Articles Posted in Family Law

by
Bertha and Adolph Hall divorced in 2015 and disputed whether certain pieces of real property in Louisiana and Mississippi were separate or marital. The superior court relied on provisions in a document titled a last will and testament for its finding that the parties intended that the Louisiana properties be the husband’s separate property and that the Mississippi properties be the wife’s separate property. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the court erred in its transmutation analysis. The court also erred in not providing support for its finding regarding the ownership of one of the Louisiana properties and in not addressing the question of the purported conveyance of properties by the husband to his children before the parties’ separation. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s property distribution decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Hall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
Forest Button and Shelley Fredrickson never married, but they had one child together. Button and Fredrickson separated in September 2006. From September 2006 until January 2013 neither sought a formal custody order or a child support order. Instead, they had an informal arrangement to share their son’s expenses. Button filed a complaint for custody in January 2013. The parties participated in a settlement conference and entered into an agreement resolving all custody issues, but the parties reserved issues of prospective and retrospective child support for later resolution by the court. When the trial court did make its support orders, Frederickson appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in determining the sources of Frederickson's income and whether it could be considered for purposes for calculating a retrospective child support award, but did not err in imputing income to Frederickson but not to Button. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Fredrickson v. Button" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court centered on the termination of parental rights and reinstatement. This review necessitated revisiting issues arising from Rita T. v. Alaska, 623 P.2d 344 (1981), in which the Court held that a parent whose parental rights have been terminated retained the right, upon a showing of good cause, to request a review hearing, during which the parent may seek to set aside a termination order and have parental rights reinstated. This then leads the Court to review the superior court’s reinstatement order in this case. The Supreme Court held Rita T. remained viable: at a Rita T. hearing, a termination order can be set aside by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has been sufficiently rehabilitated and is capable of providing the care and guidance that will serve the child’s moral, emotional, mental, and physical welfare and that parental rights reinstatement is in the child’s best interests. Because the factual findings supporting the parental rights reinstatement in this case were inadequate for review of the necessary best interests finding, the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Dara S. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

by
Alaska case law has treated the end of a domestic partnership as coextensive with both the end of a marriage-like relationship and the end of the partners’ cohabitation. But this appeal presented a novel factual circumstance of a couple who continued living together after their marriage-like relationship ended. The Alaska Supreme Court clarified several aspects of Alaska domestic partnership case law to decide this appeal, including when and how a domestic partnership terminates, when postpartnership payments must be reimbursed, and how the trial court should award attorney’s fees. Applying these clarified standards, the Court concluded most of the trial court’s property distribution was correct but that some minor aspects were in error. The Court therefore remanded for the trial court to revise its property division. View "Tomal v. Anderson" on Justia Law

by
Darcey and Matthew Geldermann, parents of a young son, divorced in 2011, agreeing that the mother would have primary physical custody during the school year. The father moved to California. When the child began experiencing behavioral problems, the parents agreed to switch custody for a few years, giving the father primary physical custody in California during the school year. The parties signed a custody modification agreement to this effect in December 2014, including both parents’ waivers of child support, but they did not file the agreement in court. The next year, following a dispute over the mother’s visitation, both parties sought a judicial resolution of custody. The father went to a California court seeking to make the 2014 change in custody permanent. The mother went to Alaska superior court seeking to enforce the original 2011 agreement that gave her primary physical custody. The Alaska court asserted jurisdiction; it ultimately modified physical custody in favor of the father but maintained the parents’ joint legal custody. The court also modified child support, ordering the mother to pay child support effective from the date the father first sought to modify custody in California. The mother appealed the physical custody and child support orders, challenging among other things the child support order’s effective date. The father cross-appealed, challenging the decision on joint legal custody. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s custody and child support orders, concluding that they were well supported by the evidence, and that the court did not abuse its discretion in selecting the child support order’s effective date. View "Geldermann v. Geldermann" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
Gregory and Patricia Gordon were divorced by decree; the decree divided the marital estate. One of the largest components of the marital estate was a retirement medical benefit earned by Patricia during the marriage through her employment with the State of Alaska. The superior court found that the benefit was entirely marital, but the court concluded that including the full value of the benefit in the marital estate (which the court determined should be divided 50/50) would result in a “windfall” to Gregory. The court therefore applied “the coverture fraction as if [Patricia] had remained working for the State” - even though Patricia had in fact quit her job with the State during the marriage. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with Gregory’s argument that the court erred in applying this adjusted coverture fraction. "The superior court should have characterized the retirement medical benefit as marital or separate in accordance with the actual coverture fraction, valued the benefit at its full value, and divided the marital estate - including the retirement medical benefit - between the parties according to the statutory equitable factors." The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s equitable distribution of the marital estate and remanded for further consideration. View "Gordon v. Gordon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
At the time of separation, Kelly and Rachael Brennan controlled substantial assets, including a successful fishing business, Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) that Kelly obtained prior to his marriage to Rachael, and a large home in Halibut Cove. The court ordered Kelly to pay $5,000 per month as interim spousal support. After trial, the superior court determined that the IFQs had become marital property through transmutation, and it divided most of the marital estate 50/50. The property division included the proceeds from two post-separation sales of IFQs; the court also awarded Rachael half the gross proceeds from the post-trial sale of the couple’s fishing vessel. Kelly appealed, arguing the IFQs were his separate property not subject to division; he also challenged several other aspects of the court’s property division, arguing that the court abused its discretion in failing to account for various tax liabilities, payments, alleged damage to marital property, and other factors that he contends unfairly favored Rachael. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court applied the wrong legal standard to its transmutation analysis regarding the IFQs, and therefore reversed the determination that the IFQs were marital property, and reversed the award to Rachael of proceeds from post-separation IFQ sales. The Court remanded for the superior court to reconsider these issues as well as the overall equitable property distribution, and to explain its reasoning for awarding Rachael gross rather than net proceeds from the sale of the fishing vessel. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Brennan v. Brennan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
Rowena Weathers (mother) appealed the superior court’s custody modification order awarding Dennis Weathers (father) physical custody of their daughter 59% of the year. Previously, pursuant to the parties’ divorce settlement agreement, the mother had been awarded primary physical custody in large part because the father’s employment required him to work overseas most of the year. After the father was retired by his employer due to a downturn in the oil market, he unilaterally took custody and refused to allow the mother to have custody of their daughter except for very limited visitation. The mother moved to modify custody to a 50/50 basis. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court’s custody award was an abuse of discretion because it gave disproportionate weight to grandparent involvement as a factor favoring the father while failing to weigh against the father the statutory best interests factor regarding the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent. Accordingly, the Court reversed the custody award and remanded to the superior court. View "Weathers v. Weathers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
The superior court awarded custody of a child to her maternal grandmother. When the father later moved for a modification of custody, the court denied the motion on the ground that there had been no substantial change in circumstances. On appeal the father argued he should not have been required to show a substantial change in circumstances because the award of custody to the grandmother had been only temporary and he remained entitled to the parental preference. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court’s oral remarks and written order granting custody to the grandmother, when read together, indicated an intent that there would also be a transitional period during which the parties would see how the child adapted to spending more time with her father, leaving open the possibility that the transition would result in permanent custody with the father. Therefore, the Court concluded that in the absence of a grant of permanent custody to the grandmother, the father remained entitled to the parental preference, and the grandmother continued to have the burden of proving that the preference should be overcome. View "Daves v. McKinley" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
Sarah and Sean Whalen married in May 2004 and had three children. They separated in 2012, divorced in 2015. Sarah had petitioned for multiple domestic violence protective orders against Sean, some of which had been granted. In November 2015 Sarah filed a petition for a long-term domestic violence protective order against Sean. The superior court ruled that she could not rely on Sean’s past history of domestic violence alone to obtain a new protective order but had to show that Sean had committed a new incident of domestic violence since the previous protective order. The court also found that Sarah had not proved any new incident and denied her petition. Sarah appealed, arguing that she should be allowed to rely on past incidents of domestic violence that had supported past protective orders to obtain a new protective order. In the alternative she argued there had been a new incident of domestic violence. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s denial of the petition for a domestic violence protective order. View "Whalen v. Whalen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law