary for the distribution to occur.

Stevenson v. Stevenson, 612 A.2d 852 (Me. 1992)

The Court may determine that all of the proceeds from the sale of property is marital even if that property has both marital and non marital components. The Court is not compelled to accept husband's testimony that the portions of the property that were marital were conveyed by husband to husband and his wife for estate planning purposes. The Court may offset the husband's larger infusion of capital by wife's entrepreneurial leadership and management contribution.

Noyes v. Noyes, 617 A.2d 1036 (Me. 1992)

Although the increase in the value of real estate during the marriage not attributable to marital effort remains non marital property, the increase in equity resulting from mortgage payments made during the marriage is marital property absent a showing that the mortgage payments were made with non marital funds or that the parties agreed to exclude the increased equity from the marital estate.

Williams v. Williams, 645 A.2d 1118 (Me. 1994)

The party claiming a non marital interest in a marital property has the burden of proving what portion of the property is non marital and of showing how the value of non marital contributions appreciated. The fact that the party's salary paid for the mortgage does not make the property non marital.

Smith v. Smith, 1997 ME 29, 690 A.2d 970

Failure to dissolve ownership in a closely held corporation was reversible error, since divorced spouses could not be expected to continue a business relationship that would optimize resources and profits.

Harriman v. Harriman, 710 A.2d 923 (Me. 1998)

The debts of either or both spouses define a relationship with third parties. It is not an asset to be divided. Although the court can and should allocate responsibility for payment of debt between the spouses, it cannot affect the relationship between the creditor and the spouse or spouses.

Doucette v. Washburn, 2001 ME 38

We review the divorce court's disposition of marital property for an abuse of discretion and will overturn its decision only if there is a violation of some positive rule of law or if the division results in a plain and unmistakable injustice, so apparent that it is instantly visible without argument. A just distribution of property is not synonymous with an equal distribution.

Shaw v. Shaw, 2003 ME 153

When a court intends to exercise its discretion to reject all of a portion of a divorce-related agreement and the parties do not have reason to anticipate that the court would exercise that discretion, the court must give the parties notice of its intention and an opportunity to present additional evidence on the issue or issues.

Spooner v. Spooner, 2004 ME 69

Where one party's formerly separate property is transferred to the marital estate, an equitable division may involve awarding that spouse a larger share of the marital property.

Lesko v. Stanislaw, 2014 ME 3

Courts are not prohibited from considering the fiscal impact of a party's use of marital funds to pay legal expenses in determining a just division of marital property. Whether those fiscal impacts are characterized by a court as a form of “financial misconduct” is not material to the analysis.

Transmutation of Non Marital Assets

Carter v. Carter, 419 A.2d 1018 (Me. 1980)

Held that a documented transfer during marriage of real estate owned prior to marriage by one spouse into joint tenancy with the other spouse raises a presumption that the donor spouse intended to transfer the property to the marital estate in accordance with the "transmutation rule."

Hall v. Hall, 462 A.2d 1179 (Me. 1983)

Held that to the extent marital money was invested in the expansion and improvement of a residency owned by the one party prior to marriage, the marital estate was entitled to reimbursement in the amount by which the use of marital assets or marital labor enhanced the value of the property.

Smith v. Smith, 472 A.2d 943 (Me. 1984)

Addressed an inter-spousal transfer of non marital real estate from one spouse to both as tenants-in-common. Held that Carter did not require that every inter-spousal transfer be excluded from the gift exception of Subsection 722-A(2)(A). If clear and convincing evidence is presented that the transferor spouse did not intend to transmute the property to the marital estate, the gift exception subsection may apply in which case the state of title will control.

Cushman v. Cushman, 495 A.2d 330 (Me. 1985)

Established that the evidentiary burden imposed upon a party seeking to overcome the marital property presumption militates in favor of the introduction of corroborative evidence to support a party's direct testimony.

MacDonald v. MacDonald, 532 A.2d 1046 (Me. 1987)

Held that the Court must set aside as non marital property the increase of value of non marital property acquired by gift after the marriage.

Long v. Long, 1997 ME 171 (Me. 1997)

Real estate held in joint ownership is marital property regardless of the source of funds utilized in its acquisition.

Chamberlain v. Chamberlain, 2001 ME 167

Wife placed inherited funds in the checking account for a short time before setting up separate investment funds and trust funds for the children. In contrast to our holding in Long, we have never held that deposit accounts are subject to such automatic treatment as marital assets when funds are placed briefly in accounts, and we decline to do so now.

Kruy v. Kruy, 2002 ME 14

In Long, we affirmed the divorce court's exercise of its discretion in making an equal division of the property notwithstanding differences in the parties' original contributions to the purchase of their residence. We never indicated that it would have been an abuse of discretion to have divided the property otherwise.

Warner v. Warner, 2002 ME 156

To the extent that a party demonstrates that the increase in value of a spouse's non marital stock resulted from “market forces,” the increase in value is non marital property regardless of whether the spouse or spouses played a substantial active role in managing the stock. In addition, to the extent that a party demonstrates that the increase in value of a spouse's non marital stock resulted from reinvested income and capital gain, the increased value is non marital property unless it is also established that either or both spouses had a substantial active role during the marriage in managing, preserving or improving the property.

Warner v. Warner, 2002 ME 156

The routine and rudimentary nature of the decision to enroll in a dividend reinvestment program does not constitute substantial or active management, particularly when there is no evidence as to the time, energy and resources expended in conjunction with the decision.

Spooner v. Spooner, 2004 ME 69

Long means that when real estate is held in joint tenancy there is a presumption that it is marital. The presumption is rebuttable but on very narrow grounds. The presumption can be rebutted only if the spouse did not intend to transfer the property to joint ownership or the spouse was induced by fraud, coercion, duress, or deception. Furthermore, the presumption can be rebutted only with clear and convincing evidence. The presumption of donative intent in Carter, Lalime, and Weeks is not applicable after Long. The presumption from Long is that the property is presumed marital.

Zeolla v. Zeolla, 2006 ME 118

The court shall use the broad discretion it is granted under statute to equitably divide all the marital and non marital property, wherever that property is located. The court, having personal jurisdiction over both parties, had jurisdiction to divide all of the parties' property.

Hedges v. Pitcher, 2008 ME 55

To determine whether a spouse played a substantial active role in managing investments, a court must consider, among other factors: 1) whether a spouse engaged in routine reinvestment or, instead, actively managed the asset, 2) whether the actions of a spouse were nominal, inconsequential, or sporadic, 3) whether a spouse invested substantial marital time and energy in managing the asset (Warner, 2002 ME 156, 4) whether a spouse had an occupation separate from managing that property, Warner, 2002 ME 156, and 5) whether a spouse's knowledge of and involvement with the property is casual or in-depth.


Bliss v. Bliss, 583 A.2d 208 (Me. 1990)

An unvested right to retirement benefits, including military retirement benefits, is a contractual right, subject to equitable distribution in divorce proceedings.

Pongonis v. Pongonis, 606 A.2d 1055 (Me. 1992)

The Court may consider wife's anticipated social security benefits in computing the deferred distribution of pension benefits of each party, despite fact that social security benefits are not transferrable or assignable. A comparison of deferred distribution values of pension is as valid a method as comparing present value in dividing marital property.

Stotler v. Wood, 687 A.2d 1996 (Me. 1996)

Entitlement to net retirement annuity benefits accrued to the date of the Divorce Judgment entitles the spouse to one half of the pension benefits existing on the date of the divorce to the exclusion of any adjustments for cost of living and without regard to the ultimate pension benefits received by husband. Marital property that is not set apart or divided in a final divorce decree is omitted property which may be disposed of by the court as justice requires.

Greenwood v. Greenwood, 2000 ME 37 (Me. 2000)

An award equal to fifty percent of the marital component of a pension plan reflects the court's intent to allocate fifty percent of the entire marital portion of the plan valued at the time of the distribution.

Austin v. Austin, 2000 ME 61 (Me. 2000)

Gains or losses in the account's value subsequent to the divorce belong to the parties in proportion to their share in the fund.

Black v. Black, 2004 ME 21

Recipient of military retirement pay cannot covert his entitlement to disability pay in a manner to deprive spouse of portion of military retirement pay to which she is entitled.

Depot v. Depot, 2006 ME 25

A Maine Court may not assign a lump sum value to Social Security benefits and either transfer or offset those benefits when exercising its authority to divide marital property.

The annual amount of anticipated Social Security benefit payments a spouse is expected to receive may be a “relevant factor.” First, whether it is reasonable to expect that one or both spouses will qualify for and receive Social Security retirement benefit payments in the reasonable future; and second, whether the anticipated benefit payments are a substantial financial consideration when viewed in relation to the retirement assets and other sources of income that will be available to each spouse following the divorce.

Burnell v. Burnell, 2012 ME 14

The statute applies only when the court order expressly makes an award as a specific amount or percentage of benefits and does not itself grant a former spouse any independent right to the benefits.

Non Marital / Marital Cases

MacDonald v. MacDonald, 532 A.2d 1046 (Me. 1987)

A spouse who contends that a non marital asset has increased in value during the marriage has the burden to prove that the asset increased in value because of the inherent value of the property itself rather than because of marital money or efforts invested in the asset.

Craigue v. Craique, 617 A.2d 1027 (Me. 1992)

The trial Court awarded possession of the marital home to the wife (as custodial parent of the minor children) even though it was partially the non marital property of the husband. The Law Court affirmed stating that the non marital interest of the husband did not require the award of the property to him, only the value of his non marital interest.

McCracken v. McCracken, 617 A.2d 1034 (Me. 1992)

During the parties' marriage, Wife's grandmother conveyed $25,000.00 lot to the parties as joint tenants in exchange for $5,500.00 of wife's non marital funds. The Law Court held that although the wife acquired the land in exchange for non marital property, taking title in joint tenancy was presumed to be a gift to the marital estate and that the wife had failed to overcome that presumption by clear and convincing evidence.

Noyes v. Noyes, 617 A.2d 1036 (Me. 1993)

The pay down of a mortgage on separate property during a marriage creates a marital property interest in the asset.

Lalime v. Lalime, 629 A2d 59 (Me. 1993)

During the marriage husband transferred property he had acquired prior to the marriage into joint ownership with his wife. Husband asserted that the sole reason for the transfer was to secure a loan on the property, thus overcoming the Carter presumption. The Law Court held that husband's explanation does not rebut the presumption of gift, but only explains why the gift was made. The presumption of a gift to the marriage may only be overcome by clear and convincing evidence that the transferor did not intend to transfer to joint ownership, or was induced by fraud, coercion, duress, or deception.

Simoneau v. Simoneau, 693 A.2d 1135

The issue presented is not the proper division of marital property, but rather the proper determination of what constitutes marital property. The definition of marital property cannot be extended beyond the parameters set by the Legislature. We find nothing that makes it appropriate to treat as an asset of the marriage partnership a property interest which one party acquired during the period of a nebulous relationship between them.

Spooner v. Spooner, 2004 ME 69

The presumption of marital property recognizes the joint enterprise of marriage and carries out the parties' expectations. The same rule ought to apply to both real estate held in joint tenancy and asset accounts held jointly. When the parties own property in a documented form of joint ownership, such as a brokerage account, the account, with its assets, is presumed to be marital property, even though the assets were separately owned by one of the parties prior to placement in the joint account. This presumption that the property is marital can be overcome if the party seeking to have the property declared non marital proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that it was not that party's intent to place or transfer the assets into an account in joint ownership or that the party was induced by fraud, coercion, duress, or deception.

Warren v. Warren, 2005 ME 9

Because the dedication of time and skills to the company during the marriage increased the value of the stock, it was not error to include the appreciated stock value within the marital estate.

Ahern v. Ahern, 2008 ME 1

Enterprise goodwill is subject to distribution. Personal goodwill is not a species of property, but is relevant to establishing a professional earning capacity for purposes of determining support. Goodwill value attributable to the owner's skill and reputation and is not readily transferrable or realizable is not subject to distribution.

Ramsdell v. Worden, 2011 ME 55

To the extent that entitlement to a claim arises from the loss of a marital asset, including income that the beneficiary-spouse would have earned during the marriage, it will be marital property.

Laquailia v. Laqualia, 2011 ME 114

If the size of the marital estate is insufficient to support an equitable award, a court cannot distribute nonmarital property to the other party. An equal division is not necessarily an equitable one.

Miliano v. Miliano, 2012 ME 100

Notwithstanding the parties' long premarital relationship, absent proof of a marital component of value, the separate ownership of the real properties is decreed by Maine law, and the court's division and distribution of the real property conflicts with the statutory requirement that the court set apart to each party his or her nonmarital property.

Burrow v. Burrow, 2014 ME 111

Even after Long the divorce court remains free to consider the “traceable contributions” made by each spouse toward the
acquisition of the jointly owned real estate in arriving at an equitable distribution of the property. Although the court appears to have initially applied the obsolete “source of funds” rule to the property held jointly by the parties, the court appropriately clarified its application of the law when it ruled on the parties' post-judgment motions and determined that the property was entirely marital property. Rachel's transfer of the property into joint tenancy after the parties' marriage rendered the real property presumptively marital. No evidence was presented to overcome that presumption, and the court correctly concluded that the entire asset was marital property.

Unmarried Partners' Real Estate

Thibeault v. Brackett, 2007 ME 164

The elements of unjust enrichment are 1) a benefit conferred upon the Defendant by the Plaintiff, 2) an appreciation or knowledge by the Defendant of the benefit and 3) the acceptance or retention by the Defendant of the benefit under such circumstances as to make it inequitable for the Defendant to retain the benefit without payment of value.

Ayotte v. Ayotte, 2009 ME 20

Absent some legal partnership between the parties prior to marriage, the application of partnership law in the context of a divorce judgment is error. The application of partnership law folds nonmarital assets and contributions made by each party before the marriage into the marital property divided by the court.

Miliano v. Miliano, 2012 ME 100

When parties who have acquired property before marriage later
marry, in a subsequent divorce proceeding they need not file a separate action in equity in order to have the court establish the ownership rights of premaritally owned property.

Modification of Property Division

St. Hilaire v. St. Hilaire, 526 A.2d 28 (Me. 1987), 543 A.2d 822 (Me. 1988)

Where husband has willfully failed to market and sell the residence, responsibility for selling the marital home can be transferred to wife and is enforcement/implementation of property settlement, not modification.

Spousal Support

Skelton v. Skelton, 490 A.2d 1204 (Me. 1985)

Fault is not a statutory consideration when determining the appropriateness of alimony.

Henriksen v. Cameron, 622 A.2d 1135 (Me. 1985)

A spouse's action for intentional infliction of emotional distress is not barred by the doctrine of interspousal immunity or res judicata as a result of the parties' divorce judgment.

Klopp v. Klopp, 598 A.2d 462 (Me. 1991)

Payor spouse's unemployment does not require a modification of his alimony obligation because there was no reason to believe his current lack of income was permanent.

Hale v. Hale, 604 A.2d 38 (Me. 1992)

The parties cannot by agreement divest the Court from its power to decrease the amount of alimony because the alimony only specifically prohibits an increase of alimony if so provided in the decree. An anti-modification provision as to a decrease in alimony imposes upon the payor spouse a greater evidentiary burden than if there was no such provision.

Gray v. Gray, 609 A.2d 694 (Me. 1992)

The very high lifestyle of the parties during the marriage can justify an alimony award to a spouse with a significant income. Spouse can be awarded portion of marital closely held business despite spouse having made no contribution thereto on the basis of the parties' disparity of income and value of the property set apart to each spouse. Spouse's failure to cooperate in discovery requests may be a factor to consider when awarding attorney's fees.

Bonnevie v. Bonnevie, 611 A.2d 94 (Me. 1992)

It is inequitable to force a spouse to invade the spouse's
marital assets to reduce her entitlement to alimony.

Sherwood v. Sherwood, 622 A.2d 719 (Me. 1993)

Payor closed his place of business because of his long hours of work and inadequate income derived therefrom. The Court reduced his alimony obligation, but refused to reduce the obligation retroactive to the closing of the business. The Law Court held that the lower court may consider whether the former spouse engaged in self-help by ceasing to make payments.

Harding v. Murray, 623 A.2d 721 (Me. 1993)

The primary purpose of alimony is to provide for future needs of the divorcing spouse and to act as a substitute for the loss of support enjoyed during the marriage. Wife's right to payment did not arise until a judgment was entered and, therefore, is not a dischargeable claim in bankruptcy.

Quinn v. Quinn, 641 A.2d 180 (Me. 1994)

Just prior to filing for divorce, husband had transferred property held by a jointly owned corporation to the parties' adult children. Although the corporation was ultimately set aside to husband, the Court found that he had committed economic misconduct.

Hedrick v. Hedrick, 720 A.2d 1157 (Me. 1998)

A three year cut-off date for alimony is unreasonable where a child's uncertain future health condition makes prediction of economic self-sufficiency impossible.

Spencer v. Spencer, 720 A.2d 1159 (Me. 1998)

A Motion to reestablish an award of spousal support cannot be entertained by a court after the date of complete termination of an outstanding award.

Lyon v. Lyon, 728 A.2d 1273 (Me. 1999)

Cohabitation alone, without a substantial change in financial circumstances, is not sufficient to justify modification. When an anti-modification agreement has been incorporated into the divorce decree, however, the party seeking modification must show more than a substantial economic change.

Largay v. Largay, 2000 ME 108 (Me. 2000)

Where time-limited alimony is provided to permit readjustment after a divorce, a party cannot expect to unilaterally achieve an extension of the alimony period by electing not to take reasonable steps to achieve the intended readjustment.

Warner v. Warner, 2002 ME 156

We have stated on several occasions that spousal support awards may not be based on speculative predictions of future economic circumstances. It is incumbent upon the party seeking an unmodifiable award of general support to provide the court with competent evidence from which a predictive judgment can be made.

Wren v. Wren, 2003 ME 29

An individual's personal preference to pursue education or vocational training cannot, standing alone, justify a reduction in a preexisting support obligation.

Fitzpatrick v. Fitzpatrick, 2006 ME 177

Absent the parties' agreement, courts should exercise their discretion to order non-modifiable spousal support only where it is demonstrated that there is a heightened need to achieve greater certainty in the parties' post-divorce financial relationship.

Pettinelli v. Yost, 2007 ME 121

Although recent changes may have warranted some adjustment in the general spousal support obligation, the court abused its discretion by engaging in the kind of “reevaluation of the basis for the original spousal support award” that the substantial change in circumstances standard was meant to prevent. Post-judgment proceedings provide no invitation to reopen and re-litigate a divorce judgment or settlement agreement based on one party's second thoughts about whether he or she negotiated a good deal in the first place.

Gillis v. Gillis, 2011 ME 45

As long as a court does not attempt to divide military disability benefits directly, the USFSPA does not prevent the court from treating disability benefits as income for the purpose of determining a spouse's ability to pay support.

Charette v. Charette, 2013 ME 4

Because the weight of the evidence supported the conclusion that a cohabitation relationship did not involve any financial support, the court did not abuse its discretion in declining to lower a spousal support obligation on this ground.


Bryant v. Bryant, 411 A.2d 391, 394 (Me. 1980)

The Court has the power to require a spouse to maintain a life insurance policy or a health insurance policy on behalf of the other party.

Harding v. Murray, 623 A.2d 721 (Me. 1993)

The Law Court reversed Trial Court's requirement that husband maintain $250,000.00 of life insurance when the Judgment only required that one-half of that amount be for the benefit of the wife at the time of husband's death.

Personal Injury Claim

Palleschi v. Palleschi, 712 A.2d 383 (Me. 1998)

The husband subjected his wife to threats, degradation, dominance, sexual and emotional exploitation, force, and physical assaults. Evidence of abuse that occurred prior to the statutory limitations was properly admitted for the limited purpose of establishing the wife's reasonable fear of continued violence within the statutory limitations period - fear which the court found accounted for the wife's post-traumatic stress disorder.

McPherson v. McPherson, 712 A.2d 712 (Me. 1998)

One who knows or should know that he or she is infected with a sexually transmitted disease is under a duty to protect sexual partners from infection.

Ramsdell v. Worden, 2011 ME 55

By presenting sufficient evidence to the divorce court, a spouse may establish that a damages award received or a claim for damages accrued during the marriage comprises various components, and that some or all of each component is or will be “a direct replacement of nonmarital assets pursuant to section 953(2)(B).

Workers' Compensation

Cummings v. Cummings, 540 A.2d 778 (Me. 1988)

Workers' compensation benefits received or weekly benefits actually accrued but not yet paid are marital property. Workers' compensation awards paid after the marriage has been dissolved is compensation for wages that otherwise would be earned by and paid to the injured worker after the termination of the marriage and is non marital.

Doucette v. Washburn, 2001 ME 38

When a permanent impairment award is awarded separately from compensation for the loss of earning capacity, the award is singular to the person suffering the loss. Because it compensated the spouse for a loss that is uniquely personal, that is, the loss of or reduced use of a part of the human body, the court did not err in determining that the permanent impairment component constituted a non marital asset.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

Philbrick v. Cummings, 534 A. 2d 1307 (Me. 1987).

Only a substantial change of circumstances will warrant a modification of a judgment or decree.

Osier v. Osier, 410 A.2d 1027 (Me. 1980)

The Court will balance an inquiry into the religious practices of one parent with the need to determine what is in the best interests of the child.

Gerber v. Peters, 584 A.2d 605 (Me. 1990)

There is no attorney-client relationship between the parents and the Guardian ad Litem despite fact that parent is responsible for payment of the fee. The Guardian's duty is to the Court and not to the parents.

Campbell v. Campbell, 604 A.2d 33 (Me. 1992)

One parent's unsuccessful prosecution of a protection from abuse complaint against the other is relevant only if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence both 1) that the parent willfully misused the protection process in order to gain a tactical advantage in the divorce proceeding, and 2) that in the particular circumstances of the divorcing couple and their children, that willful misuse tends to show that the acting parent will after the divorce have a lessened ability and willingness to work with the other parent in their joint responsibility for the children.

Rowland v. Kingman, 629 A.2d 613 (Me. 1993)

The Law Court rejected wife's argument that as the primary parent, deference should be afforded her decision that it was in the children's best interest to move to Oregon. Intended relocation of a child to another state constitutes a substantial change of circumstances and it is the court's role to determine the best interests of the children in such circumstances.

Fraser v. Boyer, 722 A.2d 354 (Me. 1998)

Husband sought to introduce evidence regarding wife's pre-divorce conduct to support his request to procure primary residency of his child. Wife's move to another state triggers statutory establishment of a substantial change of circumstances. Thus, the issue for the court was what modification of the preexisting custody order was in the child's best interest. Where the court was required, for the first time, to assign one parent a dominant relationship with the child, evidence of relatively recent pre-divorce conduct was relevant, along with all of the evidence of post-divorce conduct.

Kennedy v. State of Maine, 730 A.2d 1252 (Me. 1999)

In Maine, the Guardian ad Litem in custody proceedings functions as the traditional adjunct of the court and, therefore, is an employee of the State within the meaning of the Maine Torts Claim Act.

Richards v. Thompson, 2004 ME 25

Implicit in every court order establishing parental rights and responsibilities is each parent's duty to refrain from unreasonable interfering with the rights of the other parent.

Jabar v. Jabar, 2006 ME 74

The Court may use qualitative factors when awarding primary residency to a parent when the non custodial parent has the children close to half the time (time with the children, involvement in school related issues and extracurricular activities, employment required to support the children while maintaining a household).

Nadeau v. Nadeau, 2008 ME 147

A child of any age is presumed competent to testify unless otherwise disqualified. The court may not bar a witness from testifying based on nothing more than the fact the witness is a child. The trial court has discretion, however, to determine if the prospective testimony of a child in a divorce proceeding may be unfairly prejudicial in that it will be emotionally harmful to the child or undermine the child's relationship with either or both parents. A court also has the discretion to defer ruling on whether a child's testimony is permitted to after considering the evidence presented in the case.

Bulkley v. Bulkley, 2013 ME 101

The court did not abuse its discretion in considering, at least in part, the parties' financial situations, to determine which parent offered the more stable living arrangements going forward. The court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the financial situations of the parents were relevant to the medical care that the child received and it has a reasonable bearing on the child's safety and well being.

Hutchinson v. Cobb, 2014 ME 53

Because the court relied heavily on the in-chambers testimony in its findings and its ultimate decision to modify Hutchinson's rights of contact, we cannot say that the error resulting from the absence of a record was harmless.

Griffin v. Griffin, 2014 ME 70

A parent or guardian may vicariously consent on behalf of his or her minor child to record or otherwise intercept an oral or wire communication of which that child is the sender or receiver, and may do so without violating those laws, when the parent or guardian “has a good faith, objectively reasonable basis for believing that it is necessary and in the best interest of the child to “consent” on the minor child's behalf to the recording. The parent intercepting the communication between the child and another person assumes the burden to demonstrate that he or she did so with a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that it was necessary and in the child's best interest to authorize the recording on behalf of the child.

Light v. D'Amato, 2014 ME 134

We conclude that the court did not limit the mother's constitutional right to travel and that, even if the judgment did collaterally affect that right, the court did not deprive D'Amato of her liberty without due process when it balanced the parents' and the child's rights and interests in reaching its judgment.

De Facto Parent

C.E.W. v. D.E.W., 2004 ME 43

The Court may consider an award of parental rights and responsibilities to an individual determined by the Court to be a de facto parent, based upon a determination of the child's best interest.

Pitts v. Moore, 2014 ME 59

An individual seeking parental rights as a de facto parent must therefore show that (1) he or she has undertaken a “permanent, unequivocal, committed, and responsible parental role in the child's life,” and (2) that there are exceptional circumstances sufficient to allow the court to interfere with the legal or adoptive parent's rights. Because the fundamental rights of a biological or adoptive parent are at issue and strict scrutiny must be applied to any interference with that right, and because the establishment of parental rights is no less permanent than the termination of parental rights, the petitioner must make those showings by clear and convincing evidence. A de facto parent potentially may be awarded all of the parental rights and responsibilities enjoyed by a biological or adoptive parent. A non-parent should have the opportunity to obtain the full panoply of rights and responsibilities only under the most exceptional circumstances, i.e., only when the non-parent can establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that harm to the child will occur if he or she is not acknowledged to be the child's de facto parent.

Parental Contact

Costigan v. Costigan, 418 A.2d 1144 (Me. 1980)

The Court may award reasonable rights of contact with a minor child to any third persons.

Knight v. Knight, 680 A.2d 1035 (Me. 1996)

By making future visitation contingent upon the certification of the therapist that the child is ready for visitation, it transfers the court's responsibility for determining the best interest of the child to the therapist. Although the court can consider the expression of such an expert opinion by a therapist, the court cannot make the visitation outcome dependent upon that opinion.

In re Melanie S., 712 A.2d 1036 (Me. 1998)

An order terminating parental rights deprives the court of any authority to impose a condition that preserves contact between the parent and the child.

Grandparents' Rights

Rideout v. Riendeau, 2000 ME 198 (Me. 2000)

Where the grandparents have acted as the children's parents for significant periods of time, the Grandparents Visitation Act serves a compelling state interest in addressing the children's relationship with the people who have cared for them as parents. Because the Act is narrowly tailored to serve that compelling interest, it may be applied in this case without violating the constitutional rights of the parents.

Conlogue v. Conlogue, 2006 ME 12

The death of one parent in itself is not an urgent reason that justifies forcing the surviving parent into litigation.

Child Support

Baril v. Baril, 354 A.2d 392 (Me. 1976)

A Maine divorce Court does not have the authority to award child support for expenses which will be incurred after the child's attainment of majority.

Absher v. LaCombe, 432 A.2d 1241 (Me. 1981); Wood v. Wood, 407 A.2d 282 (Me. 1979); Tapman v. Tapman, 544 A.2d 1265 (Me. 1988)

Maine Courts require a petitioner to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that an increase or a decrease of a support obligation is necessitated by a substantial change of circumstances.

Ault v. Pakulski, 520 A.2d 703 (Me. 1987)

Parents may enter into a binding contractual agreement regarding college expenses, so long as the agreement and obligation is defined and specific.

LeBlanc v. LeBlanc, 597 A.2d 62 (Me. 1991)

When a non-primary provider has the child for a significant portion of the available time it is possible for the Court to deviate from the guidelines and order the primary caretaker to pay child support to the non-primary provider.

Carter v. Carter, 611 A.2d 86 (Me. 1992)

The Court may assess arrearages of support in excess of six years. The six year statute of limitations as to civil actions, which are not actions on a judgment or decree, is not applicable. Since the Court cannot retroactively modify child support, each payment becomes a judgment debt as of the date due and Maine has no statute of limitations for actions on a judgment.

True v. True, 615 A.2d 252 (Me. 1992)

The Law Court held that money received by the wife through regular gifts from an elderly grandmother was not income under the guidelines because there was no legal obligation to continue making them in the future.

Tardif v. Cutchin, 617 A.2d 1032 (Me. 1992)

Post-divorce Court increased husband's child support obligation from $66.00 per week to $247.00 per week, applying the guidelines to assumed earnings because the husband had transferred commercial real estate holdings to his present wife and had otherwise acted to diminish or hide his real earnings. The Law Court affirmed holding that a modification of child support will be accorded "unusual deference" and affirmed absent a violation of some positive rule of law when it results in a plain and unmistakable injustice so apparent that it is instantly visible without argument.

Rich v. Narofsky, 624 A.2d 937 (Me. 1993)

The trial Court relieved the non-custodial mother of any child support obligation because of her negligible income. The Law Court reversed holding that the lower court was required to consider mother's part-time and summer earning capacity.

Harvey v. Robinson, 665 A.2d 215 (Me. 1995)

A parent's good faith decision to voluntarily give up full-time employment to pursue education must be balanced with an evaluation of the long term effect that decision has on the interests of the children for whom the parent has an established duty of support.

Ouellette v. Ouellette, 687 A.2d 242 (Me. 1996)

A child's receipt of social security benefits should be considered by the court when determining an appropriate level of child support. However, the court may only deviate from the guidelines if it finds that their application would be inequitable or unjust and it incorporates written findings in support of the deviation.

Melanson v. Belyea, 698 A.2d 492 (Me. 1997)

The courts have the authority to modify divorce judgments entered prior to January 1990 to provide support payments until a child's 19th birthday or high school graduation, whichever occurs first.

Beck v. Beck, 733 A.2d 981 (Me. 1999)

A modification of a child support obligation can be retroactively applied only from the date notice of the petition for modification was served on the other party.

Wren v. Wren, 2003 ME 29

An individual's personal preference to pursue education or vocational training cannot, standing alone, justify a reduction in a preexisting support obligation. A person's earning or income potential is a product of a variety of factors, including that person's qualifications, income history, and the earning or income opportunities that are reasonably available to that person.

Bouchard v. Frost, 2004 ME 9

If there is no evidence of waiver, bad faith, or a constitutionally impermissible purpose, sovereign immunity bars the retroactive recovery of payments made to the Department of Human Services, even if the recipient of the benefit is later determined to be ineligible.

Walker v. Walker, 2005 ME 21

The Legislature intended to include severance pay, regardless of how the payments are made, in the definition of gross income for the purposes of child support calculations.

Bonville v. Bonville, 2006 ME 3

Although it is appropriate to include an order enforcing an arrearages debt in a final judgment, an arrearages debt is not extinguished when it is not included in the final judgment.

Lawrence v. Webber, 2006 ME 36

When the parties provide substantially equal care for children, the support for the total number of children in the family is utilized. When one party provides primary residential care for a child, the total number of children in the household is utilized.

Carolan v. Bell, 2007 ME 39

The Court did not err in its treatment of employer-paid health benefits to impute income to each party. However, a parent who has a full-time job consistent with the parent's education and experience, but who works less than a forty-hour week, is not, thereby subject to having his or her income recalculated to a forty-hour per week equivalent for child support calculation purposes.

Allen v. Allen, 2007 ME 111

The deviation from the child support guidelines agreed to in 1999 can no longer support an upward or downward deviation from the child support guidelines when the newly calculated award significantly exceeds the prior award that included the upwards deviation.

Payne v. Payne, 2008 ME 35

Court can deviate from the guidelines if it found that a party's tax situation resulted in the availability of unanticipated financial resources, or that failing to take the tax situation into account would be unjust or not in a child's best interest. When the Court is awarding the amount recommended by the guidelines, not deviating from them, a court may not directly impute income to a party based on the party's general tax situation.

Pratt v. Sidney, 2009 ME 28

In considering whether or not two parents are providing “substantially equal care,” the Court is required to conduct a more detailed inquiry into who provides the child's residential, education, recreational, child care and medical, dental and mental health care needs. Factors other than time spent with the child are important to the determination of the provision of substantially equal care for the child.

Holbrook v. Holbrook, 2009 ME 80

An agreement of the parties' with regards to child support may be contrary to public policy if it ties the court's hands and prevents it from modifying the judgment in the future to account for a substantial change of circumstances.

Bard v. Lord, 2010 ME 48

The court may take judicial notice of Department of Labor statistics to impute earning capacity.

Cloutier v. Turner, 2012 ME 4

The right to installments of alimony or for support becomes absolute and vested as they become due and this right is vested in the custodial parent, since any award of arrearages is, in effect, a reimbursement for support owed by the noncustodial parent and paid by the custodial parent. Although the obligation to provide future support ends when the child reaches majority, liability for arrearages does not terminate then, and, therefore, a parent has standing to bring a motion to enforce.

Cloutier v. Turner, 2012 ME 4

Child support arrearages are considered money judgments. There is no statute of limitations for money judgments; rather, there is a statutory presumption of payment after the lapse of twenty years pursuant to 14 M.R.S. § 864 (2011).

Wong v. Hawk, 2012 ME 125

A benefit results from the obligor parent's disability” only if it accrued due to an injury or illness that impaired that parent's earning capacity, not from retirement.

Protection from Abuse

O'Brien v. Weber, 2012 ME 98

The statute does not authorize the court to enter a new protection order to replace a previously expired protection order.
Although evidence of a prior act or acts of abuse that were the basis for an expired protection order may be relevant in a new proceeding, that evidence is not by itself sufficient to meet the plaintiff's burden of proof in the new proceeding.

Waltz v. Waltz, 2013 ME 1

Proof of the existence of a PFH orders' no-contact provision, standing alone, does not satisfy a contemnor's burden or production to overcome the presumption of a present ability to comply with the property distribution provisions of a related divorce judgment.

Sparks v. Sparks, 2013 ME 41

The Protection from Abuse statute allows temporary parental rights and responsibilities to apply to persons responsible for a child, even if they are not the child's legal parents.

Sparks v. Sparks, 2013 ME 41

The protection from abuse statute permits the court to award temporary parental rights to a step parent and does not violate the father's rights to due process.

Clark v. McLane, 2014 ME 8

Abuse comes in many forms, and neither the plain language of the protection statute nor our prior interpretations of it requires evidence of physical harm or the risk of physical harm to sustain a finding of abuse.

Mediated Agreements

Cloutier v. Cloutier, 2003 ME 4

A family matter agreement does not become an order of the court until it is presented to and approved by the court. When the court, acting within its discretion, concludes that there is a basis for setting aside an agreement that has not been incorporated in a court order, it may do so.

Hamilton v. Hamilton, 2009 ME 83

A court hearing a divorce or post-judgment motion is not bound to accept the terms of any agreement reached in mediation. A court may reject any or all portions of an agreement that it deems is not in the best interests of the parties or their children, is not in the public interest, or is contrary to law.

Marital Agreements

Peterson v. Leonard, 622 A.2d 87 (Me. 1993)

Parties' 1978 Divorce Judgment incorporated by reference the Settlement Agreement between the parties which required Husband to contribute to the support of the children while in college. After Husband fails to do so, the Wife brought an action to enforce the Divorce Judgment and a plenary action seeking specific performance of the Settlement Agreement as a contract. The Law Court held that absent contract language to the contrary, incorporation of the Settlement Agreement into a Divorce Judgment constitutes merger and the Agreement is no longer separately enforceable as a contract. Once the Agreement was incorporated into a Divorce Judgment, the Court has jurisdiction to enforce the obligation even though the Court could not have created the obligation to support an adult child absent the agreement of the parties.

Sargent v. Sargent, 622 A.2d 721 (Me. 1993)

Subsequent to parties' divorce, wife sues former husband alleging that he induced her to execute the separation agreement by misrepresenting the extent of the property accumulated during the marriage. The Law Court held that fraud is an exception to the doctrine of res judicata and that the wife is not foreclosed from asserting her action.

Staples v. Staples, 2001 ME 121

Parties can agree to distribution and support which a court might not be able to order in the absence of an agreement.

Dewhurst v. Dewhurst, 2010 ME 99

For an agreement reached in a judicial settlement conference to be enforceable, the parties must demonstrate their mutual assent by creating a record of their agreement, either by signing a written agreement or placing their oral stipulation on the record in open court.

Attorney's Fees

Rosen v. Rosen, 651 A.2d 335

The trial court is not limited to considering the parties' relative financial positions, but could also consider the parties' conduct contributing to the need for the filing of th emotion.

Miele v. Miele, 2003 ME 113

A party's conduct may be taken into account in awarding attorney fees especially when costs of litigation, or other expenses related to the divorce, have been needlessly increased.


Estate of Jessica Banks v. Banks, 2009 ME 34

Because Rule 58 states that a judgment is enforceable and effective upon signature, that is when a judgment becomes final.

Brown v. Habrle, 2010 ME 72

Prejudgment interest is not available with respect to awards that accomplish the division of marital property in divorce proceedings. However, post judgment interest is available absent an express waiver of interest by the court for good cause.


Jarvis v. Jarvis, 2003 ME 53

A trial court's verbatim adoption of findings or orders proposed by one party in a case is disfavored, as such an approach suggests that the court has not carefully reviewed the evidence or applied its independent judgment in making its findings and conclusions. The trial court has a duty to make findings sufficient to inform the parties of the reasoning underlying its conclusions and to provide for effective appellate review.

Fitzgerald v. Bilodeau, 2006 ME 122

An immediate appeal from a denial of a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens under the UCCJEA is inappropriate.

Gorman v. Gorman, 10 ME 123

An appeal from a referee's report will not be entertained unless a proper objection to that aspect of the report has been made in the court that appointed the referee.

Laquailia v. Laqualia, 2011 ME 114

When a divorce judgment terminates a temporary order of spousal support by ordering a payment in lieu of support, or when the level of support is reduced to reflect a weighted division of property, a trial court may well decide to stay those portions of its judgment — leaving the previously ordered, temporary payment scheme in place — if one of the parties files an appeal.

Post-Judgment Interest

Allen v. Allen, 603 A.2d 482 (Me. 1992)

Post-judgment interest which accrues on unpaid child support
is simple interest at the rate in effect when the payment became due.

Tarbuck v. Jaeckel, 2000 ME 105 (Me. 2000)

On petition of the nonprevailing party and on a showing of good cause, the trial court may order that interest awarded by Title 14, Section 1602-A, shall be fully or partially waived. (Footnote - Waiver of post judgment interest is the exception and not the rule).

Walsh v. Cusack, 2008 ME 74

Where a party brings a claim for child support arrearages and desires an award of post-judgment interest on those arrearages accruing from the date that each missed support payment came due, the party must, at a minimum, supply the court with evidence sufficient to establish 1) the amount of each payment and the date the payment came due, and 2) the rate of interest applicable to that missed payment. Absent this evidence, the party is limited to recovering post-judgment interest on the total arrearage amount, to accrue from the date the court enters the arrearage judgment.


Dostanko v. Dostanko, 2013 ME 47

Coercive imprisonment cannot be made conditioned upon payment of a fine which includes a compensatory fine and newly imposed attorneys fees, which the court cannot enforce by coercive imprisonment absent a new contempt proceeding for nonpayment.

Jackson v. MacLeod, 2014 ME 110

Because no motion for contempt was pending at the November 2013 hearing, there was no procedure under which the court could validly enter a contempt finding. Therefore, the court lacked authority to impose the civil penalty.