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Mitchell v. Krieckhaus

Supreme Court of Maine

April 18, 2017

JOYCE E. MITCHELL
v.
ALEXANDER S. KRIECKHAUS

          Argued: March 2, 2017

          Jed Davis, Esq. (orally), Jim Mitchell and Jed Davis, P.A., Augusta, for appellant Joyce E. Mitchell

          Dori F. Chadbourne, Esq. (orally), Chadbourne Law Offices, P.A., Portland, for appellee Alexander S. Krieckhaus

          Panel: MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ. [*]

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Joyce E. Mitchell appeals from the denial of her motions for findings of fact and conclusions of law, deviation from child support guidelines, and reconsideration, all of which addressed the divorce judgment entered by the District Court (Portland, J. French, J.) on June 15, 2016. Mitchell argues, inter alia, that before the court issued a child support order it was required to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether the parties provided substantially equal care of their son. We agree, vacate the judgment of divorce insofar as it establishes a child support obligation to be paid by Mitchell, and remand for an evidentiary hearing on that issue.

         I. FACTS

         [¶2] Joyce E. Mitchell and Alexander S. Krieckhaus were married on October 5, 1997; Mitchell filed a complaint for divorce seventeen years later, on October 7, 2014. The parties undertook discovery and engaged in case management conferences, mediation, and settlement conferences. Ultimately, on May 10, 2016, after a day-long, judicially-assisted settlement conference, the parties reached a settlement agreement and agreed in writing to waive their right to appeal from the judgment that would result from it. See M.R. Civ. P. 118(c). A stipulated order on childrens issues was signed by the court on that date.

         [¶3] The stipulated order called for child support to "be paid pursuant to the Maine Child Support Guidelines based on [Mitchells] base income of $344, 000 and [Krieckhauss] anticipated income of $56, 000." Pursuant to the order, the parties were to share parental rights and responsibilities. They were also to share primary residence of their son, with Mitchell having primary residence of their two daughters. Concerning their son, the order set out in considerable detail the contact arrangements based on his school-year schedule, vacations, holidays, child care, and extra-curricular activities. The parents were to have equal access to records regarding the children and were to keep each other fully informed of the childrens appointments and school matters.

         [¶4] Prior to signing the stipulated order on childrens issues, the court conducted a hearing in open court with the parties and their counsel, during which Mitchell's attorney stated, "[T]he order calls for a child support order, which isn't there yet. And so obviously, that would have to be subject to review and approval." The court responded,

One of the things that-and I'm sorry that I didn't share this with all the parties-that was asked of me when I was meeting with the defendant and his counsel... is whether the Court would draft the child support order, based upon-and the worksheet-based upon the numbers.[1] So Ill. do that and provide it to the parties. So Ill. take on that and make sure that they've had a chance to review it. Is that acceptable?

Mitchell's attorney confirmed that the proposed procedure was acceptable.

         [¶5] The court requested that Krieckhauss counsel submit a stipulated divorce judgment by May 23, 2016. The child support worksheets annexed to Krieckhauss proposed judgment included a supplemental worksheet that was predicated upon a presumption that the parties provided substantially equal care for their son. The proposed order called for Mitchell to pay Krieckhaus a total of $249.58 biweekly while three children were entitled to parental support, $440.22 biweekly while two children were entitled to support, and $788.42 biweekly once only their son was entitled to support.

         [¶6] On June 7, 2016, through counsel, Mitchell responded by sending a letter to the court advising that the parties did not agree that they provided substantially equal care for their son even if they shared primary residence. The letter included draft child support worksheets that called for Krieckhaus to pay Mitchell a total of $296.24 biweekly while three children were entitled to support, $248.92 ...


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