Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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Cleveland Karren and Jayda Roman had a daughter, born March 2012 in Washington, D.C. Jayda and the daughter moved in July to Mount Vernon, Washington, to live with Jayda’s parents. The family moved to Anchorage in April 2013. Cleveland later took a job at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; he moved to Washington in April 2014, and Jayda remained in Anchorage with the daughter. In May 2015 Cleveland took a different job and moved to Washington, D.C. Jayda filed the parties’ marital dissolution petition in Anchorage in May 2015. Jayda and Cleveland testified that they both had “live[d] in Alaska six continuous months out of the past six years.” Jayda appealed the Alaska superior court’s child custody order, arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) or that it abused its discretion by failing to decline UCCJEA jurisdiction on inconvenient forum grounds. She also contended the court gave disproportionate weight to the custody investigator’s trial testimony and, under the statutory custody factors, to maintaining the father-daughter relationship. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the superior court had UCCJEA jurisdiction because Alaska was the child’s home state when the proceeding commenced; the Court also concluded that the court properly weighed the statutory inconvenient forum factors and did not abuse its discretion when it determined that deciding custody in Alaska was most practical. And because the court had broad discretion in making a custody determination — including the weight to give a custody investigator’s testimony — the Supreme Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion when weighing either testimony or statutory custody factors. View "Roman v. Karren" on Justia Law

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A mother appealed a superior court’s child support order that was based on imputed income, arguing that the court’s finding of her imputed gross income was based on faulty weekly hour and hourly rate determinations. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that by going well beyond the mother’s previous weekly hours and hourly rate without any evidence or findings about commensurate job opportunities and the mother’s abilities and qualifications for those opportunities, the trial court failed to follow established Alaska case law. It therefore vacated the child support order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vogus v. Vogus" on Justia Law

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At issue in consolidated appeals before the Alaska Supreme Court were the custody proceedings involving the same child before two courts of independent sovereignty: the State of Alaska and the Native Village of Barrow (NVB). A child custody case was initiated in the Utqiagvik superior court. Thereafter, NVB, through its tribal court, took custody of the child in a tribal child in need of aid (CINA) case. In 2016 the superior court ultimately denied the mother’s state court motion to modify custody. NVB sought to intervene in the state custody case, but the superior court denied its motion. The mother appealed the superior court’s denial of her motion to modify custody; NVB appealed the order denying its motion to intervene. The Alaska Supreme Court determined that under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a superior court receiving a tribal court order to determine whether the order was issued in an ICWA-defined child custody proceeding and, if it was, was mandated to follow ICWA section 1911(d)’s full faith and credit mandate. The superior court erred in ruling that the NVB tribal court lacked jurisdiction without following the procedures underlying the process for giving full faith and credit to a tribal court order. View "Native Village of Barrow v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A 19-year-old man had a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl, and she became pregnant. The man pleaded guilty to attempted sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree. While the man was incarcerated the girl gave birth to their son. When the girl was 17, she was arrested and sent to a juvenile correctional facility. A dispute arose over custody of the child and the superior court ultimately entered a custody order based on the parents’ stipulation. The mother was to have primary physical custody and the father would have regular visitation. When the mother’s living situation became unstable, the father sought to modify the custody order. Those proceedings, which included an earlier appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, resulted in two orders of relevance here: (1) an order relating to the mother's attempt to terminate the father’s parental rights because his paternity was rooted in a criminal sex act; and (2) the father’s motion to modify custody and ultimate award of sole custody with visitation for the mother and both sets of grandparents. The superior court rejected the mother’s interpretation of former AS 25.23.180(e), which described an “independent proceeding” for the termination of parental rights of sexual abusers, and dismissed her petition. Meanwhile, in granting the father custody, the trial court concluded he overcame the domestic violence presumption that would have barred his custody. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded: (1) in the termination case, the superior court erred in rejecting the mother's petition; and (2) in the custody case, the trial court erred by failing to properly integrate the father's sexual abuse of the mother into its best interests analysis for awarding custody. Both orders were reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Angelica C. v. Jonathan C." on Justia Law

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A mother filed a motion for clarification, arguing that Alaska no longer had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over a child custody order under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) after she, her ex-husband, and their two children lived in South Carolina for over a year. The father objected, arguing he was still a resident of Alaska, and he intended to return to Alaska after his service in the Air Force. The superior court found that it did not have exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over its initial custody order because neither the parents nor the children presently resided in Alaska. The court also suggested that substantial evidence related to custody existed in South Carolina, and therefore it was likely the more appropriate forum. The Alaska Supreme Court determined the superior court indeed had continuing jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. Furthermore, because the parties and court did not have a full opportunity to address all of the relevant UCCJEA forum non conveniens factors, the court's orders were reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Mouritsen v. Mouritsen" on Justia Law

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This case involved an obligor father who never missed a child support payment to the obligee, mother for their minor child. The father retired and began collecting Social Security retirement benefits. As a result, the child became eligible to receive a derivative monthly children’s insurance benefit (CIB) from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The mother received four years of CIB payments in addition to regular monthly child support payments from the obligor; the law allowed the CIB payments to be credited against the child support obligation. However, neither parent notified the Alaska Department of Revenue, Child Support Services Division (CSSD) that they were receiving CIB payments for their daughter. After four years of overpayments, CSSD discovered the CIB payment from SSA and credited the father more than $47,000 in child support overpayment. The father filed suit, asking the superior court for a judgment against the mother for overpaid child support. He also requested reimbursement or credit for overpaid health insurance premiums. The superior court denied reimbursement for either overpayment, and the father appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed, finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment. View "Rosenbaum v. Shaw" on Justia Law

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A father appealed after his parental rights to his daughter were terminated. The father attended the termination proceeding but left early, at which point the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) moved forward with an offer of proof. The father’s attorney objected to the offer of proof, but the court accepted the offer and terminated the father’s parental rights. Before the Alaska Supreme Court, the father challenged the termination proceeding’s procedure and outcome, arguing thatOCS’ use of an offer of proof violated his right to procedural due process and constituted structural error. He also argued the trial court erred in terminating his parental rights because there was not sufficient evidence. The Supreme Court agrees that a court could not accept such an offer as proof of the facts asserted, unless the opposing party offers no dispute. Therefore, the termination order was vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Norman S. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Soc. Svcs, Ofc. of Children's Svcs." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Supreme Court has held previously that, under some circumstances, a parent whose parental rights have been involuntarily terminated under Alaska’s child in need of aid (CINA) statutes could seek post-termination review and reinstatement of parental rights. A superior court may vacate a termination order if the child has not yet been adopted and the parent demonstrates, “by clear and convincing evidence, that reinstatement of parental rights is in the best interest of the child and that the person is rehabilitated and capable of providing the care and guidance that will serve the moral, emotional, mental, and physical welfare of the child.” Dara S. was the biological mother of Paxton, born February 2011, Paxton was born in Alaska but lived with Dara’s sister and brother-in-law, Scarlet and Monty, in Oregon since being placed with them by OCS in April 2014. Dara visited Paxton in July 2014 and decided to stay in Oregon. Dara’s parental rights to her son had were ultimately terminated as a result of her mental health issues. She timely sought review and reinstatement of her parental rights, and an Alaskan superior court granted review and ultimately granted her reinstatement request. The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and the child’s guardian ad litem (GAL) appealed the reinstatement decision, arguing both that post-termination reinstatement of parental rights after an involuntary termination was barred as a matter of law and that the mother had not proved by clear and convincing evidence that reinstatement was in the child’s best interests. The Alaska Supreme Court rejected the argument that reinstatement was barred as a matter of law, but remanded the case to the superior court for further elucidation of its best interests determination. The superior court held a post-remand evidentiary hearing and ultimately confirmed its best interests determination. OCS, joined by the GAL, appealed that determination, arguing that some of the court’s underlying factual findings, and therefore its ultimate best interests finding, were clearly erroneous, and that the reinstatement order therefore had to be vacated, leaving the parental rights termination in place. The Supreme Court determined the disputed underlying factual findings supporting the best interests determination either were not material or not clearly erroneous. Therefore, it concluded the superior court’s reinstatement decision should have been affirmed. View "Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services v. Dara S." on Justia Law

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Raymond Dapo was born in 1990. OCS took custody of him ten years later and, in April 2000, placed him in Taun Lucas’s foster home. Lucas and her husband David legally adopted Dapo in May 2002. According to Dapo, Lucas began sexually abusing him shortly thereafter; Lucas, however, alleged that she was sexually abused by Dapo, and Dapo, then 11 years old, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree sexual assault. The charges were eventually dropped, and Dapo was returned to the custody of the State as a dependent child. When he was 24 years old (in 2015), Dapo filed a complaint against Lucas, alleging that she had sexually abused him while he was a minor. In September 2015, Lucas filed a third-party claim against OCS for apportionment of fault, contending that OCS “had a duty to protect” Dapo and “negligently failed to protect” him. The superior court granted OCS’s motion to dismiss the apportionment claim, holding that it was barred by the ten-year statute of repose, AS 09.10.055(a). Dapo appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the statute of repose applied to the apportionment claim and was not unconstitutional as applied. However, the Court determined there were issues of fact regarding the applicability of two exceptions to the statute of repose: claims for gross negligence and claims for breaches of fiduciary duty. Therefore the superior court’s order was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Dapo v. Alaska, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law

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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