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Martin v. Martin

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 14, 2013

GREGORY C. MARTIN, JR., Appellant,
v.
MELODY C. MARTIN, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, No. 3HO-06-00127 CI Homer, Peter G. Ashman, Judge pro tem.

Gregory C. Martin, Jr., pro se, Homer, Appellant.

No appearance by Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Carpeneti, Winfree, and Stowers, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Five years after dissolving their marriage, the parents of two children sought to change or clarify aspects of their original decree. The superior court found circumstances had not changed sufficiently to modify the parties' custody agreement, but made changes to the visitation schedule. The superior court also ruled on child support, life insurance, the children's Permanent Fund Dividends, and attorney's fees. The father appeals. Because the superior court's child support award was erroneously calculated, and because the superior court linked its assignment of federal income tax deductions with the erroneous calculation of child support, we reverse those parts of the superior court's order and remand for renewed consideration. We affirm the superior court's rulings in all other respects.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Gregory and Melody Martin married in 1996 and had two children. They dissolved their marriage in 2006, when their children were seven and five years old. With their dissolution petition the couple submitted a detailed parenting agreement providing for joint legal and shared physical custody of the children. By the terms of the agreement, the children would be with Melody during the week and Gregory on weekends. For child support purposes, the parties calculated that Melody would have the children 70% of the time and Gregory would have them 30% of the time, although, based on computing three nights out of seven, their agreement was a 57% - 43% shared custody arrangement. The parties agreed to "provide the children with visitation with the grandparents and extended family on their own side of the family . . . during their custody time." They agreed that Melody would apply for the children's Permanent Fund Dividends each year and place the money in an investment account and that Melody would claim the children on her federal income taxes each year.

In late 2010 the parties filed cross-motions to modify the child custody terms of their dissolution. Gregory alleged that he actually had exercised physical custody nearly 50% of the time and sought a change in the decree to reflect this. Melody countered that she had the children 58% of the time, but she also asked the court to modify the decree to give her some weekend time with the children.

The superior court held a hearing on the cross-motions in March 2011 and issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in May. The parties "struggled with interpreting the summer schedule set out by the court, " so the court clarified its rulings in an August 2011 order.

Gregory appeals.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The superior court has broad discretion in deciding child custody issues, "[1]including whether a proposed custody modification is in the children's best interests.[2]We reverse the superior court "only if the record shows an abuse of discretion or if controlling factual findings are clearly erroneous."[3] An abuse of discretion occurs when "the superior court considers improper factors in making its custody determination, fails to consider statutorily mandated factors, or assigns disproportionate weight to particular factors while ignoring others."[4] "A factual finding is clearly erroneous if, after reviewing the record as a whole, we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made."[5] Whether tax credits or other sources of income are included as income for purposes of Alaska Civil Rule 90.3 is a matter of law we review de novo.[6] We review an award of attorney's fees for abuse of discretion, [7] but "the determination of which statute or rule applies to an award of attorney's fees is a question of law that we review de novo."[8]

IV. DISCUSSION

A. The Superior Court Did Not Err In Modifying The Visitation ...


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