Justia Alaska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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In this case, two individuals, Tong Vang and Pa Kou Xiong, were in a relationship recognized by Hmong cultural customs but were not legally married. They had two children together. Upon their separation, Xiong sought repayment of $38,000, which she claimed were loans to Vang and his family. Vang disputed this and counterclaimed for damages. The Superior Court of the State of Alaska found in favor of Xiong, and Vang appealed.On appeal, Vang argued that the court should have applied a presumption that transfers of funds between close relatives are considered gifts rather than loans. However, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska rejected this argument because the parties were not legally married or in a domestic partnership, and they were not close relatives. Additionally, the court found that the record supported the lower court’s finding that Xiong intended the transfers of money to be loans.The court affirmed the lower court’s judgment, holding that the Superior Court did not err in treating the transfers as loans rather than gifts. The court found that Vang did not establish that he and Xiong were married, in a domestic partnership, or close relatives, which would have triggered the presumption that the transfers were gifts. Furthermore, the court found that the record supported the Superior Court's finding that Xiong intended the transfers of money to be loans. View "Vang v. Xiong" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Family Law
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In this case, Veronica Louise Hudson and Daniel Lee Hudson, a married couple in Alaska, divorced. The major points of contention revolved around the division of marital property and the classification of a severance and bonus package received by Daniel from his former employer, BP. Veronica argued that the severance and bonus pay were marital property, while Daniel contended that they were his separate property. The trial court ruled that the severance and bonus pay were separate property, and divided the remaining marital property equally between the parties. Veronica also challenged the court's order allowing Daniel to make an equalization payment over five years rather than in a lump sum and the court's denial of her request for attorney fees.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska concluded that the lower court erred in classifying the severance and bonus pay without sufficient information, and in its findings related to economic misconduct and the financial condition of the parties. The court also held that the lower court abused its discretion in ordering a schedule of equalization payments over multiple years. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the purpose of the severance and bonus pay, and whether a different division of property is warranted. The court also required the lower court to reconsider the terms of any equalization payment. The court affirmed the lower court's denial of attorney's fees. View "Hudson v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of a child within days of her birth. OCS then filed an emergency child in need of aid (CINA) petition seeking an order confirming probable cause to believe the child was in need of aid and granting OCS temporary custody of the child pending further proceedings. The superior court held an evidentiary hearing and concluded that OCS had not shown probable cause to believe the child was a child in need of aid, and dismissed the CINA case. The superior court later denied OCS’s reconsideration motion, and OCS then appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s decision in a short summary order (with an opinion to follow), remanding to reopen the CINA case and conduct further proceedings in the normal course. The Court explained its order in this opinion. View "Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services v. Karlie T." on Justia Law

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Wife Connie Stockton challenged a superior court’s order denying relief from judgment under Alaska Civil Rule 60(b). She sought to overturn a default judgment entered against her in 2013, that divided marital property upon divorce from her husband Veral Stockton. Asserting that she suffered from severe depression during the divorce proceedings and that her husband improperly served the notice of default, she argued the judgment was void for lack of due process and, alternatively, should have been vacated due to extraordinary circumstances. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s factual finding that she was not incompetent at the time of divorce and its legal rulings that the judgment was not void and extraordinary circumstances warranting relief were not shown. View "Stockton v. Stockton" on Justia Law

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removed an Alaska Native child from his mother and placed him with a relative, the child experienced suicidal ideation and checked himself into a psychiatric facility. Following a period of seemingly voluntary care, OCS requested a hearing to place the child at an out-of-state secure residential psychiatric treatment facility. The child’s Tribe intervened and challenged the constitutionality of AS 47.10.087, the manner in which evidence was received, and alleged due process violations. The child joined in some of these objections. The superior court ordered the child placed at a secure residential psychiatric treatment facility per AS 47.10.087. The Tribe, but not the child, appealed the placement decision, contending primarily that the superior court erred in proceeding under AS 47.10.087 and in making its substantive findings, and plainly erred in authorizing placement pursuant to AS 47.10.087 without addressing the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) placement preferences. The Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the court’s application of AS 47.10.087 or its substantive findings, and thus affirmed the superior court’s placement determination. The Court expressed concern that the trial court failed to make required inquiries and findings related to ICWA’s placement preferences. However, this did not amount to plain error. The Supreme Court did not reach the Tribe’s other arguments as the Tribe has either waived them or lacked standing to raise them. View "Tuluksak Native Community v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Srvs." on Justia Law

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Mother Miranda T. appealed the superior court’s entry of a disposition order in child in need of aid (CINA) proceedings. She contended the court erred by moving forward with an adjudication hearing without having considered her request for a review hearing on a previously stipulated temporary custody and placement arrangement. She contended the court also erred by later refusing to enforce two subsequent agreements she had reached with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) about placements for her daughter. Furthermore, Mother contended the evidence did not support the disposition order’s predicate findings that (1) OCS had made sufficiently active efforts to reunify the family and (2) removal of the daughter from the family home was necessary to avoid harm to her. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court rejected the mother’s claims of error and affirmed the superior court’s disposition order. View "M.T. (Mother) v. State of Alaska DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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In this case, the superior court granted visitation to grandparents after finding that the children enjoyed a positive relationship “typical of a grandparent-child relationship” and that the parents’ motive for cutting off contact with the grandparents was spiteful. To this, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the court’s ruling, finding the parents’ motive for ending visitation did not show that the lack of visitation was detrimental to the children. "And the mere fact that children enjoy a positive or typical relationship with their grandparents does not amount to clear and convincing evidence that ending visitation is detrimental to the children. Absent such evidence, it is error to order visitation that a fit parent does not wish to allow." View "Christy v. Conrad" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Blythe and Danny were the parents of three-year-old Gene. Blythe had two other children, Gene’s half siblings, with a man named Timothy. Timothy has custody of those other children; they lived with him and his parents, Robert and Vivian. In January 2021, the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) filed a non-emergency petition to adjudicate Gene a child in need of aid due to concerns about Blythe’s and Danny’s mental health and substance abuse. Later that month OCS removed Gene from his parents and placed him with Robert and Vivian. Robert and Vivian considered themselves Gene’s grandparents, though they were not related to him by blood or marriage. When OCS decides to transfer a child in its custody from one out-of-home placement to another, a party may seek judicial review of that decision. According to statute, the superior court shall deny the proposed transfer if the party “prove[s] by clear and convincing evidence that the transfer would be contrary to the best interests of the child.” OCS argued that in some circumstances the party challenging a proposed transfer must also show it was an abuse of discretion, such as when OCS seeks to transfer the child to a statutorily preferred placement or due to licensing concerns with the existing placement. Because there was no basis in statutory text or legislative history to supplant the standard of review chosen by the legislature with a standard more deferential to OCS, the Alaska Supreme Court declined to do so. And because the Court mistakenly applied abuse of discretion review in State, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services v. Zander B., 474 P.3d 1153 (Alaska 2020), it overruled that decision to the extent it was inconsistent with the opinion here. View "Blythe P. v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of a newborn child due to concerns about the parents’ drug use and the father’s history of sexual abuse. The mother later voluntarily relinquished her parental rights, and after a trial, the superior court terminated the father’s rights. The father appealed the termination order, arguing: (1) the order improperly relied on drug-treatment records that were not admitted at trial; and (2) in proposing a new process to govern a parent’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, he established a prima facie case of ineffective assistance and the Alaska Supreme Court should remand the case to the superior court for an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court was not convinced by either argument, and affirmed the termination order because relying on the unadmitted drug-treatment records was harmless error and because the father did not show he received ineffective assistance of counsel. However, the Court took the opportunity to clarify its approach to ineffective assistance claims in child in need of aid (CINA) cases. View "Penn P. Jr. v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Soc.Srvs" on Justia Law

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A child was severely injured while in his father’s care. The father did not immediately seek medical help and gave conflicting explanations of how his son’s injury occurred. An Alaska superior court found probable cause to believe that the child was in need of aid, limited the father’s contact with the child and mother, and awarded the mother custody. A few months later the father was arrested outside the family home, and evidence suggested that the mother had allowed contact between him and their son in violation of military and civil no-contact orders. The superior court adjudicated the boy as a child in need of aid based on the actions of both parents. The parents separately appealed the adjudication. But after the appeals were filed, the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) informed the superior court that the child could safely be returned to his parents’ care, and the superior court closed the case. On appeal the parents argue that their appeals were mooted by the superior court’s dismissal of OCS’s case and that the Alaska Supreme Court should decline to hear the appeals and vacate the adjudication order to avoid the potential for collateral consequences. In the alternative, they argued that if this case was heard on the merits the Supreme Court should find that the superior court erred in adjudicating their son as a child in need of aid. The Court concluded it should hear the appeals on the merits, and therefore did not vacate the adjudication order. On the merits, the Supreme Court affirmed the order. View "Reed S. v. Alaska Department of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law