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Jensen v. Jensen

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

August 6, 2015

PAMELA M. JENSEN
v.
LARRY R. JENSEN

Argued December 10, 2014.

On the briefs and at oral argument: Christopher K. MacLean, Esq., Elliott & MacLean, LLP, Camden, for appellant Pamela M. Jensen.

Philip S. Cohen, Esq., Law Offices of Cohen & Cohen, P.C., Waldoboro, for appellee Larry R. Jensen.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

OPINION

Page 810

SAUFLEY, C.J.

[¶1] Pamela M. Jensen appeals from a judgment entered in the District Court (Rockland, Sparaco, J. ) adopting a divorce judgment entered by a family law magistrate ( Mathews, M. ) despite Pamela's objection to the judgment. She argues that the magistrate erred in denying her motion to set aside a settlement agreement that she and her former husband, Larry R. Jensen, arrived at following mediation and erred in entering the divorce judgment over her objection. We conclude that, because Pamela contested the terms of the agreement before the entry of a final judgment, and because this matter does not involve minor children or child support, the magistrate was without jurisdiction to enter the judgment and should have referred the parties to a hearing before a judge in accordance with 4 M.R.S. § 183(1)(D) (2014) and M.R. Civ. P. 114. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] Pamela and Larry were married for almost thirty-five years before Pamela filed for divorce in March 2013. The complaint for divorce indicated that the couple has no minor children. Prior to attending court-sponsored mediation, both parties filed financial statements. In Pamela's financial statement, after disclosing other real property, bank accounts, and marital debts, Pamela listed Larry's Maine Public Employee Retirement System (MePERS) account, which he has accrued through his employment as a teacher. Pamela's financial statement reported that the account had a " balance" of $225,224.10 as of December 11, 2011. Larry did not disclose the existence of the MePERS account, its value, or its nature in his financial statement. Neither party presented evidence of the present value of the defined-benefit retirement account.[1]

Page 811

[¶3] The parties, both represented by counsel, attended mediation in July 2013. At that time, the parties reached an agreement on all pending issues and signed a " points of agreement" form. The agreement purported to distribute all of the marital and nonmarital property and debts. By the agreement's terms, Pamela would own the marital home and real estate, which has approximately $85,000 in equity, and be responsible for the accompanying debt.[2] She would also receive a car, several joint bank accounts with a total balance of over $4,600, her IRA with a balance of $48,210, and any other accounts in her name. Larry would receive a credit union account with an $865 balance, a car, his IRA with a balance of $49,381, and any other accounts in his name. The MePERS account would be allocated to Larry in its entirety.

[¶4] In addition to assuming the mortgage on the marital home and real estate,[3] Pamela would be allocated the debt related to a Chase credit card. Larry would be allocated the debts associated with Bank of America, TD Bank, and Maine Education Credit Union. The agreement also stated that Larry agreed to pay spousal support to Pamela in the amount of $750 per month for the first twelve months and $500 per month for the following four years, resulting in a total of approximately $33,000 in payments over the five years.

[¶5] Immediately following mediation, an uncontested hearing was held before a family law magistrate at which both parties, and their counsel, were present. Larry testified and placed the agreement's terms on the record, which included allocating the MePERS account to himself. Larry did not describe the MePERS account as marital property or place a value on the account.

[¶6] Larry testified that he believed that the terms of the agreement represented a fair and equitable distribution of the parties' assets and debts. The magistrate then asked Pamela whether she was in agreement with Larry's testimony and with the terms as described by Larry and in the mediated agreement, to which she simply responded, " Yes." Larry's counsel then indicated that he would prepare the proposed divorce judgment for the court's signature. See 19-A M.R.S. § 251(3) (2014) (" An agreement reached by the parties through mediation on issues must be reduced to writing, signed by the parties and presented to the court for approval as a court order." ); see also M.R. Civ. P. 114(b)(2) (" A ...


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