January 11, 2008
Case Law Development: Loss of Child Custody Results from Failure to Appear at Status Conference
The Maine Supreme Court disagreed over whether a default judgment was appropriate for a father's failure to appear at a Magistrate's status conference. The majority affirmed the trial court's entry of default judgment awarding mother custody based on father's failure to appear at the status conference. The court noted that father's excuse that he was confused about the hearing was not credible. The dissent used the case as an opportunity to criticize the practice of Magistrate's scheduling of repeated status conferences, noting that the scheduling order in this case provided little notice regarding what issues would be determined at the hearing. The dissent commented:
This pre-trial conference scheduling order was not an aberration. It reflected a widespread practice of Family Law Magistrates scheduling repetitive pre-trial status conferences, requiring parties to appear at court, but without any specific objective to be achieved in the court appearance. In a November 2006 report, our Family Division Task Force expressed concern about "too many case management conferences at which little is accomplished." Family Division Task Force Report at 3 (2006). The Task Force noted that "some current scheduling practices indiscriminately promote numerous conferences in pre-and post-judgment family matters." The Task Force report also stated a goal "to reduce the number of magistrate events that do not address substantive issues.
The majority had agreed that there was cause for concern regarding magistrate practices, but concluded that:
While the scheduling of repetitive case management conferences could lead to confusion or frustration on the part of litigants, this matter is hardly a case study in injustice....While critical review of scheduling practices is generally a worthwhile undertaking, the instant matter is not a productive forum for this discussion.
Conrad v. Swan, 2008 ME 2 (January 8, 2008)
Opinion online (last visited January 10, 2008 bgf)
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