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Roalsvik v. Comack

Supreme Court of Maine

May 14, 2019


          Submitted On Briefs: April 24, 2019

          Anthony P. Shusta II, Esq., Law Offices of Anthony P. Shusta II, Madison, for appellant Lisa Roalsvik

          Keri J. Marshall, Esq., Marshall Law, PLLC, East Kingston, New Hampshire, for appellee Brett Comack York District Court docket number FM-2015-170 For Clerk Reference Only

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

          HJELM, J.

         [¶l] Lisa Roalsvik appeals from orders entered in the District Court (York, Sutton, J.) denying her motion to modify the parties' divorce judgment and her motion for the court to reconsider that order. The orders, among other things, denied Roalsvik's request that the parties' child reside primarily with her; allocated final parental decision-making authority regarding the child's education to Brett Comack; and increased Roalsvik's child support obligation.

         [¶2] In determining whether to modify parental rights and responsibilities established in an existing judgment, "the trial court engages in a two-step inquiry: [f]irst, whether since the prior order there has occurred a change in circumstances sufficiently substantial in its effect upon the child's best interest to justify a modification; and second, if so, how should the custody arrangement be modified in furtherance of the child's best interest."[1] Bulkley v. Bulkley, 2013 ME 101, ¶ 11, 82 A.3d 116 (alterations and quotation marks omitted); 19-AM.R.S. §§ 1657(1) (A), (2) (2018). Because at trial Roalsvikbore the burden of proof on her motion, see Little v. Wallace, 2016 ME 93, ¶ 13, 142 A.3d 585, she must demonstrate here that the evidence compelled the court to make the findings necessary to grant her motion. See Handrahan v. Malenko, 2011 ME 15, ¶ 13, 12 A.3d 79. Contrary to Roalsvik's assertion, the record evidence did not compel the court to conclude that it would be in the child's best interest to reside primarily with her. See 19-A M.R.S. § 1653(3) (2018).

         [¶3] Additionally, the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Roalsvik's motion for reconsideration because the motion comprised a reiteration of arguments that she had already presented to the court and allegations of events that occurred only after the hearing was held and the record was closed. See M.R. Civ. P. 7(b)(5); M.R. Civ. P. 59(e); Shaw v. Shaw, 2003 ME 153, ¶¶ 7-8, 12, 839 A.2d 714.

         [¶4] We write only to address two issues that Roalsvik raises on this appeal.

          [¶5] The first issue relates to the recommendation presented by the court-appointed guardian ad litem. The day-long motion hearing included the presentation of testimony from the parties and a number of others, including the GAL, whose report is also part of the record and whose ultimate recommendation to the court was supportive of Roalsvik's motion. Near the end of Comack's examination of the GAL, Roalsvik objected to several of Comack's questions that were designed to challenge the GAL's opinion on certain aspects of the case, but the court overruled most of those objections. Immediately after the last of those colloquies and as the GAL's testimony concluded, the court explained,

The Court values the [GAL's] input, but the Court is not going to just do what the [GAL] says. The Court's going to make a decision based solely on the best interest of the child, using the statutory factors that the Court needs to consider. It's lovely to have a [GAL] in this place. It's lovely to have a report. But I'm not a rubber stamp for the [GAL].
With that said, [the GAL] put an enormous amount of time into the report, his testimony. And I want to know every aspect of what he has to say.

         Largely from this, Roalsvik asserts that "the court summarily dismissed the [GAL's] report, testimony and recommendations regarding primary residency."

         [¶6] For two reasons, Roalsvik's claim reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the court's remarks. First, utterly contrary to Roalsvik's view of the way the court treated the GAL's recommendation, the court's statement constitutes an explicit expression of its intention to take the recommendation seriously and a recognition of the value that a GAL's investigation and recommendation can provide to the court in these often difficult cases. Indeed, the court explained that it wanted to know "every aspect" of the GAL's reasoning-an approach illustrated by the court's rulings that overruled Roalsvik's own objections to a number of Comack's questions that explored the GAL's opinion. The court's order did not specifically refer to the GAL's recommendation, and its ultimate conclusion differed from the GAL's. Nonetheless, particularly given that Comack's cross-examination of the GAL generated testimony that could reasonably ...

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