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Verite v. Verite

Supreme Court of Maine

November 8, 2016


          Submitted On Briefs: September 29, 2016

         Rockland District Court docket number FM-2010-106

          On the briefs:

          Aaron Fethke, Esq., Law Office of Aaron Fethke, Searsport, for appellant Eric J. Verite

          Christopher K. MacLean, Esq., Elliott, MacLean, Gilbert & Coursey, LLP, Camden, for appellee Lindsay E. Verite


          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Eric J. Verite appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Rockland, Worth, J.) granting Lindsay E. Verites motion to modify the parties divorce judgment. Eric contends that the court (1) erroneously permitted testimony pertaining to Lindsays plan to relocate the children, and (2) erred by failing to articulate a proper basis for its award of attorney fees and expert fees to Lindsay. We find no error or abuse of discretion and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Eric and Lindsay were married in 2005 and are the parents of three children born in 2005, 2008, and 2010. The parties were divorced in 2011 by a judgment of the District Court (Westcott, J.), which awarded them shared parental rights and responsibilities; awarded Lindsay primary residence of the three children and granted Eric rights of contact with the children most weekends and at other designated times; ordered Eric to pay child support and arrearages; entitled Lindsay to the child tax benefits for two of the children and Eric the benefits for one of the children contingent on being current with child support; and divided marital assets and debts.

         [¶3] On October 22, 2014, Eric filed a motion to enforce alleging that Lindsay prevented his contact with the children during two weekends that month. He sought to enforce the visitation schedule ordered in the divorce judgment and obtain compensatory visitation with the children. On November 12, 2014, Lindsay filed a motion to modify the divorce judgment seeking, among other things, sole parental rights and responsibilities with respect to the parties three children. That same day, the court (Sparaco, J.) entered an interim order that granted Lindsay temporary sole parental rights and responsibilities; permitted Eric to have supervised visitation at least two times per week; limited Erics contact with Lindsay; ordered Eric to undergo psychological and substance abuse evaluations and follow through on any recommendations; and appointed a guardian ad litem.

          [¶4] The court (Worth, J.) held a two-day testimonial hearing addressing both pending motions on December 9, 2015, and January 5, 2016, and entered an order on January 27, 2016, denying Erics motion to enforce and granting Lindsays motion to modify. With regard to the motion to enforce, the court found that Lindsays decisions to withhold visits "were motivated by a reasonable concern for the childrens safety and well-being, " and in light of Erics recent OUI charge, prior expression of suicidal ideation, and refusal to engage in counseling, her actions were justified.

         [¶5] Regarding the motion to modify, the court determined that Lindsay had established a substantial change in circumstances warranting modification of the judgment. The court awarded Lindsay sole parental rights and responsibilities, finding that Erics communications with Lindsay "reflect an approach to her characterized by manipulation, hostility and demeaning actions and language, " and "[a]s a result, effective co-parenting [wa]s not possible atth[at] time." The court cited Erics psychological evaluation, which was "suggestive of a personality disorder that could make it difficult for him to co-parent with Lindsay, and found "that he may not be a person who will benefit substantially from therapy." The court also found that Eric committed domestic abuse against Lindsay during an incident on October 31, 2014, when he unexpectedly showed up at the childrens school, knowing that it was not his day to have the children. When Lindsay arrived at the school, she found an adult blocking Erics car from leaving the parking lot. Lindsay approached Eric, and he grabbed her and wrestled her away from his car in front of their two younger children. Finally, the court found that Eric "willfully misused the [protection from abuse] process in order to gain tactical advantage in the escalating parental rights dispute" by falsely describing the events of the incident at the school.

         [¶6] The court gave Lindsay sole discretion as to the "frequency and duration of contact" between Eric and the children and as to whether the contact requires supervision. In its discussion of parent/child contact, the court found that Lindsay and her husband were considering a temporary move to Switzerland in August 2016 because her husband may be offered a teaching position there. The court noted that although this topic was not pleaded in either partys motion, "[t]he parties litigated this issue ... by implicit agreement." Finding that the children would "benefit substantially" from attending a school abroad and that it would provide "a break from the chaos and dysfunction" they have experienced over the past two years, the court determined that the plan was "reasonable and in the childrens best interest." The court explained that "[t]he award of sole parental rights and responsibilities to [Lindsay] vests her with the authority to decide where she and the children will live, where the children will go to school, and the terms of contact between the children and their father." However, the order ...

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