Articles Posted in Family Law

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A trial court determined the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) failed to demonstrate it made reasonable efforts to reunify a family. Nonetheless, the court terminated Kylie L.’s parental rights to her daughter, finding that OCS’s failure was “excused.” The mother appealed, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s “excuse.” View "Kylie L. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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Divorced parents reached a custody settlement giving the mother sole legal and primary physical custody of their son; the father had visitation at the mother’s discretion. After the father later requested joint legal and shared physical custody, the mother sought authorization to relocate with the child out of state. At a combined hearing on both issues the father presented evidence that the mother may have committed domestic violence against a former boyfriend. The superior court denied the custody modification request for failure to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. The court granted the mother authorization to move, finding her reasons for relocating legitimate and determining that the child’s best interests were served by staying with the mother. Under the court’s subsequent order the mother maintained sole legal and primary physical custody, with limited visitation by the father. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the determination that the mother’s move was for legitimate purposes; however, it vacated the underlying finding that no domestic violence occurred between the mother and her former boyfriend and remanded that issue for renewed consideration. Necessarily, the Court remanded the custody and visitation decisions for renewed consideration. View "Bruce H. v. Jennifer L." on Justia Law

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The superior court granted joint legal and primary physical custody of a child to his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather. The child’s mother, who retained joint legal custody and visitation rights, appealed, arguing: (1) she was entitled to court-appointed counsel during the proceedings; (2) the order violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to direct the upbringing and education of her child; and (3) the court erred in its custody determination. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found that because the mother provided no legal basis for her claim to court-appointed counsel, the trial court did not err in denying that request. Because the court applied the correct constitutional and legal standard for third-party custody, its factual findings were not clearly erroneous, and its exercise of discretion was not unreasonable, the Supreme Court affirmed the court’s order awarding joint legal and primary physical custody of the child to the grandparents. View "Dara v. Gish" on Justia Law

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Julia M. and Timothy W. married in 2005 and had three children, born in 2006, 2008, and 2010. The couple separated in 2011 and in April 2012 Julia filed for divorce. Julia and Timothy entered into an agreement concerning custody, visitation, and support for their children. The agreement lasted through the fall; in December Timothy requested that Julia’s sole legal custody and primary physical custody be modified. The trial court denied that request because there had been no material change in circumstances. Timothy also sought to have his child support reduced or eliminated. Julia in turn requested that the court impute income to Timothy and increase his child support. Both parties requested changes to Timothy’s visitation schedule. Timothy maintained the trial court was biased against him, and challenged the court’s: (1) denial of his judicial recusal motion; (2) decision to keep certain hearings open to the public; (3) sua sponte admission of evidence during its oral decision on the record; and (4) findings that the father had a history of domestic violence against a “domestic living partner” requiring the court to impose limitations on his visitation. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the trial court as to the first three matters, but vacated the visitation order and remanded for further proceedings, specifically, for findings on whether the acts of domestic violence occurred while a domestic living partnership was in effect. View "Timothy W. v. Julia M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In 2012 John “Scott” Hockema filed for divorce from his wife, Janet. The superior court divided the marital estate equally and awarded Janet, who had been a homemaker throughout most of the marriage, spousal support for six years. Scott appealed the superior court’s award of spousal support, its valuation of several pieces of marital property and a retirement account, the denial of an offset for certain mortgage payments made on the marital home, the denial of an offset for interim spousal support paid, and the calculation of tax payments made on certain marital property. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s valuation of the marital property and its decision not to offset the interim spousal support payments, but concluded the value of the retirement account and the amount of property taxes paid were calculated incorrectly. The Court also concluded the court did not make sufficient findings regarding its award of spousal support, and remanded for further consideration of the necessity, amount, and duration of spousal support. View "Hockema v. Hockema" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Parties in a divorce disputed the value of the husband’s post-retirement military medical benefits. The superior court determined that the benefits were a marital asset, but declined to value them or account for their value when dividing the marital estate. The court instead ordered the husband to pay for comparable medical benefits for the wife for the rest of her life. The court also determined that most of the wife’s student loans were marital debt and allocated that debt to her. Both parties appealed the superior court’s decision regarding the husband’s medical benefits; the husband also appealed the superior court’s characterization of the student loans as marital debt. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s characterization of the wife’s student loans as marital debt, but reversed and remanded for the superior court to assign a value to the husband’s post-retirement military medical benefits and to finalize an equitable distribution of the marital estate. View "Grove v. Grove" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Barry H., the father in a Child in Need of Aid (CINA) proceeding sought to dismiss his court-appointed counsel and represent himself. The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of four of their children in February 2013 after receiving reports that Barry was physically and sexually abusing members of his family. At their initial hearings both Barry and Donna agreed to have counsel appointed for them. The trial court found Barry could not conduct himself in a rational and coherent manner sufficient to allow him to proceed without an attorney and denied his request. After a six-day trial the court terminated his parental rights to three of his children. The father appealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously deprived him of his right to represent himself during the CINA proceeding. Finding no reversible decision, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Barry H. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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A father's parental rights were terminated as to his daughter, an Indian child, diagnosed with sexualized, aggressive behavior. He appealed the termination, arguing he remedied his prior misconduct by completing outpatient treatment programs, and that the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) violated its obligation to provide active efforts to reunify the family by discontinuing his visitation after his daughter returned from an out-of-state treatment program. The Alaska Supreme Court found the superior court reasonably concluded that the visitation was not in the child’s best interest, that the father had failed to comply with substance abuse testing and delayed a critical sex offender risk assessment, and that it would cause serious emotional damage to return the child to his home. The Court therefore affirm the order terminating his parental rights. View "Bob S. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Divorced parents shared equal custody of their son pursuant to an agreement. The mother asked the superior court to modify the agreement to allow her to move with the child to Hawaii. Following a two-hour hearing the court modified custody, granting primary physical custody to the mother; it also modified legal custody to allow the mother final decision-making authority, subject to later court ratification, though neither party had asked that legal custody be modified. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion when it granted modification and awarded primary physical custody to the mother, and it affirmed that part of the superior court’s decision. However, the Supreme Court held it was an abuse of discretion to modify legal custody when neither party had requested it, the parties were not on notice that it was at issue, and the evidence did not demonstrate a need for it. The modification of legal custody was therefore vacated. View "Judd v. Judd" on Justia Law

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Divorced parents shared custody of their son equally pursuant to a parenting agreement. The mother asked the superior court to modify the agreement to allow her to move with the child to Hawaii. The trial court modified custody, granting primary physical custody to the mother; it also modified legal custody to allow the mother final decision-making authority, subject to later court ratification, though neither party had asked that legal custody be modified. The father appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion when it granted modification and awarded primary physical custody to the mother, and affirmed that part of the court’s decision. But the Supreme Court held it was an abuse of discretion to modify legal custody when neither party had requested it, the parties were not on notice that it was at issue, and the evidence did not demonstrate a need for it. The Court therefore vacated the modification of legal custody. View "Judd v. Burns" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law