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Sullivan v. George

Supreme Court of Maine

August 14, 2018


          Submitted On Briefs: January 11, 2018

          Gene R. Libby, Esq., and Tyler J. Smith, Esq., Libby O'Brien Kingsley & Champion, LLC, Kennebunk, for appellant Michelle L. (George) Sullivan

          Theodore H. Irwin, Jr., Esq., and Jacqueline R. Moss, Esq., Irwin Tardy & Morris, Portland, for appellee William A. George


          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] Michelle L. (George) Sullivan appeals from a divorce judgment entered by the District Court (Portland, /. French, /.). She contends that the court abused its discretion by ordering, sua sponte, a downward deviation of William A. George's child support obligation from the amount prescribed by the guidelines, by ordering William to pay spousal support in an amount that Michelle asserts is insufficient in duration and amount, and by declining to award attorney fees beyond those provided through an interim order. We vacate the court's child support order and remand for entry of a child support order pursuant to the guidelines, but we affirm the judgment in all other respects.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts, which are supported by the record, are drawn from the divorce judgment. Harper v. Harper, 2017 ME 171, ¶ 2, 169 A.3d 385.

         [¶3] Michelle and William were married in 1995 and have three children-at the time of the hearing, one was an adult and two were minors.[1]In early 2016, Michelle commenced this divorce action. At the two-day final hearing held in May of 2017, the parties stipulated to some parenting issues and to the distribution of most of the real property and the valuation of some of the personal property and debt. The contested issues included the amount of the parties' incomes for purposes of determining child support, spousal support, and attorney fees.[2]

         [¶4] In the divorce judgment issued in July of 2017, the court found that the parties had agreed that if they started a family, Michelle would stay at home with the children. Michelle is a physical therapist who has worked generally on a per diem basis, although her license has expired. She is also a certified Pilates instructor. Following the birth of the parties' first child in 1997, Michelle worked as a physical therapist intermittently, and when she did so, her employment was less than full-time. Her most recent employment, which was in 2016[3] and paid her roughly $45 per hour, ended after only two weeks because her training was not current.

         [¶5] The court fixed Michelle's current annual imputed employment income at $14, 040, based on an hourly wage of $9 for 30 hours per week. The court declined to attribute income to Michelle based on full-time employment because she will be required to intern or volunteer for at least 1, 000 hours to qualify as an independent practitioner in a specialized field that will combine her vocational goals as a Pilates instructor and physical therapist. The court found that Michelle's annual living expenses are nearly $125, 000.[4]

         [¶6] William is a physician and is the founder and current one-third owner of a medical practice. He earns $335, 000 annually and incurs annual living expenses totaling just over $100, 000. William lives with a domestic partner who earns $37, 000 per year and contributes toward the monthly household expenses.

         [¶7] Pursuant to the parties' agreement, the court ordered that the children would live primarily with Michelle with rights of contact awarded to William. The court calculated the amount of weekly child support that William would be required to pay pursuant to the guidelines, see 19-AM.R.S. § 2006 (2016), [5] which was $626 for two children and $444 for the youngest child after William's obligation to pay support for the middle child ends, see supra n.1. Then, even though neither party requested that the court depart from the child support guideline amounts, the court ordered a downward deviation from the guidelines on the basis that "the support guidelines would be inequitable or unjust in consideration of the interrelation of the total support obligation [, ] ... the division of property[, ] and an award of spousal support[, ] as well as available income and financial contribution of [William's] domestic associate." For those stated reasons, the court reduced William's weekly support obligation for two children from $626 to $550, and from $444 to $400 for one child.

         [¶8] The court's division of the marital estate resulted in a net distribution of assets and liabilities that was nearly equal.

         [¶9] The court ordered William to pay general spousal support of $3, 600 per month. In addition, the court awarded Michelle monthly transitional support of $3, 600 for thirty months "to allow for Michelle's reentry in the workforce." See infra n.9. The court stated that the awards of general and transitional spousal support resulted from its consideration of the factors contained in 19-A M.R.S. ยง 951-A(5) (2017), including the length of the parties' marriage, Michelle's contributions as a ...

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