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Winn v. Martel

Supreme Court of Maine

January 7, 2020

VALERIE R. (BISHOP-MARTEL) WINN
v.
JEAN MARTEL

          Argued: November 5, 2019

          Thaddeus V. Day, Esq. (orally), Law Offices of Thaddeus V. Day, P.L.L.C, Cumberland Center, for appellant Valerie R. Winn

          Joan Egdall, Esq. (orally), Gosselin & Dubord, P.A., Lewiston, for appellee Jean Martel

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ. [*]

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] Valerie R. Winn, [1] the mother of a child whose father is Jean Martel, appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Lewiston, Lawrence, J.) awarding child support to Martel's sister-the child's paternal aunt-who had been providing ongoing residence and care for the child. The mother argues that the court erred in awarding child support, including past support, to the aunt and in its determination of the amount of the mother's gross income. We affirm the judgment, except for its provision that the mother's child support obligation to the aunt is retroactive to a date before the divorce complaint was filed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The facts are drawn from the court's supported findings and from the procedural record. The mother and father were married in November 2010, when their child was five years old. Several years later, beginning in July 2014, the father's sister began proving primary care for their child.[2]

         [¶3] On October 19, 2016, the paternal aunt filed a petition in the Androscoggin County Probate Court to be appointed as the guardian of the child. Notice of the petition was served on the mother in November 2016.

         [¶4] The mother then commenced a divorce proceeding by serving a complaint on the father on February 8, 2017, and filing the complaint with the District Court within twenty days. See M.R. Civ. P. 3. The complaint alleged that the child had been residing with his paternal aunt since July 2014 and requested that the District Court determine parental rights and responsibilities for the minor child, including child support.

         [¶5] On March 7, 2017, the District Court (Carlson, J.) held a case management conference. In addition to the parties, the aunt was present at the conference and indicated that she had filed a petition for guardianship of the minor child in the District Court. See 18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-201 to 5-213 (2018).[3]The probate matter was then dismissed as duplicative.

         [¶6] In early August 2017, after a first mediation did not fully resolve the family matter, the aunt-identifying herself as "the De Facto Guardian"-filed a motion seeking, among other things, ongoing child support from the mother. The parties did not resolve the matter at a second mediation, and the court (Martin, M.) consolidated the aunt's guardianship petition with the divorce matter.

         [¶7] The parties participated in a judicial settlement conference in October 2017. They reached an agreement on the record, and the court (Ham-Thompson, M.) directed the mother's counsel to draft the order, confirm the terms of the agreement with all parties, and present it to the court for signature. Because the parties could not agree to the contents of the order, the court (Lawrence, J.) ordered all counsel to listen to the recording of the agreement as stated then by the parties and submit a final order for signature by December 15, 2017, with the magistrate (Ham-Thompson, M.) to resolve any remaining differences.

         [¶8] The magistrate entered the divorce judgment in January 2018. For reasons that are not clear on the record, the magistrate accepted the parties' agreement to dismiss the aunt's petition for guardianship upon an agreement that "[the aunt] is the de facto guardian of [the child]." The judgment ordered that the child would "continue to reside" with the aunt, and it included a provision that a final two-hour hearing ...


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