Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
Chamberlin v. Chamberlin, corrected 2-7-02
Download as PDF
Back to the Opinions page

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2001 ME 167
Docket:	And-01-120
Argued:	November 6,  2001
Decided:	December 12, 2001




	[¶1]  Russell Chamberlin appeals from a divorce judgment entered in
District Court (Lewiston, McElwee, J.) challenging the division of marital
property and debt and the award of spousal support to Alice Chamberlin.{1} 
Alice cross-appeals from the courts deviation from the child-support
standards.  We affirm the judgment.
I. Division of Marital Debt
	[¶2]  Russell argues that the District Court erred in
disproportionately assigning marital debt to him and in characterizing
marital assets as Alice's nonmarital assets.  In particular, Russell asserts that
he should not exclusively have been assigned debts amounting to $39,902
arising from his mental health problems during the marriage and other
debts to his father incurred to assist the parties in the purchase of a marital
	[¶3]  Russell incurred substantial debt for medical expenses as a
result of his deteriorating mental health and alcohol abuse.  Almost all of this
debt is owed to Russell's parents who assisted Russell in getting adequate
treatment.  In addition, Russell's father helped Russell and Alice by loaning
them $50,000 for the purchase of their first home, taking a promissory note
in return.  Until the divorce, Russell's father never asked for repayment on
the note.
	[¶4]  We review the trial court's division of marital debt and property
for an abuse of discretion.  Libby v. Libby, 2001 ME 130, ¶ 6, 781 A.2d 773,
775.  "A just distribution of property is not synonymous with an equal
distribution."  Doucette v. Washburn, 2001 ME 38, ¶ 24, 766 A.2d 578, 586. 
We cannot say that the assignment of debt is an abuse of discretion.
II. Determination of Marital and Nonmarital Property
	[¶5]  Russell also argues that the court erred in characterizing
property that passed through a checking account to be Alice's nonmarital
property.  Alice deposited three distributions from her mother's estate in
the amount of $75,666.12 into a checking account to which both Russell
and Alice had access.  She later established several investment and trust
accounts with money drawn from that account, including $20,000 to
establish an investment account at United Asset Management Investment
Services, Inc.  
	[¶6]  We review the trial court's determination of marital and
nonmarital property for clear error.  Sewall v. Saritvanich, 1999 ME 46,
¶ 14, 726 A.2d 224, 227.  Although property acquired by a party subsequent
to marriage is presumed to be marital, a party may rebut this presumption
by showing that it was acquired by bequest.  19-A M.R.S.A. § 953 (2) & (3) (1998). 
We held in Long v. Long, 1997 ME 171, 697 A.2d 1317, however, that real
property held in joint tenancy is marital property irrespective of the source
of funds used to purchase that property. Id. ¶¶ 16-17, 697 A.2d at 1324.  In
contrast to our holding in Long, we have never held that deposit accounts
are subject to such automatic treatment as marital assets when funds are
placed briefly in accounts, and we decline to do so now.{2}
	[¶7]  In this case, Alice testified that she and Russell had an
agreement that fifty-thousand dollars of her inheritance would be reserved
for her.  Russell has never contested that he and Alice had such an
agreement.  Alice placed inherited funds in the checking account for a short
time before setting up separate investment funds and trust funds for the
children.   Alice gave every indication that she intended to manage these
funds on her own.   The trial court did not exceed the bounds of its
discretion in finding these funds to be nonmarital.
III. Sufficiency of Trial Court's Findings
	[¶8]  Russell assigns the trial court error for its refusal to issue
additional specific findings on Alice's earning capacity, Russell's
contributions to the marital estate, and equivalence of the parties' economic
circumstances.  We review the trial court's findings of fact for clear error. 
Tibbetts v. Tibbetts, 2000 ME 210, ¶ 6, 762 A.2d 937, 939.   The trial
court's initial findings and conclusions run for sixteen pages; the court also
issued post-judgment findings.  Noting that Alice has duties as the custodial
parent, the court also found Alice's "voluntary underemployment to be a
'lifestyle choice.'"  Weighing these factors, the court chose not to impute
additional earnings to Alice.  The record provides ample support for these
findings and they are not clearly erroneous.  Although the court considered
the marital contributions of both parties, it chose not to make specific
findings about those contributions.  Russell's assertion that the court erred
in not making specific findings on his marital contribution is without merit. 
The trial court took judicial notice of Russell's greater living costs, but
denied admission of Russell's statistical evidence of those greater costs on
the grounds that it was not in a position to make accurate comparisons of
living costs in Lewiston, Maine and New York City.  Based on this evidentiary
ruling, it was not clear error for the trial court to refuse to issue Russell's
requested finding.
IV. Departure from Child Support Guidelines
	[¶9]  Alice cross-appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in
granting Russell a deviation from the child support guidelines to
accommodate his travel costs.  Alice argues that the guidelines only allow for
accounting for the travel costs of children.  Although the child support
guidelines do provide for deviations for the cost of a child's visitation travel,
they also provide for deviations if the court finds that strict application of
the standards would be "unjust, inappropriate or not in the child's best
interest." 19-A M.R.S.A. § 2007 (3) (P) & (Q) (1998).   The trial court did
not exceed the bounds of its discretion finding that Russell's travel costs
warranted a deviation from the child support guidelines.
	[¶10]  Russell's other arguments are without merit.
	The entry is:
Judgment affirmed. 
Attorney for plaintiff: Ronald P. Lebel, Esq. (orally) Skelton, Taintor & Abbott P O Box 3200 Auburn, ME 04212-3200 Attorneys for defendant: Daniel A. D'Auteuil Jr., Esq., (orally) Elliott L. Epstein, Esq. Isaacson & Raymond P O Box 891 Lewiston, ME 04243-0891
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Russell further asserts that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear Alice's divorce petition because Alice failed to respond in time to his motion to dismiss, under M.R. Civ. P. 7 (e). Russell's assertions lack merit because M.R. Civ P. 80 (d) explicitly states that M.R Civ. P. 7 (e) does not apply in divorce actions. M.R. Civ P. 80 (d) . {2} . We have stated that "if a party presents evidence to show that the purchase of such property was financed in part with nonmarital funds, the portion of the property attributable to the nonmarital funds can remain nonmarital." Clum v. Graves, 1999 ME 77, ¶ 10, 729 A.2d 900, 904-905.