Spaulding v. Spaulding

CourtMaine Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtVIOLETTE
Citation460 A.2d 1360
Decision Date06 June 1983
PartiesJon M. SPAULDING v. Paula C. SPAULDING.

Page 1360

460 A.2d 1360
Jon M. SPAULDING
v.
Paula C. SPAULDING.
Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.
Argued March 11, 1983.
Decided June 6, 1983.

Page 1361

Cloutier, Joyce, Dumas & David, Edward S. David (orally), Livermore Falls, for plaintiff.

Hanscom & Carey, P.A., Thomas S. Carey (orally), Rumford, for defendant.

Before GODFREY, NICHOLS, CARTER, VIOLETTE and WATHEN, JJ.

VIOLETTE, Justice.

By decree dated May 23, 1979, the District Court of El Paso County, Colorado, dissolved the marriage of Jon and Paula Spaulding and awarded custody of Jimmy Spaulding, their only child, to Jon. The decree further provided that Paula Spaulding would be entitled to visitation from the hours of 4:30 P.M. until 7:30 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week and from 4:30 P.M. Saturday until 4:30 P.M. Sunday on each weekend. In making the custody award, the Colorado District Court found that both parents were fit and proper parents. The Court, however, accepted the recommendation of a welfare investigation report that it would be in the best interests of the child that permanent custody be granted to Jon.

Shortly after the decree was entered, the parties began feuding. The record reveals that the Colorado District Court was continually

Page 1362

involved in attempting to settle the incessant squabbles between the parties over their rights with respect to Jimmy. In September of 1979, the Colorado District Court ordered a re-evaluation of its prior custody determination. On October 19, 1979, the Court reaffirmed its earlier ruling awarding custody of Jimmy to Jon and it ordered a new visitation schedule for Paula. The Colorado docket reflects that the judge planned further review in 1980. On April 2, 1980, the Colorado District Court appointed a guardian ad litem for Jimmy and the parties were ordered to contact Emergence, Inc., 1 and proceed through a treatment program. On May 14, 1980, the Court appointed the Department of Social Services to act as a supervisor of Jimmy and to become directly involved with visitations. The Court also ordered that the Colorado Springs Police continue further investigative efforts regarding alleged child abuse. On July 2, 1980, the Colorado docket reflected that pending motions were to be continued for determination at a later date.

While those motions were still pending, Jon Spaulding and his new wife, Wendy Spaulding, left Colorado with Jimmy on July 5, 1980, and set out for Maine. The only notice given Paula Spaulding was a letter from Wendy Spaulding dated July 7, 1980, that stated in part:

By the time you receive this letter well [sic] we will be on our way to start a new life out of the State of Colorado. The reason I am writing this letter is so you won't waste your time coming to our home to see Jimmy ... last of all don't try guessing where we could have moved to because your guess would be wrong and a waste of time.

The record indicates that Jon did not give notice to either his attorney of record or the Colorado District Court that he was leaving the State of Colorado.

Paula promptly moved the Colorado District Court to transfer custody of Jimmy from Jon to herself. Jon Spaulding's attorney of record was notified on July 9th of a hearing to be held on July 11th and the attorney appeared at the hearing. Following the hearing, the District Court issued a decree on July 18, 1980, (effective July 11, 1980), transferring the custody of Jimmy from Jon to Paula Spaulding. The decree further provided that Jon was not to have visitation privileges until further order of the Court.

Sometime about August 1, 1980, Jon and Wendy Spaulding settled with Jimmy in Dixfield, Maine. On September 18, 1980, pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), 19 M.R.S.A. §§ 801-825, Jon Spaulding filed in the District Court, Rumford, a certified copy of the May 1979 Colorado divorce decree awarding him custody of his child. After tracking down Jon, Paula filed in the same court on November 13, 1980, a petition pursuant to the same Act seeking enforcement of the July 18, 1980, modification decree entered in Colorado that awarded her custody of the child. The District Court denied Paula's petition on the following grounds: (1) Jon was not afforded reasonable notice pursuant to the UCCJA; (2) the decree was punitive; and (3) it would not be in the best interests of the child.

Paula then timely appealed to the Superior Court, Oxford County. The Superior Court reversed the decision of the District Court on the following grounds: (1) the District Court had no authority to modify the Colorado judgment or, under ordinary circumstances, refuse to enforce it pursuant to the UCCJA as adopted in Maine; (2) the Colorado decree was not issued ex parte, and, even if it was, that was not fatal to recognition by the District Court; and (3) the decree was not punitive. The Superior Court remanded the case to the District Court for enforcement of the Colorado modification decree dated July 18, 1980. It also ordered the District Court to determine Paula's costs and counsel fees incurred during the initial hearing in District Court.

Page 1363

Jon then appealed to this Court. That appeal was dismissed for lack of a final judgment. Spaulding v. Spaulding, 447 A.2d 64 (Me.1982).

The District Court subsequently entered an order awarding Paula attorney's fees, necessary travel expenses and costs of court. Jon timely appealed to the Superior Court from this order and from the remand order directing the District Court to enter judgment for Paula. Paula cross-appealed from certain orders of the District Court. Her cross-appeal was subsequently dismissed by agreement of the parties. On October 4, 1982, the Superior Court reaffirmed its earlier ruling that the Maine courts must recognize and enforce the Colorado modification decree dated July 18, 1980. Jon then appealed to this Court. 2

The only question presented by this appeal is whether the Colorado modification decree dated July 18, 1980, must be enforced in Maine in the circumstances presented here. Plaintiff, Jon Spaulding, argues that enforcement should be denied because: (1) he was not given reasonable notice in accordance with the UCCJA in the Colorado proceedings; and (2) the Colorado decree was punitive. Because we conclude that the Maine Courts must enforce this decree pursuant to the UCCJA, we deny plaintiff's appeal and affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

Maine adopted the UCCJA in 1979. 3 19 M.R.S.A. §§ 801-825. The Act evolved from the growing public concern that a large number of children potentially suffer great emotional harm when they are shifted from state to state while their parents battle over custody. 4 Such shifting of children by parents in search of a more favorable forum deprives the children of a stable environment that is essential during the formative years. The Act attempts to guarantee reasonable security and continuity of environment by minimizing the relitigation of custody awards and by discouraging child abduction. It attempts to reduce jurisdictional conflicts between the various states by setting forth guidelines to assure that custody litigation occurs in the jurisdiction with which the child and parents have the closest ties. Other courts have aptly stated that the underlying purpose of the Act is to "eliminate jurisdictional fishing with children as bait." Wheeler v. District Court, 186 Colo. 218, 220, 526 P.2d 658, 660 (1974). It is imperative that we apply the provisions of this Act so as to further these policies. 5

Page 1364

Recognizing the compelling need to give a measure of finality to custody decrees in order to insure a more stable environment for the child, the Act requires Maine courts to recognize and enforce a custody decree of "a court of another state which had assumed jurisdiction under statutory provisions substantially in accordance with this Act or which was made under factual circumstances meeting the jurisdictional standards of the Act ...." 19 M.R.S.A. § 814. Colorado adopted the UCCJA in 1973, Colo.Rev.Stat. §§ 14-13-101 to 14-13-126, and it remains in effect to this date. The Colorado District Court clearly had subject matter jurisdiction under section 14-13-104(1)(a) 6 when it rendered the modification decree on July 18, 1980, because Colorado was Jimmy Spaulding's "home state" as defined in section 14-13-103(5). 7 However, before the recognition and enforcement provisions can be applied, the initial decree must also have been entered in conformity with the notice requirements of the Act. Yearta v. Scroggins, 245 Ga. 831, 268 S.E.2d 151, 153 (1980). Therefore, even though Colorado had subject matter jurisdiction to render the decree, this state need not recognize that decree if the person to be affected did not have reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard. See Wenz v. Schwartze, 183 Mont. 166, 598 P.2d 1086, 1095 (Mont.1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1071, 100 S.Ct. 1015, 62 L.Ed.2d 753 (1980); Priscilla S. v. Albert B., 102 Misc.2d 650, 424 N.Y.S.2d 613 (Fam.Ct.1980).

Plaintiff first argues that the July 18th Colorado modification decree should be denied enforcement because he was not given reasonable notice as required by the Act in the Colorado proceeding. Although his attorney of record received notice of and appeared at the hearing, he contends that he was no longer represented by that attorney at that time, and, therefore, he concludes the hearing was essentially ex parte. 8

Page 1365

As an initial matter, Colorado courts are the proper forum for Jon to challenge the sufficiency of notice. Because the record before us does not reveal whether this issue was ever raised before the Colorado District Court, 9 we must determine whether, in the circumstances of this case, the notice was sufficient under Colorado law. See Miller v. Superior Court, 22 Cal.3d 923, 928, 151 Cal.Rptr. 6, 8, 587 P.2d 723, 726 (1978); Lopez v. District Court, 199 Colo. 207, 606 P.2d 853...

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16 practice notes
  • Marquiss v. Marquiss, No. 90-184
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • July 7, 1992
    ...S.E.2d 675. The punitive change non-enforcement principle is confined in scope with the test being punishment. Spaulding v. Spaulding, 460 A.2d 1360 (Me.1983). The concepts are otherwise defined as enforcement to be appropriate compared to punitive discipline of the offending parent as cont......
  • Sams v. Boston, No. 18539
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 27, 1989
    ...contravened a court order. Arbogast v. Arbogast, 174 W.Va. 498, 505, 327 S.E.2d 675, 682 (1984), quoting Spaulding v. Spaulding, 460 A.2d 1360, 1367 (Me.1983). Some courts have held that a "punitive" decree need not be given full faith and credit under the UCCJ Act. On the other hand, the F......
  • Curtis v. Medeiros, Docket: Pen–15–618
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • December 15, 2016
    ...in decisions regarding the care of children.2 See[152 A.3d 610Black v. Black , 2004 ME 21, ¶ 15, 842 A.2d 1280 ; Spaulding v. Spaulding , 460 A.2d 1360, 1364 (Me. 1983) (recognizing the "compelling need to give a measure of finality to custody decrees in order to [ensure] a more stable envi......
  • Lemley v. Barr, No. 16764
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 11, 1986
    ...are more liberal than the notice requirements elsewhere in the law. Ohio Rev.Code Ann. 3109.23 [Page 1980]. 6 In Spaulding v. Spaulding, 460 A.2d 1360 (Me.1983), the plaintiff father asked the Maine court to deny enforcement of a Colorado decree granting custody of his children to his spous......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Marquiss v. Marquiss, No. 90-184
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • July 7, 1992
    ...S.E.2d 675. The punitive change non-enforcement principle is confined in scope with the test being punishment. Spaulding v. Spaulding, 460 A.2d 1360 (Me.1983). The concepts are otherwise defined as enforcement to be appropriate compared to punitive discipline of the offending parent as cont......
  • Sams v. Boston, No. 18539
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 27, 1989
    ...contravened a court order. Arbogast v. Arbogast, 174 W.Va. 498, 505, 327 S.E.2d 675, 682 (1984), quoting Spaulding v. Spaulding, 460 A.2d 1360, 1367 (Me.1983). Some courts have held that a "punitive" decree need not be given full faith and credit under the UCCJ Act. On the other hand, the F......
  • Curtis v. Medeiros, Docket: Pen–15–618
    • United States
    • Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (US)
    • December 15, 2016
    ...in decisions regarding the care of children.2 See[152 A.3d 610Black v. Black , 2004 ME 21, ¶ 15, 842 A.2d 1280 ; Spaulding v. Spaulding , 460 A.2d 1360, 1364 (Me. 1983) (recognizing the "compelling need to give a measure of finality to custody decrees in order to [ensure] a more stable envi......
  • Lemley v. Barr, No. 16764
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 11, 1986
    ...are more liberal than the notice requirements elsewhere in the law. Ohio Rev.Code Ann. 3109.23 [Page 1980]. 6 In Spaulding v. Spaulding, 460 A.2d 1360 (Me.1983), the plaintiff father asked the Maine court to deny enforcement of a Colorado decree granting custody of his children to his spous......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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