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Gravlin v. Gravlin

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

May 5, 2016

LORA ANN GRAVLIN
v.
DAVID E. GRAVLIN, JR.

Heard: March 1, 2016.

Complaint for divorce filed in the Middlesex Division of the Probate and Family Court Department on May 16, 2011. A motion to confirm an arbitration award on complaints for modification and contempt was heard by Patricia A. Gorman, J.

Floyd H. Anderson for the husband.

Lora Ann Fickett, pro se.

Present: Trainor, Meade, & Blake, JJ.

BLAKE, J.

The husband, David E. Gravlin, Jr., appeals from four Probate and Family Court judgments dated April 16, 2014, that issued following the confirmation of an original and an amended arbitration award in favor of the wife, Lora Ann Gravlin.[1] He argues that the judge improperly delegated her authority by allowing the parties' joint motion to submit their pending complaints to binding arbitration, and abused her discretion in entering judgments based on the arbitrator's award. We affirm.

Background.

The parties executed a separation agreement (agreement) on October 17, 2011, which was incorporated and merged in a judgment of divorce nisi on November 17, 2011. The agreement provides, in pertinent part, that David is to pay Lora Ann $750 per week as child support for the support of their three minor children. The agreement explains that "[t]his amount exceeds the amount of support required pursuant to the child support guidelines currently in effect, and is reflective of the parties' shared desire to maintain the marital home for the benefit of the children."

On October 9, 2012, David filed a complaint for modification seeking to reduce his child support obligation. In support of his complaint, David alleged the following change of circumstances:

"1. [David] has experienced a major loss of income and the said child support order is therefore now inconsistent with the child support guidelines even if [Lora Ann] is considered to be the primary custodial parent.
2. The co-parenting schedule actually being carried out by the parties since said divorce judgment is consistent with equally shared physical custody and therefore [David] asserts that child support should be modified based on that schedule as well."

Lora Ann filed both an answer denying the change in circumstances alleged and a counterclaim for modification seeking an order requiring David to pay one half of the cost of the children's extracurricular activities, equipment, and school fees. Over the span of about one year, she also filed multiple complaints for contempt alleging, among other things, that David was in arrears on his child support obligation. David filed answers to those complaints claiming that Lora Ann was not entitled to the requested relief.

On January 21, 2014, the parties, both represented by counsel, filed a joint motion to submit all pending complaints to binding arbitration.[2] It provides: "The parties agree to waive their right to trial on these issues and stipulate that the arbitrator's decision will be binding upon them and will not be subject to appeal." The parties further agreed upon the attorney who would serve as the arbitrator and that they would equally share the expense of the arbitration. The motion was allowed the same day. In a margin notation, the judge removed the trial date scheduled for March 6, 2014. On February 27, 2014, the parties executed an arbitration and fee agreement (arbitration agreement), ...


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