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Fernandez v. Fernandez

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 22, 2013

CYNTHIA L. FERNANDEZ, Appellant,
v.
DAVID M. FERNANDEZ, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, John Suddock, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-86-09323 CI

Cynthia L. Fernandez, pro se, Chugiak, Appellant.

David M. Fernandez, pro se, Clam Gulch, Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Cynthia and David Fernandez married in 1979 and had two children together. In 1986 the parties dissolved their marriage but continued to live together until 1997, when David left their home. David returned in 2001 and lived with Cynthia again until 2007, when the parties separated a second and final time.

In August 2010 David received a letter from the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) advising him that he was required to pay child support in the amount of $450 per month, based on a support order dating from November 1986, when the parties dissolved their marriage. In September 2010 David filed a motion in the superior court requesting "judicial relief from the actions of [CSSD] from seizure of funds." Cynthia opposed the motion. In May 2011 the parties attended a settlement conference conducted by Superior Court Judge John Suddock, in which the parties sought to resolve the child support issue as well as several property division issues. They reached an agreement for Cynthia to pay David $33, 000, based on the amount of equity David had contributed to Cynthia's home when they lived together. The parties agreed that Cynthia would attempt to get a second mortgage to fund the settlement. They also agreed that if Cynthia were unable to obtain the full $33, 000 from a second mortgage, the parties would "start negotiating on terms in good faith" on a payment plan. They agreed that if they were unable to reach a deal after negotiations, then "all bets are off and they are back to square one."

Cynthia was not able to obtain a second mortgage and immediately sought to return to "square one." The court ordered that she first negotiate terms with David in good faith. After negotiations proved unsuccessful, the court set forth more detailed guidelines for the negotiations. After further unsuccessful negotiations, the court set terms for the settlement, requiring Cynthia to pay David $250 per month, plus her Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) each year, until the amount of $33, 000 was paid in full.

Cynthia appeals, arguing that the purported settlement agreement became a mere "agreement to negotiate" after she was unable to obtain a second mortgage and that the court lacked authority to set terms and enter a judgment of $33, 000 against her. We agree and reverse.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Cynthia and David Fernandez were married in March 1979. They had two children together, born in 1983 and 1985. The parties dissolved their marriage in 1986. The dissolution petition provided for a financial allocation of assets and required David to pay $300 per month in child support. The court approved the terms of the parties' petition and granted a dissolution. Despite the dissolution of their marriage, the parties remained together in the same household. In 1987 a house on Thunderbird Drive in Chugiak was purchased in Cynthia's name only, and both parties resided there. In 1997 the parties separated and David left the house. David returned in 2001 and ...


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