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Neri v. Heilig

Supreme Court of Maine

July 6, 2017


          Submitted on Briefs: May 25, 2017

          Kelley E. Mellenthin, Esq., Lincolnville Center, for appellant Kimberly Heilig.

          Steven C. Peterson, Esq., West Rockport, for appellee Ernest P. Neri.


          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Kimberly Heilig appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Rockland, Mathews, J.) divorcing her from Ernest P. Neri, dividing their assets, ordering Neri to pay $2, 000 toward Heilig's attorney fees, and ordering him to pay her spousal support for three years. On appeal, Heilig contends that the court clearly erred by finding that real estate purchased by Neri during the marriage is nonmarital property, abused its discretion in calculating her spousal support award, and abused its discretion by awarding her a lesser amount of legal fees than she requested. We disagree and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The court found the following facts, which are supported by competent evidence in the record. See Blanchard v. Blanchard, 2016 ME 140, ¶ 3, 148 A.3d 277. Heilig and Neri were married on August 12, 2004. At the time of the marriage, Heilig was a grant writer and consultant for Columbia University, and Neri was a retired teacher. Neri received a monthly pension and, in 2008, began to receive social security payments. Each individually held retirement accounts. After getting married, they moved to Honduras, where they purchased two pieces of real estate and a tool business.

         [¶3] At some point, the relationship soured and they separated, eventually relocating separately to Maine and selling the Honduras properties and business. Once in Maine, they partially reconciled. Neri purchased and sold a property on Oyster River Road in Warren (the "Oyster River Road" property), and then, in 2010, they purchased as joint tenants a property on Crawford Road in Warren (the "Crawford Road property"). They lived in separate quarters at the Crawford Road property until 2014, when, following a complete breakdown of the relationship, Neri purchased and relocated to a multi-unit property in Thomaston (the "Thomaston property").

         [¶4] Neri purchased the Thomaston property in his own name, using money obtained from his individual retirement account through his State of Connecticut deferred compensation fund, and by obtaining a loan from Camden National Bank. He paid closing costs using funds from his retirement account that he had transferred to Damariscotta Bank & Trust.

         [¶5] Neri is 72 years old. Due to several medical conditions, he has no earning capacity. His income is $74, 000 annually, received solely from retirement and social security funds. Heilig is 67 years old and is a mediator. Her annual income is $35, 800.[1]

         [¶6] Heilig filed for judicial separation in October 2014, and Neri filed a complaint seeking divorce in December 2014. Following a hearing in January 2015, the court [Worth, J.) ordered Neri to pay Heilig $1, 000 per month in interim spousal support, to be applied retroactively from October 31, 2014; $2, 000 in interim attorney fees; and the mortgage and homeowner's insurance payments on both the Crawford Road property and the Thomaston property.

         [¶7] Mediations in May and December 2015, and a judicial settlement conference on April 8, 2016, failed to resolve all issues between Neri and Heilig. On May 4 and 5, 2016, a contested divorce hearing was held. By order dated June 21, 2016, the court [Mathews, J.) consolidated Heilig's judicial separation action with the divorce action and granted the parties a divorce. The court divided their real estate, personal and intangible property, and debt; ordered Neri to pay Heilig spousal support in the amount of $1, 000 per month for a period of thirty-six months; ordered Heilig to pay Neri $33, 000 to equalize the marital property and debt distribution; and ordered Neri to pay $2, 000 toward Heilig's attorney fees, in addition to the previously awarded attorney fees.

         [¶8] Heilig filed a motion for further findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 52(b).[2] The court denied her motion in part and granted it in part: it corrected its previous finding concerning Neri's age, clarified its reasoning concerning personal property values and the division of several items of personal property, and amended the thirty-six-month spousal support term so as to be ...

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