Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alaska Supreme Court
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Two women lived together as unmarried domestic partners. One woman had a child using artificial insemination; the other helped raise the child but did not adopt the child. When the women separated, the biological mother prohibited contact between the child and the other woman, who then petitioned for custody. The superior court awarded shared custody, and the biological mother appealed. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's shared custody award, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rosemarie P. v. Kelly B." on Justia Law

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Before getting married, Andy drafted a prenuptial agreement. Abbie first saw the agreement the night before their wedding, when she was intoxicated. The agreement, designed to protect Andy’s substantial assets, designated only certain earnings marital property. It referenced an investment account for Abbie’s benefit, but the paragraph pertaining to this account contained only the words “Not Used,” and no such account was ever created. The superior court enforced the agreement over Abbie’s objection that it was not voluntarily executed. The court then ruled that all income reported on the parties’ tax returns during the marriage was part of the marital estate subject to division and awarded Abbie an additional sum to compensate for the nonexistent investment account. The Alaska Supreme Court determined this interpretation of the agreement was erroneous and key facts relevant to whether the agreement was enforceable were not addressed, thus, the Court reversed the superior court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Andrew B. v. Abbie B." on Justia Law

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The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his two children after finding them children in need of aid because of their father’s domestic violence and aggressive behavior. The children were Indian children under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Therefore the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) was required to make active efforts to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the family. At the termination trial, the superior court found clear and convincing evidence that OCS made active efforts but that these efforts proved unsuccessful. The father appealed, arguing only that the superior court’s active efforts finding was made in error. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the termination order. View "Ronald H. v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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An Alaskan superior court denied a father’s motion to modify a foreign court’s custody determination because it did not believe it had subject matter jurisdiction to modify the order under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The father appealed, arguing the superior court erred when it held that it did not have jurisdiction. Because the superior court correctly determined that it lacked jurisdiction to modify the custody order, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Christensen v. Seckin" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of three Indian children after reports of substance abuse and domestic violence in their mother’s home. For two years OCS was unable to contact the children’s father, who also struggled with substance abuse issues. Once OCS did contact the father, both he and the mother consented to temporarily place the children with a guardian. OCS then reduced its efforts to reunify the children with their father. Then the children’s mother died. The father was incarcerated for several months; he completed classes and substance abuse treatment. After he was released, he maintained his sobriety and began limited contact with OCS and with his children. Approximately four years after taking custody of the children, OCS moved to terminate the father’s parental rights. After the superior court terminated his rights, the father appealed, arguing OCS failed to make active efforts to reunify him with his children as required by ICWA. To this the Alaska Supreme Court concurred, and reversed the termination of his parental rights. View "C.J. (Father) v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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Debra Wilson and David Aubert married in September 2007. They separated ten years later, in June 2017. They had no children together, but each had adult children from prior marriages. Debra filed for divorce in July 2017. At Debra’s request, the court bifurcated the divorce from the property division. In July 2018 the court entered a decree of divorce and ordered that property and debt distribution would be determined at a later trial. A month after the divorce decree, but several months before the property division trial, David died. The personal representative of his estate, his daughter Laura Aubert, substituted as a party. After trial, the superior court divided the marital property 90% to 10% in favor of the wife. The husband’s estate appealed, arguing the court improperly classified, valued, and allocated various property. In particular, the estate challenged the unequal allocation of the marital property. The Alaska Supreme Court held that, as a general matter, the superior court did not abuse its discretion in awarding a disproportionate share of the marital property to the wife in light of her greater needs. But because the superior court erred in classifying several items, the Supreme Court reversed or vacated some of its rulings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Aubert v. Wilson, f/k/a Aubert" on Justia Law

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Following a divorce trial the superior court unevenly divided a marital estate. The smaller share recipient appealed several points related to findings about alleged marital waste, calculations concerning the parties’ future earning capacities, and consideration of federal disability benefits. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the court’s marital waste ruling, but remanded for further proceedings addressing its calculation of the parties’ earning capacities and its consideration of federal disability benefits. View "Jordan v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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A mother and father appealed the termination of their parental rights after proceedings at the Families with Infants and Toddlers Court (FIT Court). They argued their rights were violated when the FIT Court’s “rigid, non-fact driven,” 12-month timeline governed the progression of the Child in Need of Aid (CINA) cases of their two children. After review of the FIT Court record, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded it was error to adhere to a preset timeline rather than making an individualized assessment of whether the parents had a reasonable time to remedy based on the facts of their children’s cases, as required by statute. Furthermore, the Court concluded the parents did not knowingly and voluntarily waive that statutory requirement. View "Edna L. v. Dept. of Health & Social Services (Office of Children's Services)" on Justia Law

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A divorcing couple had a community property trust holding title to two rental properties: a fourplex and a mobile home park. The husband had owned these properties before marriage. The superior court divided the marital estate equally, awarding the rental properties to the husband and a large equalization payment to the wife. Both parties appealed. The husband argued the superior court erred when it found that a bank account in the names of the husband and the mobile home park was marital. The wife argued the court erred in its interpretation of the Alaska Community Property Act when it held that income and appreciation from the rental properties in the community property trust remained the husband’s separate property; she also argued the court clearly erred in some findings of fact and abused its discretion when it failed to invade the husband’s separate property in order to reach an equitable division. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in its interpretation of the relevant statutes, did not clearly err in its findings of fact, and did not abuse its discretion when dividing the marital estate. View "Philips v. Bremner Philips" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took emergency custody of a three-year-old child and placed him with non-relative foster parents. The child lived with the foster parents for over a year when OCS informed them of its intent to place the child with his grandmother. The superior court allowed the foster parents to intervene in child-in-need-of-aid proceedings (CINA) to contest the placement decision. After a hearing, the court stayed the placement, concluding OCS abused its discretion in deciding the move the child with his grandmother. OCS appealed, arguing the superior court erred in staying its decision. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion by permitting the foster parents to intervene. Furthermore, the Supreme Court determined the trial court's factual findings were not clearly erroneous, and the court did not err when it decided OCS abused its discretion in its placement decision. Judgment was therefore affirmed. View "Alaska Dept. Health & Soc. Serv, Ofc. of Child Serv. v. Zander & Kelly B. (Foster Parents)" on Justia Law