Pitts v. Moore, Docket No. Yor–12–440.

CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
Writing for the CourtPlurality: SAUFLEY
Citation90 A.3d 1169,2014 ME 59
PartiesMatthew W. PITTS v. Amanda M. MOORE.
Decision Date17 April 2014
Docket NumberDocket No. Yor–12–440.

90 A.3d 1169
2014 ME 59

Matthew W. PITTS
v.
Amanda M. MOORE.

Docket No. Yor–12–440.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

Argued: May 15, 2013.
Decided: April 17, 2014.


[90 A.3d 1171]


Ronald D. Bourque, Esq., and Bradley C. Morin, Esq. (orally), Bourque & Clegg, LLC, Sanford, for appellant Amanda Moore.

Amy L. Fairfield, Esq. (orally), and Mark J. Peltier, Esq., Fairfield & Associates, P.A., Lyman, for appellee Matthew Pitts.


Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, LEVY, SILVER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR, JJ.

Plurality: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, and GORMAN, JJ.

Concurrence: SILVER and JABAR, JJ.

Dissent: ALEXANDER and LEVY, JJ.

[90 A.3d 1172]



GORMAN, J.

[¶ 1] Amanda M. Moore appeals from a judgment entered in the District Court (Springvale, Darvin, J.) finding that Matthew W. Pitts is her child's de facto parent and its award of contact on that basis. We take this opportunity to provide guidance to parties and courts grappling with claims by persons asking to be identified as de facto parents, and vacate the judgment and remand the matter to the District Court for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶ 2] Pitts and Moore dated and lived together on an “on again, off again” basis for more than eight years. While separated from Pitts in 2008, Moore dated Eric B. Hague for a few months. Soon after, Pitts and Moore resumed their relationship, and Moore learned that she was pregnant. The child was born in November of 2009. By mid–2011, Pitts's and Moore's relationship had ended.

[¶ 3] The present litigation began in July of 2011, when Pitts filed a complaint in the District Court against Moore seeking parental rights and responsibilities concerning the child. In her response, Moore asserted that Pitts was not the child's biological father, and, after paternity testing was completed, Pitts stipulated to that fact. On the parties' stipulation, the matter thus proceeded as one of asserted de facto parenthood.1

[¶ 4] After a testimonial hearing, the court made the following findings of fact, all of which are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Although Moore and Pitts were unsure of the child's paternity, they decided to identify Pitts as the father. During Moore's pregnancy, Pitts attended some prenatal appointments and a birthing class, and was present at the hospital for the child's birth. Moore and Pitts agreed to name Pitts as the father on the child's birth certificate, and to give the child Pitts's last name.

[¶ 5] Pitts, Moore, and the child lived together from November of 2009 until November of 2010, with a one-month separation in June of 2010. From the child's birth, Moore was the child's primary caretaker. Pitts was the sole source of financial support for the household for the first seven months of the child's life; from then on, Moore also worked, but Pitts remained the primary wage earner. The court found that Pitts's “involvement with the child was more focused on playtime, with occasional feeding and less occasional bathing and changing of [diapers].” Pitts believed that because he was the primary wage earner, Moore was primarily responsible for caring for the child, but Pitts did take care of the child when Moore was not home.

[¶ 6] After Pitts and Moore separated, Pitts and Pitts's family had regular contact with the child, including multiple visits each week and an occasional overnight visit. In April of 2011, Pitts and Moore attempted to reconcile, and Pitts again spent significant time with the child in the family household. In May, however, the parties had an argument after which Moore filed a protection from abuse complaint against Pitts; Pitts was prohibited from seeing the child during the month following the filing. After that, Pitts had “mostly consistent” contact with the child consisting of supervised contact for five

[90 A.3d 1173]

hours each Sunday pursuant to an interim parental rights order.

[¶ 7] Hague is the child's biological father. He is on active duty in the military and stationed in Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife, son, and two stepchildren. He has met this child twice for a total of a few hours. Hague testified that he wishes to be a father to the child, and he and Moore want the child to know Hague as his “real father.” He plans to visit Maine a few times each year during the summer and holidays. Moore and Hague do not want Pitts to have any contact with the child, but the court found that neither has considered how to introduce Hague into the child's life, the impact of Hague's introduction on the child, or how the removal of Pitts and his family from the child's life would affect the child.

[¶ 8] The court found that Pitts

has made an unequivocal permanent commitment to the child and considers him to be his son.... The child has formed a bond of attachment with [Pitts] and his family. A complete disruption of that bond would have an adverse impact on the child. However, the testimony and evidence was not sufficient for the court to quantify the impact that removal of [Pitts] and his family from the child's life will have, nor to make any finding as to the duration of said adverse impact.

Based on this language and its other findings, the court determined that Pitts is the child's de facto parent and that continued contact with Pitts is in the child's best interest. Other than the right to have unsupervised contact with the child, the court did not award to or impose on Pitts any parental rights or responsibilities, including any decision making power or the duty to pay child support.2


[¶ 9] Moore timely appeals, arguing that the judgment is erroneous as a matter of fact and law; she asserts that Pitts's role in the child's life has been short, inconsistent, and devoid of the daily caretaking functions that characterize a de facto parent; that Pitt's removal from the child's life will cause no trauma to the child; and that the amount of time the court awarded Pitts was inappropriately generous because it intrudes on the parent-child relationship between Moore and the child, and between Hague and the child. We review the court's findings of fact for clear error, its conclusions of law de novo, and its ultimate award of visitation for an abuse of discretion. Grant v. Hamm, 2012 ME 79, ¶ 6, 48 A.3d 789;Philbrook v. Theriault, 2008 ME 152, ¶ 21, 957 A.2d 74.

II. DISCUSSION

[¶ 10] For some time now, we and other courts have been considering the law of parentage in light of advancements in technology, changes in social norms and family structures, and the resulting ever-expanding list of legal issues relating to children and families. See, e.g., Nolan v. LaBree, 2012 ME 61, ¶ 2, 52 A.3d 923 (regarding a gestational surrogate who carried a child to whom she was not biologically related after in vitro fertilization and zygote implantation). In Delaware, for example, changes in family structure have been identified and attributed to “at least three areas in our society which have undergone significant change,” namely, (1) “considerable scientific and technological advances,” (2) “the acknowledgement by many states of the rights of persons of the

[90 A.3d 1174]

same sex to be considered parents of the same child,” and (3) “the change from what we once knew as the traditional American family” consisting of two married parents and their children. Bancroft v. Jameson, 19 A.3d 730, 738–39 (Del.Fam.Ct.2010). As the United States Supreme Court recognized more than a dozen years ago,

[t]he demographic changes of the past century make it difficult to speak of an average American family. The composition of families varies greatly from household to household. While many children may have two married parents and grandparents who visit regularly, many other children are raised in single-parent households.... Understandably, in these single-parent households, persons outside the nuclear family are called upon with increasing frequency to assist in the everyday tasks of child rearing.

Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 63–64, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000) (plurality opinion); see Rideout v. Riendeau, 2000 ME 198, ¶ 37, 761 A.2d 291 (Wathen, C.J., concurring).


[¶ 11] Despite these shifts in family and social structure, it remains “firmly established” that parents have “a fundamental liberty interest to direct the care, custody, and control of their children.” Davis v. Anderson, 2008 ME 125, ¶ 18, 953 A.2d 1166 (citing Troxel, 530 U.S. at 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054);Rideout, 2000 ME 198, ¶ 12, 761 A.2d 291 (plurality opinion). To preserve that right, and in recognition of the presumption that parents act in their children's best interests, unless a person is determined to be an unfit parent, there is “normally ... no reason for the State to inject itself into the private realm of the family to further question the ability of that parent to make the best decisions concerning the rearing of that parent's children.” Rideout, 2000 ME 198, ¶¶ 12, 18, 761 A.2d 291 (alteration omitted) (quotation marks omitted). Among the many aspects of a parent's fundamental right is the right to decide who may associate with the child. See id. ¶ 12;Guardianship of Jewel M., 2010 ME 80, ¶¶ 4–5, 2 A.3d 301 (recognizing “a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children,” including with respect to requests for third-party visitation or parental rights (quotation marks omitted)).

[¶ 12] Nevertheless, a parent's “constitutional liberty interest in family integrity is not ... absolute, nor forever free from state interference.” Rideout, 2000 ME 198, ¶ 19, 761 A.2d 291. This is true in great part because the rights of another person—the child—must also be protected by the State. Thus, the focus of any standards by which the State is allowed to interfere must, by necessity, include the child. When the State does interfere with the fundamental right to parent, we must evaluate that interference with strict scrutiny—the highest level of scrutiny—which “requires that the State's action be narrowly...

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33 practice notes
  • In re Chamberlain, Docket No. And–14–368.
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • June 18, 2015
    ...about whether a person is a child's de facto parent with the consequent permanent role in the child's life. See Pitts v. Moore, 2014 ME 59, ¶¶ 27, 36–37, 90 A.3d 1169. De facto parenthood determinations, unlike determinations of guardianship, do not necessarily involve any finding of defici......
  • In re Isabelle T., Docket: Pen–17–237
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • November 30, 2017
    ...(Me. 1986). [¶ 6] The fundamental right to parent one's child is not, however, immune from government interference. See Pitts v. Moore , 2014 ME 59, ¶ 12, 90 A.3d 1169 (action to establish de facto parent status); Rideout v. Riendeau , 2000 ME 198, ¶ 19, 761 A.2d 291 (action to establish gr......
  • Curtis v. Medeiros, Docket: Pen–15–618
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • December 15, 2016
    ...12, 890 A.2d 691. Included within that right is a parent's authority to decide who is allowed to associate with the child. Pitts v. Moore , 2014 ME 59, ¶ 11, 90 A.3d 1169 ; Rideout , 2000 ME 198, ¶¶ 12, 18, 761 A.2d 291. Because a fundamental constitutional right is at issue, [152 A.3d 611w......
  • Martin v. Macmahan, Sag-21-18
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • December 14, 2021
    ...determination implicates a legal parents fundamental right to control the care and custody of his or her child, e.g., Pitts v. Moore, 2014 ME 59, ¶ 27, 90 A.3d 1169, Martin argues that for the Ostranders to satisfy their burden under section 1891(3)(C), the Ostranders needed to prove that h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • In re Chamberlain, Docket No. And–14–368.
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • June 18, 2015
    ...about whether a person is a child's de facto parent with the consequent permanent role in the child's life. See Pitts v. Moore, 2014 ME 59, ¶¶ 27, 36–37, 90 A.3d 1169. De facto parenthood determinations, unlike determinations of guardianship, do not necessarily involve any finding of defici......
  • In re Isabelle T., Docket: Pen–17–237
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • November 30, 2017
    ...(Me. 1986). [¶ 6] The fundamental right to parent one's child is not, however, immune from government interference. See Pitts v. Moore , 2014 ME 59, ¶ 12, 90 A.3d 1169 (action to establish de facto parent status); Rideout v. Riendeau , 2000 ME 198, ¶ 19, 761 A.2d 291 (action to establish gr......
  • Curtis v. Medeiros, Docket: Pen–15–618
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • December 15, 2016
    ...12, 890 A.2d 691. Included within that right is a parent's authority to decide who is allowed to associate with the child. Pitts v. Moore , 2014 ME 59, ¶ 11, 90 A.3d 1169 ; Rideout , 2000 ME 198, ¶¶ 12, 18, 761 A.2d 291. Because a fundamental constitutional right is at issue, [152 A.3d 611w......
  • Martin v. Macmahan, Sag-21-18
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • December 14, 2021
    ...determination implicates a legal parents fundamental right to control the care and custody of his or her child, e.g., Pitts v. Moore, 2014 ME 59, ¶ 27, 90 A.3d 1169, Martin argues that for the Ostranders to satisfy their burden under section 1891(3)(C), the Ostranders needed to prove that h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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