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Marston v. Marston

Supreme Court of Maine

June 7, 2016

RICHARD L. MARSTON
v.
ARMANDE C. MARSTON

          Submitted On Briefs: April 21, 2016

         Fort Kent District Court docket number FM-2008-35

          Alan F. Harding, Esq., Hardings Law Office, Presque Isle, for appellant Armande C. Marston

          Scott G. Hunter, Esq., Solman & Hunter, P.A., Caribou, for appellee Richard L. Marston

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

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Armande C. Marston appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Fort Kent, Jordan, J.) granting Richard L. Marston's motion to modify the parties' divorce judgment by reducing his spousal support obligation. Armande contends, inter alia, that the court erred in considering whether Richard had proved a change in his income measured from the time of the divorce judgment in 1999, rather than from the time when a subsequent motion to modify spousal support was granted in 2008. We agree and vacate the judgment.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Richard and Armande were divorced in 1999. Concerning spousal support, the divorce judgment ordered Richard to pay Armande $2, 500 per month until Armande's death or remarriage, "subject to review upon a significant change in the circumstances of either party, including a substantial change in [Richard's] income, currently $108, 000."

         [¶3] Eight years later, Richard moved to modify his spousal support obligation on the ground that his impending retirement would result in a reduction in his income. Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the court amended the divorce judgment in 2008 by deleting the original spousal support order and substituting a new provision: "[Richard] shall pay [Armande] spousal support in the amount of $2, 500 per month, until the death or remarriage of [Armande], or until such time that [Armande] permanently establishes residence in a nursing home or other assisted care living facility. Spousal support shall then terminate." Richard's financial statement dated April 25, 2008, which was admitted as an exhibit at the 2015 hearing discussed infra, reported total income of $5, 530 per month, or $66, 360 annually, from "Pensions/Annuities." The financial statement is consistent with Richard's testimony at the 2015 hearing that he retired on September 1, 2007.

         [¶4] In February 2014, none of the terminating contingencies having occurred, Richard again moved to modify his spousal support obligation on several grounds, including that his income had decreased substantially since the divorce. In May 2014, the court (Stitham, J.) entered a case management order finding that the condition in the original divorce judgment allowing for review if Richard's income changed substantially from the $108, 000 threshold had survived the 2008 modification.

         [¶5] On May 22, 2015, the court (Jordan, J.) held a hearing on the motion at which Richard testified. In assessing whether Richard had demonstrated a change in circumstances as to his income, [2] the court ruled, over Armande's objection,

I thought . . . the benchmark is 2008 because that was [] the last time that it was [modified]. But then [the case management] order says that, "The 12/12/08 modification left intact a provision [that spousal support] shall be subject to review upon a significant change in the circumstances of either party, including a substantial change in [Richard's] income, currently $108, 000." That order . . . seems to indicate that the [$]108, 000 was the benchmark.
. . . .
So [the case management order] made a finding that that's the ballpark you folks are in. That's the groundwork. So it seems to me that . . . it would be fundamentally unfair to change the focus at this point. . . . I believe I'm ...

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