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Saltzman v. Saltzman

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 15, 2019

Adam Saltzman
v.
Erin Saltzman.

          Providence County P 15-1342 Family Court John E. McCann, III Associate Justice.

          For Plaintiff: Robert S. Parker, Esq. Deborah M. Tate, Esq.

          For Defendant: William J. Lynch, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice.

         The defendant, Erin Saltzman, appeals from a Family Court final judgment of divorce. Dissatisfied with the judgment, the defendant filed a timely appeal, raising an array of issues. This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument pursuant to an order directing the parties to show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided.[1] After hearing the arguments of counsel and thoroughly examining the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm in part and vacate in part the judgment of the Family Court, and we remand the case to that tribunal for further findings.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The plaintiff, Adam Saltzman, and the defendant, Erin, were married on September 26, 2009, and two minor children were born of the marriage.[2] Adam filed a complaint for divorce from Erin on July 30, 2015, citing irreconcilable differences that had led to the breakdown of the marriage.

         At the time of their marriage both parties resided in New York City. During the early days of their marriage in 2009, Erin and Adam were both employed; he as a physician and she as a buyer for Macy's department store. However, in May 2011, when Adam accepted a two-year fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Erin gave up her job and the couple relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2013, they relocated again, this time to Barrington, after Adam accepted a position at Southcoast Health in Massachusetts. At the time of trial, Adam was the sole breadwinner through his work as a cardiologist, and he earned a salary of $550, 000 per year. Erin was the primary caregiver for the children.

         According to the testimony at trial, the couple began to experience increasing tension in their relationship. The domestic difficulties were no doubt exacerbated by Erin's frequent trips to her family's home in Ohio. During one of those trips, Adam began an illicit relationship with another woman. In fact, in his decision, the trial justice found that Adam had been "less than candid with his responses in deposition testimony and discovery as to his sexual involvement with another woman, which he later modified prior to trial." Although the trial justice found that Adam's infidelity ultimately led to the couple's separation, he also determined that each party had contributed to the breakdown of the marriage.

         At the end of the proceeding, the trial justice granted the complaint for divorce of each party based on irreconcilable differences that had led to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. In his decision pending entry of final judgment, the trial justice awarded the parties joint custody of the minor children, with physical placement with Erin. However, he denied Erin's request to relocate to Ohio with the children. The trial justice also ordered Adam to pay (1) the costs to maintain the marital domicile for a period of thirty months, at which point the home would be sold; (2) alimony in the amount of $50, 000, which would be treated as a contribution towards the costs of maintaining the marital home for thirty months; and (3) child support in the amount of $5, 500 per month. With respect to the marital estate, the trial justice ordered that the marital domicile be sold at the expiration of the thirty-month period and that Erin would receive 70 percent of the net proceeds and Adam the remaining 30 percent. The balance of the marital estate was to be divided evenly between the parties. The trial justice also ordered both parties to pay their own attorneys' fees except for the sanction the trial justice imposed on Adam for his lack of candor. Finally, the court awarded Adam reasonable visitation rights with the minor children, including alternate weekends and overnight visitations on Mondays and Wednesdays. Erin appealed, and we remanded the case for entry of final judgment, which occurred on December 5, 2018.

         II

         Issues on Appeal

         Before this Court, Erin argues that the trial justice erred in (1) denying her request to relocate with the children to Ohio; (2) awarding temporary use of the home to her for thirty months, after which the home would be sold; (3) the calculation of child support; (4) the award of attorneys' fees and costs; (5) the equitable distribution of marital property; (6) setting the visitation schedule; and (7) the amount of sanctions imposed on Adam. We address each issue in turn.

         A

         Relocation

         Erin argues that the trial justice abused his discretion when he denied her request to relocate to Ohio with the minor children. Specifically, Erin asserts that the trial justice failed to adequately consider Erin's enhanced housing and employment opportunities in Ohio; the short time the children have lived in Rhode Island; the difference in degree of past parental involvement; and the support network available to the children in Ohio, as opposed to the lesser support network available to them in Rhode Island.

         Standard of Review

         "It is a firmly established principle in family law that the paramount consideration in relocation cases is the best interests of the child or children." Ainsworth v. Ainsworth, 186 A.3d 1074, 1081 (R.I. 2018) (emphasis omitted) (quoting DePrete v. DePrete, 44 A.3d 1260, 1271 (R.I. 2012)). "The determination of what is in the best interests of the children is 'appropriately placed in the sound discretion of the trial justice.'" Id. (quoting Dupré v. Dupré, 857 A.2d 242, 256 (R.I. 2004)). "On review, this Court will not disturb the findings of fact made by a justice of the Family Court with respect to the issue of custody and the best interests of the children unless the hearing justice abused his or her discretion in making such findings." Id. (brackets omitted) (quoting DePrete, 44 A.3d at 1270). "Accordingly, we will affirm the Family Court's ruling 'unless the trial justice's factual findings overlooked or misconceived material evidence or were clearly wrong.'" Id. (quoting McDonough v. McDonough, 962 A.2d 47, 52 (R.I. 2009)).

         In evaluating the best interests of the child as to relocation, the trial justice is required to address the eight factors articulated in Dupré. Ainsworth, 186 A.3d at 1082. The trial justice also must consider the eight factors articulated in Pettinato v. Pettinato, 58 A.2d 909 (R.I. 1990). Id. "[W]e accord deference to the sound discretion of the hearing justice in assessing and weighing both sets of factors because it is the trial justice who is in the best position to determine what factors may be relevant on a case-by-case basis." Id. at 1083 (brackets and deletion omitted) (quoting Dupré, 857 A.2d at 257).

         In Dupré, we identified the following eight factors upon which evidence should be presented in cases involving the relocation of children:

"(1) The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child's relationship with the parent proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating parent. "* * *
"(2) The reasonable likelihood that the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for both the child and the parent seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, economic and emotional benefits, and educational opportunities. "(3) The probable impact that the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational, and emotional development. Any special needs of the child should also be taken into account in considering this factor.
"(4) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and child through suitable visitation arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties. "* * *
"(5) The existence of extended family or other support systems available to the child in both locations.
"(6) Each parent's reasons for seeking or opposing the relocation. "* * *
"(7) In cases of international relocation, the question of whether the country to which the child is to be relocated is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction will be an important consideration.
"(8) To the extent that they may be relevant to a relocation inquiry, the Pettinato factors also will be significant." Dupré, 857 A.2d at 257-59 (internal citations omitted).

         In Ainsworth, this Court repeated that "'no single Dupré factor is dispositive' and that 'each case will present its own unique circumstances that a trial justice must balance and weigh as he or she deems appropriate.'" Ainsworth, 186 A.3d at 1082 (brackets omitted) (quoting Valkoun v. Frizzle, 973 A.2d 566, 577 (R.I. 2009)).

         In Pettinato, we identified the following eight factors to be weighed in the analysis of the best interests of the child:

"1. The wishes of the child's parent or parents regarding the child's custody.
"2. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and ...

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