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Matthew J.P. Millette v. Carol Jean Millette

October 8, 2010

MATTHEW J.P. MILLETTE, APPELLANT,
v.
CAROL JEAN MILLETTE, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Morgan Christen, Judge. Supreme Court No. S-13315 Superior Court No. 3AN-03-13074 CI

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carpeneti, Chief Justice.

Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC REPORTER. Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878, e-mail corrections@appellate.courts.state.ak.us.

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

A father appeals a child support judgment from the superior court. The $1,178.75 judgment against him consisted primarily of medical bills incurred on behalf of his child. The medical bills were for natural health care that the child received, and that the mother paid for, in order to treat the child's autism. The father contests the judgment because it included amounts for nutritional supplements and associated shipping and handling charges, which he claims are not health care expenses as a matter of law. Further, the father asserts that the superior court abused its discretion by ordering him to pay the bills, some of which he claims to have already paid, and some of which were incurred before his child support order became effective. Finding no error in the superior court's order, we affirm the judgment in all respects.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Past Litigation And Child Custody Arrangements

We first addressed the separation of Carol Jean Millette and Matthew Millette in January 2008.*fn1 The relevant history of their relationship is excerpted here from that opinion:

Carol Jean Millette and Matthew Millette were married for almost five years before becoming enmeshed in a protracted and contentious divorce and custody dispute. The couple met online in 1997 through the Christian Connection, an internet dating service. At that time, Carol Jean was living in Colorado and Matthew was living in Alaska, married with two young sons. . . . In April 1998 Carol Jean moved to Alaska to be with Matthew and lived in an apartment across from his. Matthew divorced his first wife in August 1998 and married Carol Jean a month later. . . . The relationship became rocky after they moved in together . . . [John]*fn2 was born July 21, 2000. As John grew out of his infancy and became a toddler Carol Jean began to notice [early signs of autism]. In December 2002, when John was almost two and a half years old, he was formally diagnosed with autism. John has since been seen by many doctors and specialists including . . . Dr. Grove, a naturopathic doctor who works with "Defeat Autism Now" and who advises Carol Jean on John's diet . . .

In June 2003 Carol Jean and Matthew separated. Both Matthew and Carol Jean have since reported misconduct by the other parent to the police and the Office of Children's Services (OCS).

Through a domestic violence protective order Matthew obtained custody of John for the first several months following the parties' separation. In February 2004, following the expiration of that order, Carol Jean and Matthew agreed to share custody on a week-on/week-off basis. In July 2004 the court-ordered child custody investigation report recommended that Carol Jean have sole legal and primary physical custody. . . . In August 2004 the superior court modified interim custody, giving Carol Jean sole legal and physical custody of John. . .

[The superior court] entered the divorce decree on October 29, 2004.[*fn3 ]

After a separate custody trial, the court awarded Carol Jean sole legal and primary physical custody of John.*fn4 Matthew was given visitation rights so long as he enrolled in anger management classes.*fn5 Additionally, the superior court issued a child support order. That order requires each parent to pay half of John's "reasonable health care expenses" up to $5,000 not covered by insurance. The order states that health care expenses "includ[e] medical, dental, vision and mental health counseling expenses." The order cites Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 90.3, which addresses health care expenses in an almost identical manner.*fn6

B. Expenses Incurred

Before and after the court issued the child support order in October 2005, Carol Jean incurred and paid health care expenses on behalf of John. From March to August 2005, John was treated at Natural Health Center LLC. After the order, from October 2005 to September 2006, John was treated at the Center for Autism Research and Education, LLC (CARE). The bills from these clinics include charges for nutritional supplements and their shipping and handling, in addition to charges for appointments. The bills from Natural Health Center totaled $698.75, including $340 for appointments, $317.75 for supplements, and $41 for shipping. The bills from CARE totaled $1,246.23, including $800 for appointments, $437.48 for supplements, and $8.75 for shipping.

C. Proceedings

In August 2008 Carol Jean filed a motion in the superior court seeking reimbursement from Matthew for half of the above expenses. The superior court ordered Matthew to pay half of the expenses ($972.50) and $206.25 in attorney's fees. Matthew moved for reconsideration and the superior court denied the motion.

Matthew appeals the judgment against him, which totaled $1,178.75.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We apply de novo review to child support issues involving a question of law such as interpreting a civil rule,*fn7 interpreting the terms of a child support order,*fn8 and determining the ...


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