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Young v. King

Supreme Court of Maine

May 21, 2019


          Argued: February 6, 2019

          Timothy E. Robbins, Esq. (orally), South Portland, for appellant Jason Young

          Audrey B. Braccio, Esq. (orally), Pelletier & Faircloth LLC, Bangor, for appellee Toni M. King


          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Jason Young appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Portland, Cashman, J.) dismissing, for lack of standing, his complaint seeking to be determined a de facto parent of Toni M. King's adopted child. See 19-A M.R.S. § 1891(2) (2018). Young argues that the court abused its discretion in declining to hold a hearing to determine disputed facts and in concluding that King's refusal to allow Young to adopt the child was dispositive of the issue of whether King understood, acknowledged, or accepted that, or behaved as though, Young was a parent to the child. See 19-A M.R.S. § 1891(3)(C) (2018). We clarify the process, vacate the judgment, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The court stated in its judgment that, for purposes of its standing determination, it accepted the statements contained in the affidavits that Young submitted on the question of standing.[1] Except where indicated otherwise, the following facts are drawn from those affidavits and from the procedural record.

         [¶3] Young and King began dating in 2004. In 2005, the couple purchased a house together in Limerick, and King, as a single prospective adoptive parent, applied to adopt a child through an adoption agency. Young and King had decided to adopt together but were told by the adoption agency that although they would be identified as a couple in internal documents, his name could not be mentioned in international documents because many countries required potential adoptive parents to either be a single woman or an established married couple. The plan, according to Young, was for him to adopt the child after King first adopted the child as a single parent.

         [¶4] In 2007, King accepted a referral to adopt a six-month-old child from India. In February 2008, the couple travelled to India to bring the child back to their home in Limerick. King adopted the child in December 2008 but then told Young that she was not going to allow him to also adopt the child. Nevertheless, the three continued to live in their home until November 2011. King agrees in her affidavit that, during that time, Young played with the child, cooked for the family, and transported the child to and from daycare. Young avers that he was involved in raising the child in many other ways, including contributing to the child's healthcare by paying for her chiropractic appointments out of pocket, to the child's daycare by giving King a check every month to cover half of the costs, and to the child's participation in certain activities by enrolling the child in gymnastics camp, inter alia.

         [¶5] King at some point began dating a new partner, and in November 2011, she and the child moved into King's new partner's home, which is located approximately 150 miles from Limerick. Young remained in the Limerick house and kept the child's bedroom there intact, leaving most of her belongings, including her cat, at the house. For several years following the move, the child generally spent every other weekend with Young at the Limerick house, as well as some time during school vacations and summers. In March 2016, when the Limerick house was sold, Young purchased a new house that included a bedroom for the child. By April 2018, Young's opportunities for visitation with the child had become increasingly inconsistent, and he brought a complaint for a determination of parentage, parental rights, and responsibilities.

         [¶6] King moved to dismiss Young's complaint for lack of standing to be determined a de facto parent. Based on the filings, the court agreed and dismissed Young's complaint for lack of standing. The court found that because King did not allow Young to adopt the child and did not otherwise regard Young as the child's father, Young failed to show that King understood, acknowledged, or accepted Young as a co-parent, and Young therefore lacked standing to seek an adjudication of de facto parenthood. Young moved for reconsideration on the issue of standing and for a hearing, which the court denied, again finding that had King behaved as though Young were the child's father she would have allowed him to become an adoptive parent. Young appeals. See 14 M.R.S. § 1901(1) (2018); 19-A M.R.S. § 104 (2018); M.R. App. P. 2A


         [¶7] Young argues that the court erred by determining that he failed to establish standing. The court made its standing determination pursuant to the de facto parentage framework prescribed in the Maine Parentage Act (MPA), see 19-A M.R.S. § 1891(3) (2018). "We examine the legal aspects of a court's standing determination de novo and review for clear error the factual findings underlying that determination." Lamkin v. Lamkin, 2018 ME 76, ¶ 10, 186 A.3d 1276.

         [¶8] Pursuant to the MPA, "a party who files a complaint to be adjudicated a de facto parent of a child must make an initial showing of standing that will determine whether the court will hold a plenary hearing on the ultimate question of whether that person is a de facto parent." Davis v. McGuire, 2018 ME 72, ¶ 13, 186 A.3d 837; see 19-A M.R.S. § 1891(2). To demonstrate standing, the claimant must satisfy, by a preponderance of the evidence, the statutory elements laid out in section 1891(3) of the MPA. See Davis, 2018 ME 72, ¶¶ 15, 26, 186 A.3d 837. The standing determination is a multi-step process. Id. ¶ 15.

First, the claimant is required to file an affidavit along with the complaint, stating "specific facts" that track the elements of a de facto parenthood claim. [19-A M.R.S.] § 1891(2)(A). Next, the adverse party may file a responsive affidavit along with a responsive pleading. Id. § 1891(2)(B). Finally, the court is to review the parties' submissions and either make a determination based on the parties' submissions whether the claimant has demonstrated standing, or, "in its sole discretion, if necessary and on an expedited basis, hold a hearing to determine disputed facts that are necessary and material to the issue of standing." Id. §1891(2)(C).

Id. The claimant has the burden to present persuasive evidence of the elements of standing-meaning that the proof must be by a preponderance-"irrespective of whether the court adjudicates the issue based on the papers or on evidence presented at a hearing." Id. ¶¶ 19, 24, 26. The required elements are that

A. The person has resided with the child for a significant ...

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