Articles Posted in Family Law

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In issuing a divorce decree between Terrace Solomon and Wendy Barnes (formerly Solomon), the issue of custody was reserved to be decided at a later trial. Before the custody trial could be held, Terrace was arrested and held in a United States Army prison outside Alaska. The superior court repeatedly continued the custody trial to allow Terrace’s counsel to get in contact with Terrace and arrange for his telephonic appearance at trial. But after about a year had passed, the court refused to further continue the matter. A short custody trial was held; Terrace was absent but represented by counsel. The court awarded sole legal custody and sole physical custody to Wendy. The court determined, among other things, that Terrace had a history of perpetrating domestic violence, triggering a presumption against awarding him custody. On appeal Terrace claimed the superior court abused its discretion when it refused to further continue the custody trial. Terrace also claimed the court erred in concluding he had a history of domestic violence: he contended the record was inadequate to support that conclusion and the court did not make the requisite findings to support it. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court’s domestic violence findings were insufficient and thus vacated the court’s determination concerning the domestic violence presumption. The Court otherwise affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "Solomon v. Solomon" on Justia Law

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In issuing a divorce decree between Terrace Solomon and Wendy Barnes (formerly Solomon), the issue of custody was reserved to be decided at a later trial. Before the custody trial could be held, Terrace was arrested and held in a United States Army prison outside Alaska. The superior court repeatedly continued the custody trial to allow Terrace’s counsel to get in contact with Terrace and arrange for his telephonic appearance at trial. But after about a year had passed, the court refused to further continue the matter. A short custody trial was held; Terrace was absent but represented by counsel. The court awarded sole legal custody and sole physical custody to Wendy. The court determined, among other things, that Terrace had a history of perpetrating domestic violence, triggering a presumption against awarding him custody. On appeal Terrace claimed the superior court abused its discretion when it refused to further continue the custody trial. Terrace also claimed the court erred in concluding he had a history of domestic violence: he contended the record was inadequate to support that conclusion and the court did not make the requisite findings to support it. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed the superior court’s domestic violence findings were insufficient and thus vacated the court’s determination concerning the domestic violence presumption. The Court otherwise affirmed the superior court’s judgment. View "Solomon v. Solomon" on Justia Law

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The superior court divided J. Jill Maxwell and William Sosnowski's marital property during divorce proceedings. The superior court found that William was entitled to credit for post-separation mortgage payments that he made on the marital residence, but it did not determine the precise amount of those credits because the sale of the residence was pending. After the residence ultimately sold nearly two years later, the superior court issued a disbursement order that granted William credit for mortgage payments dating back to October 2011, when he moved out of the marital residence, rather than May 31, 2013, which the court had found to be the separation date. Jill appealed the effective date of the credit for these post-separation payments in the disbursement order. She also challenged consideration of the funds she provided to her adult son during the marriage in the property division order. The Alaska Supreme Court vacated the disbursement order because William was entitled to credit only for payments he made after the separation date. But the Court concluded Jill’s argument regarding the funds she gave her son was untimely because the property division order became final in December 2014. View "Maxwell v. Sosnowski" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A husband and wife divorced after 40 years of marriage. The wife appealed the superior court’s decision to equally divide their marital property, which consisted primarily of retirement benefits and debt. The superior court declined to consider how the couple’s Social Security benefits affected a fair distribution, believing that Alaska Supreme Court case law precluded it from doing so. But the Supreme Court held that although federal law prohibited any allocation of the parties’ Social Security benefits, the court could consider them as evidence of the parties’ financial condition in crafting an equitable division of the marital property. The wife raised a number of other challenges to the property division, but the Supreme Court concluded they lacked merit. The Court vacated the order dividing the marital property and remanded for further consideration in light of the parties’ Social Security benefits. View "Dunmore v. Dunmore" on Justia Law

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A couple divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage. The husband appealed the superior court’s valuation of his corporate stock and its characterization of the wife’s retirement health benefits as non-marital property. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the court’s stock valuation, but reversed its characterization of the retirement health benefits as non-marital. The Court therefore remanded for valuation of the health benefits and reconsideration of the equitable distribution of the marital estate. View "Wiegers v. Richards-Wiegers" on Justia Law

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The biological father of three children validly consented to their adoption in the face of parental rights termination proceedings. Five months later he sought to withdraw his consent. The superior court determined that withdrawal of the father’s consent to adoption would not be in the children’s best interests and denied the father permission to withdraw his consent. The father appealed, arguing the superior court clearly erred in finding that withdrawal of his consent was not in his children’s best interests. Because the superior court did not clearly err in this factual determination, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dean S. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Todd Wyman and Richelle Whitson had joint legal custody over their child, and shared physical custody alternating every two years. Each parent had a child support obligation while the child was in the primary custody of the other parent. In the superior court, the parties resolved all aspects of the child support determination but one: whether Wyman could apply tax deductions for amortization of his commercial fishing permits and quota shares to his adjusted income as the basis for calculating his child support obligation. The superior court concluded that this amortization was not deductible from Wyman’s income. Wyman appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in not allowing the amortization deduction in light of the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior decisions allowing similar deductions for depreciation expenses. The Supreme Court concluded in this case that because Wyman’s fishing permits and quota shares were perpetual assets with an indefinite useful life, amortization of these assets does not reflect an ordinary and necessary cost of producing income and is not deductible from income for child support purposes. We therefore affirm the superior court’s child support order. However, we limit our holding to perpetual intangible assets similar to those in this case and do not address the question whether amortization of an intangible asset with a finite useful life can be deductible as an ordinary and necessary cost of income. View "Wyman v. Whitson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The superior court issued an order modifying a father’s child support obligation. The father appealed, arguing that the court erred in multiple respects. He argued the court erred in disallowing his claimed business losses from self-employment and his claimed travel expenses when calculating his income. And he argued the court erred in not counting his at-will visitation with his children and in recognizing an aberration in the school calendar when calculating the percentage of time he had custody of the children. Finding no abuse of discretion or other error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Holmes v. Holmes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Parents appealed a superior court’s order that found the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had satisfied the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) requirements authorizing the removal of their daughter, an Indian child, from their custody. OCS took emergency custody of “Mary” and her older brother Claude in March 2014. It acted following a December 2013 report that Claude had been medivaced out of the family’s village due to alcohol poisoning and that his parents had been too intoxicated to accompany him, and a March 2014 report that Diego and Catharine were intoxicated and fighting in their home. OCS alleged in its emergency petition that the court should make child in need of aid (CINA) findings. At the custody hearing Diego and Catharine stipulated to probable cause that their children were in need of aid under AS 47.10.011, without admitting any of the facts alleged in the petition, and to temporary OCS custody pending an adjudication hearing. The superior court held a disposition hearing over two days in December and January. OCS argued for an order authorizing it to remove the children from their parents’ home; the parents urged the court to grant OCS only the authority to supervise the family. Because the Alaska Supreme Court found the trial court relied on information that was not in evidence to make the required ICWA removal findings, it vacated the order authorizing removal. View "Diego K. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Unmarried parents separated and asked the superior court for a custody and child support order. The father was receiving military disability payments but was otherwise unemployed. In calculating his child support liability, the superior court imputed income to him of $40,000 in addition to his military disability payments. The court also apparently rejected the father’s request to deduct business losses, including depreciation, incurred by his rental properties. The father appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that several aspects of the superior court’s findings of fact were not sufficiently explained for its review: (1) the basis of the imputed income figure; (2) the effect of employment on the father’s disability payments; and (3) whether the father is entitled to deduct claimed business losses from his income. The Court therefore vacated the child support order and remanded for the superior court’s further consideration of these issues. View "Farr v. Little" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law