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Paine v. Buffa

Supreme Court of Vermont

January 31, 2014

Nathan Paine
Jaime Buffa

Page 91

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 92

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Superior Court, Windham Unit, Family Division. John P. Wesley, J.

Jean Anne Kiewel of Jean Anne Kiewel, PC, Brattleboro, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Sharon L. Annis of Buehler & Annis, PLC, Brattleboro, for Defendant-Appellant.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Crawford, JJ. Robinson, J., concurring.


Page 93

Crawford, J.

[¶1] Mother appeals the family division's decision to place sole legal parental rights and responsibilities for the parties' two daughters with father. She also appeals the family division's award of a share of the equity in the marital home to father. We affirm.

[¶2] The parties met in 2002 in Colorado, when father was twenty-two and mother was eighteen, and moved in together shortly afterward. After traveling for about a year, they moved to southern Vermont in 2003. In October 2003 mother's parents, who live in the state of Georgia, financed their daughter's purchase of a home on Paul's Road in Brattleboro. The couple moved into the home and lived there until mother sold it in November 2007. During this time, father worked seasonally at an apple orchard and performed some carpentry work, and mother worked as a waitress and as a clerk at a farm stand. The couple was able to live beyond their limited means through continuing support from mother's parents.

[¶3] Mother and father grew dissatisfied with the Paul's Road house, particularly due to its thermal inefficiency. In July 2005 mother approached her parents for money to purchase a thirty-two-acre parcel of land on Sunset Lake Road in Brattleboro. Over the next two years, mother and father worked to construct a house on the property, where they intended to live " off the grid" and become self-sufficient homesteaders. Father provided substantial labor, and mother's parents provided money for materials and additional labor. The couple moved into the house in September 2006. Mother was less committed to the homesteading life than father and quickly abandoned her plan to raise sheep and create wool fabric products. After selling the house on Paul's Road in 2007, she deposited the proceeds into her own bank account and used the money to support herself and her family.

[¶4] Although by all accounts their relationship had been tumultuous and frequently unhappy, the parties decided to marry in June 2007. Shortly after the wedding, mother discovered she was pregnant with the couple's first daughter, who was born in March 2008. Their second daughter was born in February 2011.

[¶5] By September 2011, the parties had decided to separate. Father moved out of the marital home but cared for the children there for three to four days a week, including overnights, while mother attended community college in Massachusetts. Father filed for divorce in March 2012, and

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began to spend his time with the children at a cabin located on his employer's orchard where he lived.

[¶6] In April 2012, mother moved for an expedited hearing on parent-child contact because she had made plans to relocate with the children to North Carolina. The court denied immediate relief because no emergent circumstances had been demonstrated and the parties had not yet met with the case manager to attempt to develop a parenting plan. Mother then filed an emergency motion claiming that father's insistence on having parent-child contact at his cabin put the children's well-being at immediate risk. The court held an emergency hearing in May. It concluded that the evidence did not support mother's assertions that father's cabin was an unsuitable place to take the children or that the children were actively resisting going to the cabin. It stated that the motion appeared to be driven by mother's desire to gain an early determination of custody so she could move to North Carolina with the children. The court stated that it would award temporary legal custody to father unless the parties stipulated to joint legal parental rights and responsibilities. Shortly thereafter, the court approved a temporary stipulated order under which the parties shared legal and physical responsibilities.

[¶7] Although she had originally intended to move to North Carolina, by the time of trial mother planned to move to Georgia, where her parents lived. She submitted proposed parenting plans that were premised upon her residing in Georgia and having sole legal responsibilities and shared physical responsibilities for the children. She offered to send the children to visit father in Vermont during school vacation, or to ...

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