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Williams v. Williams

Supreme Court of Maine

May 11, 2017

DONALD J. WILLIAMS
v.
LINDA WILLIAMS

          Submitted On Briefs: February 23, 2017

         Reporter of Decisions

          J. Mitchell Flick, Esq., Winthrop, for appellant Donald J. Williams

          Karen M. Burke, Esq., Law Office of Karen M. Burke, Winthrop, for appellee Linda Williams

          Panel: ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          Majority: ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] Donald J. Williams appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Augusta, R.A. French, J.) awarding Linda Williams $8, 100 in interim spousal support and $6, 000 in attorney fees. In its judgment, the court concluded, first, that Donald should reimburse Linda for spousal support paid to her from funds later set aside to her in the divorce and, second, that Donald was in a better financial position than Linda to bear the cost of Linda's attorney fees. As to the issue of interim spousal support, we disagree and vacate that portion of the judgment. As to the issue of attorney fees, we agree and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Donald and Linda Williams were married on February 14, 2006.[1]On November 1, 2010, Donald instituted divorce proceedings in the District Court. See 19-A M.R.S. § 9O2(1)(H) (2016). Over the next five and a quarter years, in proceedings that wound their way through the District Court and the Business and Consumer Docket, the court issued a series of eight orders or judgments relevant to this appeal.

         [¶3] On March 27, 2012, the court [Mullen, J.) ordered Donald to pay $300 per week in interim spousal support to Linda. In April of 2013, the court [Horton, J.) ordered the parties to sell their farm property located in Monmouth and ordered that the proceeds were to be divided into thirds. One third of the sale proceeds was awarded to each party, and one third was placed in an escrow account that could only be disbursed upon further court order. Because Donald was already delinquent in his payment of interim spousal support, however, the court deducted $5, 100 from Donald's third and awarded that directly to Linda. Within weeks, Linda was again complaining that Donald continued to refuse to pay the ordered spousal support. The court next entered an order dated June 11, 2013, authorizing Linda to withdraw any unpaid interim spousal support from the escrow account.[2]After conducting a judicial settlement conference, the court (Portland, Cole, J.) entered a divorce judgment dated August 16, 2013, that, relevant to this appeal, ended Donald's obligation to pay any spousal support and awarded Linda the "remaining net proceeds of [the farm sale] in the proximate amount of $36, 662.88 held in [the escrow account]."

         [¶4] Donald appealed the divorce judgment. Linda immediately filed a motion asking that, during the appeal, Donald be required to pay interim spousal support out of his own funds, pointing out that the escrow account from which she had been receiving spousal support payments had been set aside to her in the divorce judgment. On October 10, 2013, the court [Dobson, J.) issued an order stating that Linda could continue to withdraw interim spousal support from the escrow account but noting that the order was "without prejudice to either party" and stating that Linda "may request recovery of interim spousal support amounts paid from [the escrow] account from other funds set aside to [Donald] ... and [Donald] may assert his position regarding this issue as well."

         [¶5] On February 7, 2014, in anticipation of the dismissal of the appeal, Linda signed a general release stating:

IN CONSIDERATION OF Donald Williams's dismissal of the currently pending appeal of the Divorce Judgment in KEN-13-480, and his payment to me of $50, 000.00, which is the amount of money he would owe me pursuant to the Divorce Judgment as of February 6, 2014, had the said Divorce Judgment not been appealed, and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I, Linda Williams, also agree to dismiss said appeal in docket no. KEN-13-480, and agree to execute any documents necessary to perfect a dismissal of that appeal, and further release and forever discharge Donald Williams, of and from any damages, costs, fees, ...

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