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Douglas W. Brotherton v. Douglas Warner and Pamela J. Neiswanger

October 8, 2010


Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Mark Rindner, Judge. Supreme Court No. S-13541 Superior Court No. 3AN-94-01210 CI

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christen, 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


Before: Fabe, Winfree, Christen, and Stowers, Justices. [Carpeneti, Chief Justice, not participating.]


Douglas Brotherton appeals a superior court order extending his child support obligation for his 18-year-old son Nicholas through Nicholas's graduation from high school pursuant to AS 25.24.170(a). Douglas argues that the superior court erred in interpreting both AS 25.24.170(a) and a stipulation setting out his child support obligation. He also argues that the superior court committed various procedural errors. We disagree, and affirm the superior court's order.


Douglas and Tahni Brotherton married on October 1, 1981 and were divorced on April 18, 1995. They have two children together: Benjamin, born June 26, 1988, and Nicholas, born October 5, 1990.

In 2005 Nicholas and Benjamin went to stay with Tahni's brother and sister-in-law, Douglas Warner and Pamela Neiswanger (the Warners).*fn1 In April 2006 the Warners initiated legal action to attain custody of Nicholas. Douglas and the Warners subsequently stipulated to entry of an Order for Temporary Placement, Legal Custody and Child Support Re: Minor Child concerning Nicholas (the stipulation). The stipulation granted the Warners legal custody of Nicholas, one-half of the monthly support payments Tahni paid to Douglas,*fn2 and $500 per month from Douglas "for so long as the [Warners] have legal custody and physical placement of Nicholas." The stipulation acknowledged that this arrangement was a "temporary placement," called for Douglas and Nicholas to participate in counseling, and stated that the parties' goal was "to reunite Nicholas and his father." The stipulation also noted that the "unusual" circumstances of the case (Benjamin was to reside with his father, and Nicholas was to reside with the Warners) merited a variance from the calculation of child support under Alaska Civil Rule 90.3.

On October 5, 2008, Nicholas turned eighteen while enrolled in the twelfth grade at Service High School. The Warners notified the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) that Nicholas was still in high school and requested post-majority support. On October 23, 2008, CSSD responded and notified Douglas that his child support obligation had been extended through Nicholas's anticipated graduation in May 2009. Douglas objected, arguing that the terms of the stipulation precluded the grant of post- majority support. CSSD responded that the parties' stipulation "did not supersede the original child support," and referred to the court order describing Tahni's support obligation to Douglas.*fn3 Douglas argued that because the order applied to Tahni, it did not provide a basis for imposing a child support obligation on him. On December 31, 2008, CSSD sent Douglas and the Warners a Notice of Intent to Close Case which stated that "[t]here is no current support order." On January 26, 2009, CSSD notified Douglas that he had overpaid child support by $844.77 because post-majority support had been automatically deducted from his paycheck after Nicholas was "emancipated effective October 31, 2008."*fn4

In February 2009 the Warners filed a Motion to Continue Child Support Obligation pursuant to AS 25.24.170(a),*fn5 requesting that the superior court order post- majority support from Douglas through Nicholas's graduation from high school. Douglas opposed the motion on the grounds of improper venue and misinterpretation of the stipulation, and also filed a motion for award of judgment requesting that the court require the Warners to repay the $844.77 overpayment identified by CSSD. The superior court issued an order on March 20, 2009 extending Douglas's support obligation "through the month of [Nicholas's] nineteenth (19th) birthday, so long as [he] is (1) unmarried, (2) actively pursuing a high school diploma or equivalent level of technical or vocational training, and (3) living as a dependent with . . . [the Warners] or a designee of the [Warners]." The superior court also issued an order denying Douglas's motion for judgment. Douglas filed two motions for reconsideration, which were denied. Douglas appeals the superior court's extension of child support, denial of judgment against the Warners for $844.77, and denial of his motions for reconsideration.


Interpretation of an agreement between parties is a question of law to which we apply our independent judgment.*fn6

The interpretation of a statute is also a question of law reviewed according to our independent judgment and "according to reason, practicality, and common sense, considering the meaning of the statute's language, its legislative history, and its purpose."*fn7

We "will not disturb the trial court's factual findings unless those findings are clearly erroneous."*fn8 We review the superior court's procedural decisions for abuse of discretion.*fn9 We also review denial of a motion for reconsideration for abuse of discretion.*fn10 We will find an abuse of discretion "only when, after reviewing the entire ...

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