Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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Sharon Thompson challenged the superior court’s child custody determination, marital property division, and child support order in her divorce proceedings. Because the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the court neither clearly erred nor abused its discretion when it awarded joint legal and shared physical custody, it affirmed the custody determination. But the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the child support order because it did not include sufficient findings to support the calculation of the parties' income. Further, the Court vacated and remanded the property division because the trial court improperly separated a fishing vessel from the rest of the marital estate. View "Thompson v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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A married couple with a ten-year-old son separated in 2014. Following an evidentiary hearing on temporary orders, the trial court found that the father had a history of perpetrating domestic violence and ordered him to complete an intervention program for batterers before he would be allowed unsupervised visitation with the child. At the later custody trial, the director of the intervention program testified that the father had sought entry to the program but had been determined to be unsuited for it because he was a victim of domestic violence rather than a perpetrator. The custody investigator’s report confirmed these conclusions and recommended that the father be granted sole legal and primary physical custody of the child because of the mother’s coercive influence and her inability to meet the child’s mental and emotional needs. Relying primarily on the testimony of the batterers’ program director and the custody investigator, the trial court concluded that the father had overcome the statutory presumption against awarding custody to a parent with a history of perpetrating domestic violence and followed the investigator’s recommendation, granting the father sole legal and primary physical custody of the child. The mother, on appeal, challenged this decision, arguing that the evidence did not support a conclusion that the statutory presumption was overcome because the father never received any treatment or therapy. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the trial court could lawfully consider the expert testimony that the father was not suited for a batterers’ intervention program when deciding whether the statutory presumption against awarding him custody was overcome. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion in its consideration of the child’s best interests. View "Joy B. v. Everett B." on Justia Law

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A father sought to modify a child support order on the basis that his income had decreased. He also asked that the support order be changed to not require him to contribute to the children’s health insurance costs. The superior court found that his gross income had changed by less than 15% and that he therefore was not entitled to a modification of child support. And because the mother was then paying for health insurance for the children, the court added a health insurance adjustment to its new support order while keeping the basic monthly amount the same. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court conclude the superior court erred in finding that as a matter of law the father was obligated to pay 50% of his children’s health insurance costs. Further, it was an abuse of discretion for the court to decline to modify his child support obligation without first calculating an updated adjusted annual income and monthly child support amount. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court's order regarding health insurance costs. In all other respects, it affirmed. View "Dunn v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Adam and Kyoko Perry married in November 2005 and had two minor children. For the latter part of their marriage, Kyoko handled the couple’s finances. Kyoko continued her education while married, obtaining a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree and incurring approximately $84,000 in debt. AKyoko testified that she obtained a master’s degree so she could defer her loan payments while Adam was temporarily unemployed. She stated that she feared they could not afford the loan payments while Adam was out of work. Adam decided to leave his job and was temporarily unemployed for a period of 34 days in early 2015, around the same time that Kyoko’s student loan payments began. Adam filed for divorce in March 2017. Kyoko objected when the divorce decree classified a portion of her student loan debt as non-marital. She also argued the court improperly calculated the parties’ income for child support purposes. Because the superior court applied the wrong legal standards to determine whether the student loan debt was marital and to calculate the parties’ incomes for child support purposes, the Alaska Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s final property distribution and child support orders and remanded for the court to conduct the proper legal analysis. View "Perry v. Perry" on Justia Law

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Mother, Anette H., appealed the termination of her parental rights to her son, who was found to be a child in need of aid based on a hair follicle test positive for controlled substances. She argued that without proof that her drug use caused the child’s exposure, there was no causal link between her conduct and any circumstances that may have endangered the child. She also argued the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) did not make reasonable efforts to reunify the family because it failed to adequately accommodate her mental health issues. Because the record supported the superior court’s finding that the child was in need of aid, and because OCS’s efforts were reasonable under the circumstances, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed termination of the mother’s parental rights. View "Annette H. v. Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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In a divorce case, the superior court divided the marital estate equally. The estate included the marital home and an adjoining lot, which the spouses agreed should be sold. The husband remained in the home after the wife moved out, and he paid the mortgage until the properties sold nearly two years after the divorce was final. Once the properties sold, the parties requested a hearing on the allocation of the sale proceeds. The husband argued that he should be reimbursed for his post-divorce mortgage payments. The wife countered that the husband’s use of the home as his residence offset any claim he otherwise had to reimbursement. The superior court denied reimbursement to the husband, and the husband appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the findings in the court’s order allocating the sale proceeds were insufficient, so it remanded the case for additional findings. View "Hall v. Hall" on Justia Law

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A father appealed a superior court’s denial of his motion to modify child support, arguing his house arrest while awaiting trial on federal charges should have been considered involuntary unemployment for purposes of calculating child support. He also argued remand is necessary for an evidentiary hearing and for the superior court to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law. Because the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the father made a prima facie showing of a substantial change in circumstances that would entitle him to an evidentiary hearing, the case was remanded to the superior court to conduct an evidentiary hearing. View "Schwier v. Schwier" on Justia Law

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A Juneau couple with three children separated, and the mother filed for divorce. Wishing to relocate with the children to Oregon for work, she requested primary physical custody. The superior court concluded that it was in the children’s best interests to relocate with the mother. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court’s custody decision was supported by the record and followed the appropriate legal framework, so it affirmed. View "Brett M. v. Amber M." on Justia Law

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A divorced mother had sole legal and physical custody of her two daughters. Their father sought a protective order against the mother and a modification of custody after she repeatedly hit the older daughter with a belt. The superior court found that the mother’s actions did not trigger the presumption against custody under AS 25.24.150(g). It ordered that she retain legal and physical custody, subject only to a limited protective order, and that the father have restricted visitation. The father appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded it was an abuse of discretion for the superior court to exclude the testimony of a psychologist who diagnosed the child with PTSD. The Court thus vacated the custody decision and remanded for a new analysis of the children’s best interests in light of the psychologist’s testimony. View "John E. and Sally E., a Minor v. Andrea E." on Justia Law

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A husband was granted a 20-day domestic violence protective order against his wife. During a brief extension of the 20-day order, the wife sent the husband a text message about the couple’s dog. This text message, a violation of the 20-day order, formed the basis of a long-term domestic violence protective order entered a few weeks later. The long-term order was affirmed on appeal. A little over a year later, the husband was granted a new long-term protective order based on the same texting incident. The wife again appealed, but while the appeal was pending the superior court dissolved the second order as having been unlawfully granted. Before the Alaska Supreme Court, the wife challenged both the first long-term order and the second long-term order. The Court concluded that her challenges to the first order were barred by res judicata, and that her challenge to the second order was moot. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal. View "Mitchell v. Mitchell" on Justia Law