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Stanhope v. Stanhope

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 9, 2013

Kenneth T. STANHOPE, Appellant,
v.
Maryna V. STANHOPE, Appellee.

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Carl D. Cook, Law Office of Carl D. Cook, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellant.

Notice of nonparticipation filed by Appellee.

Before: FABE, Chief Justice, CARPENETI, WINFREE, STOWERS, and MAASSEN, Justices.

OPINION

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Maryna and Kenneth Stanhope married for a second time in 2007. Kenneth filed for divorce in 2010. The superior court divided the marital property 50/50, awarding the marital home to Maryna and ordering her to remove Kenneth from the mortgage and make an equalization payment. Kenneth appeals. He challenges several aspects of the court's findings of fact and disposition of property, but the primary relief he seeks is the award of the house, either as his separate non-marital property or under an unequal division of the marital property. We affirm the superior court's decision.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Maryna and Kenneth Stanhope married for the first time in 2003. During this marriage they owned a home on Muffin Street in Wasilla. They divorced in 2006, reporting no property subject to division, and sporadically continued their relationship. They married again in September 2007. In 2008 Kenneth and Maryna sold the Muffin Street house for less than they still owed on the mortgage. They bought a new house, located on West Sunrise Road in Wasilla, with settlement proceeds Kenneth had received in injury claims against former employers. They took out a mortgage on the new house in order to pay off the amount they still owed on the Muffin Street mortgage.

In October 2010 Kenneth filed a complaint for divorce, and a few months later he ejected Maryna from the marital home on West Sunrise Road. Maryna nonetheless made a $5,000 payment on the mortgage in December.

At an April 2011 motion hearing, the superior court awarded interim possession of the house to Maryna and gave Kenneth 60 days

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to vacate. During this grace period Kenneth filed several motions in an attempt to hold on to possession, but none of his motions succeeded. He did not vacate the house when he was supposed to, and Maryna obtained a writ of assistance from the court, finally gaining possession in June 2011 with the aid of state troopers.

Trial of the couple's property issues occurred in September and December 2011, with both parties represented by counsel. Kenneth and Maryna provided conflicting testimony as to which party had taken or destroyed various items of personal property. Kenneth also sought repossession of the house, arguing that he needed it more than Maryna did because he was mentally disabled due to head traumas from various accidents.

The superior court, in its written findings of fact and conclusions of law, found that Kenneth was disabled and that he had been diagnosed with major depressive and anxiety disorders. The court found that Maryna's current earning capacity was low but Kenneth's was virtually nil. The court also found that when Maryna regained possession of the property in June 2011, the house " appeared to be vandalized." Weighing the disparity in the parties' earning capacities against a finding that Kenneth had wasted marital assets, the court determined that an equal division of property was appropriate. In making this division, the court characterized Kenneth's credit-card debts as non-marital and awarded Maryna a half-credit for her post-separation mortgage payment. The court found that Maryna was in a better position than Kenneth to pay off the mortgage and make an equalization payment; it therefore awarded her the marital residence and ordered her to refinance it, to remove Kenneth from the debt, and to make the equalization payment within a year. The superior court also found that Kenneth had taken some of Maryna's possessions, and it assessed their value against him in the property division.

Kenneth appeals the court's final order. The primary relief he seeks is possession of the house on West Sunrise Road. He argues first that the superior court erred in characterizing the house as marital. Second, he argues that the superior court erred in the legal analysis and factual findings that led to a 50/50 division of marital assets. Third, he argues that the superior court erred in its findings about the parties' contributions to the mortgage during the marriage and their respective abilities to pay it afterwards. Finally, he disputes the court's characterization of the credit-card debts as non-marital; its treatment of certain items of personal property; its award to Maryna of a half-credit for her post-separation mortgage payment; and its grant to Maryna of a year in which to make the equalization payment.

Maryna did not participate in the appeal.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

" There are three basic steps in the equitable division of marital assets: (1) deciding what specific property is available for distribution, (2) finding the value of the property, and (3) dividing the property equitably." [1] The first step involves characterizing the parties' property as separate or marital, a process that " may involve both legal and factual questions." [2] " Underlying factual findings as to the parties' intent, actions, and contributions to the marital estate are factual questions." [3] " Findings of fact are reviewed for clear error, but whether the trial court applied the correct legal rule in exercising its discretion is a question of law that we review de ...


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