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McMahon v. McMahon

Supreme Court of Maine

January 24, 2019

TANYA J. MCMAHON
v.
CHRISTOPHER P. MCMAHON

          On Briefs: September 26, 2018

          Christopher P. McMahon, appellant pro se

          Sarah C. Mitchell, Esq., and Amy Dieterich, Esq., Skelton Taintor & Abbott, Auburn, for appellee Tanya J. McMahon

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

          Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Christopher P. McMahon appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Lewiston, Ende, J.) denying his motion for contempt and granting Tanya J. McMahon's motion to modify a 2010 divorce judgment and the court's order (Sparaco, D.C.J.)[1] denying his motion to alter or amend the judgment and granting in part his motion for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law. See M.R. Civ. P. 52(b), 59(e).

         [¶2] Christopher argues that the court committed error and abused its discretion by (1) denying his motion for contempt, (2) failing to implement a partial mediation agreement, (3) ordering him to pay attorney and guardian ad litem fees, (4) denying a deviation from the child support guidelines, and (5) imposing conditions on his visitation rights. Discerning no error or abuse of discretion in the court's actions, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶3] The following facts, all of which are supported by competent evidence, were found by the court. Because Christopher moved for additional findings of fact pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 52(b), we do not infer any findings, and consider only the findings and conclusions explicitly rendered by the court. See Ehret v. Ehret, 2016 ME 43, ¶ 9, 135 A.3d 101

         [¶4] Christopher and Tanya McMahon, parents of three children now ranging from eleven to eighteen years of age, were divorced through a 2010 judgment entered by the District Court (Ende, J.). The judgment conferred both shared parental rights and shared primary residence for all three children. Christopher moved to Connecticut in early 2012, but neither party sought to amend the divorce judgment.

         [¶5] Over the next few years, Christopher's relationship with his two eldest children began to deteriorate, in part because of conflicts between the children and his new wife. In 2016, the youngest child expressed a wish to try school in Connecticut, and Tanya and Christopher began to discuss the possibility of making the move happen. To this end, Christopher sent a written agreement to Tanya stating that the child would remain with him in Connecticut for the entire school year. Tanya added additional language stating that the child could move back to Maine without hesitation if the child so desired, and sent a signed copy back to Christopher. Christopher neither read nor replied to Tanya's version of the agreement, and no further discussions took place. The child moved to Connecticut later that year.

         [¶6] While the youngest child was in Maine for the holidays in late 2016, Tanya sent a letter to Christopher stating that their "temporary arrangement" had been rescinded, and that the child would remain in Maine. Concurrently, Tanya filed a motion to modify the 2010 divorce judgment, seeking to provide the sole primary residence for the three children and a recalculation of child support. In response, Christopher filed a motion for contempt, alleging that Tanya breached the 2010 divorce judgment by relocating the residence of the youngest child without thirty days' notice. Both parties attended mediation in May 2017, which culminated in a partial agreement.

         [¶7] The court held a hearing on the parties' motions a half day at a time on three days in late August and early September. Following the hearings, the court granted Tanya's motion to modify the divorce judgment, giving her the right to provide the sole primary residence for all three children. The court denied Christopher's motion for contempt. The court (Sparaco, D.C.J.) denied Christopher's subsequent motion to alter or amend and granted in part his motion for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law. Christopher timely appealed. See 14 M.R.S. § 1901 (2017); 19-A M.R.S. § 104 (2017); M.R, App. P. 2B(c).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion for Contempt

         [¶8] Christopher first argues that the court erred and abused its discretion by denying his motion for contempt. We review the findings of fact "that form a basis for [the] court's decision regarding civil contempt for clear error." Lewin v. Skehan, 2012 ME 31, ¶ 18, 39 A.3d 58. The court's finding is "clearly erroneous when there is no competent evidence in the record to support it." Id. If review of the factual findings reveals no clear error, the court's decision is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Id.

         [¶9] "For a court to find a party in contempt, the complaining party must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged contemnor failed or refused to comply with a court order and presently has the ability to comply with that order." Efstathiou v. Efstathiou, 2009 ME 107, ¶ 11, 982 A.2d 339. Further, the "court order must inform the person in definite terms what duties the order imposes upon him." Lewin, 2012 ME 31, ¶ 19, 39 A.3d 58.

         [¶10] Here, Christopher moved to Connecticut following the issuance of the original divorce judgment, making compliance with its shared residence provision all but impossible. Neither party sought to alter that judgment, and the parties' informal agreement about the youngest child's move to Connecticut in 2016 was not an enforceable order. See Fisco v. Dep't of Human Servs.,659 A.2d 274, 275 (Me. 1995) (holding that reliance on an informal agreement between parties as to child support "is unreasonable and unjustifiable" because it frustrates the power of the court); Ashley v. State,642 A.2d 176, 176 (Me. 1994) (same). Accordingly, the court found that both parties shared the responsibility for the sequence of events that transpired; that there was no court order that specified the youngest child's primary residence in light of the changed circumstances; and therefore, ...


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