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Glover v. Ranney

Supreme Court of Alaska

December 13, 2013

Jason R. GLOVER, Appellant,
v.
Beverly E. RANNEY, Appellee.

Page 536

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 537

Jason R. Glover, Los Angeles, California, pro se.

Maryann E. Foley, Law Office of Maryann E. Foley, Anchorage, for Appellee.

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

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A husband and wife divorced in 2011. They entered into a property settlement agreement, providing that the wife would receive 55% of the marital estate and 50% of the marital share of the husband's military pension. The parties then disputed how to properly effectuate the settlement agreement— disagreeing over what portion of the husband's pension was divisible, whether the division could require indemnification for reductions in disposable retirement pay, and whether the division could include a survivor benefit plan annuity not mentioned in the settlement agreement. They submitted competing orders to effectuate the military pension division, and the superior court accepted the wife's order. The husband appeals the military pension division, arguing that: (1) he was denied the opportunity to present evidence; (2) the superior court violated federal law by dividing gross pay, disability pay, and more than 50% of disposable retirement pay; (3) the superior court's final order awarding survivor benefits did not comply with the parties' settlement agreement and ignored the parties' stipulated length of marriage; (4) the superior court erred by awarding the wife additional compensation without explanation;

Page 538

and (5) the superior court incorrectly barred the parties' children from survivor benefit coverage.

Because the superior court ignored the stipulated length of marriage and awarded the wife a survivor benefit exceeding her share of the husband's military pension, we reverse and remand on those two issues. We otherwise affirm the superior court's decision.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Jason Glover and Beverly Ranney married on December 30, 1999 in Fairbanks. Beverly filed for divorce on July 6, 2010. Jason was employed by the United States Air Force during the entire marriage.

Jason and Beverly entered mediation and reached a property settlement agreement in May 2011, dividing the marital property 55% to 45% in Beverly's favor and dividing the marital portion of Jason's military pension 50% each. The agreement awarded Beverly " a percentage of Jason Glover's disposable military retired pay, to be computed by multiplying 50% times a fraction, the numerator of which is 122 months of marriage during ... Jason Glover's creditable military service, divided by the member's total number of months of creditable military service."

The superior court held hearings and issued oral orders and findings in July 2011. Beverly and Jason then disputed proposed written findings and disagreed about how the superior court should effectuate the military pension division. Jason filed a proposed order and Beverly objected, arguing that it did " not contain all the language necessary to protect [her] rights." Beverly then filed a competing proposed order and Jason objected, arguing that:

Ms. Glover's order ignores federal law by attempting to compute Ms. Glover's interest from a gross sum, rather than the disposable amount, and then subsequently attempting to force Mr. Glover to indemnify Ms. Glover for any mandatory offsets used to calculate disposable income, thereby attempting again to adopt a gross income approach to calculating her distribution.

Jason further argued that Beverly's proposed order incorrectly computed the amount of time the parties were married. Finally, Jason argued that Beverly's order incorrectly included a Survivor Benefit Plan because survivor benefits were not part of the parties' settlement agreement, there cannot be implied consent to survivor benefits, and " [i]f Ms. Glover wanted to have [survivor benefits] she should have submitted in writing the percentage amount commensurate with what she would have receive [sic] if Mr. Glover were alive, not asking for an increased benefit due to his death."

The superior court scheduled a hearing for October 14, explaining that Jason's and Beverly's counsel were to confer before the hearing and if they " are able to agree on the pleadings and resolve their differences, they shall notify the court and file the pleadings to which they both agree prior to the date of the hearing. If that occurs the hearing will be vacated." Before the hearing Jason emailed Beverly, her attorney, and his own attorney, requesting that all correspondence in the case be sent directly to him and not his attorney. Jason's email suggested a change to his proposed military retirement order to provide Beverly with survivor benefits coverage. He explained that " [i]f this meets the as of yet unknown goals of Ms. Glover then it can be submitted to the court in order to prevent the need of an additional court date."

The next day Jason's attorney notified the superior court that: (1) the parties had agreed to amended findings of fact; (2) the only issues remaining before the court related to the military qualifying domestic relations order (QDRO); and (3) the parties agreed that the court could sign either QDRO that it received from the parties. Jason's attorney also explained that Jason still would " like the opportunity to address the Court on October 14, and to have his QDRO expert ... available by phone to answer any of the Court's questions or concerns regarding the dueling QDRO's." Three days later Beverly notified the superior court that " [c]ounsel for the parties have communicated and in light of the recent filing of the Amended Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,

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the parties are uncertain if the court finds it necessary to conduct the ... hearing."

The superior court vacated the hearing " due to the fact that the parties have filed an Amended Findings of Fact and Conclusion of Law, which has been approved as to form and contents therein." The court explained that it would sign one of the QDROs submitted by the parties. That same day the superior court entered amended findings of fact and conclusions of law, a decree of divorce, and Beverly's proposed order dividing Jason's military pension.

Jason then moved to vacate the pension division, arguing that it incorrectly divided gross income instead of disposable retirement pay. He further argued that in his email he had advised his counsel and Beverly's counsel that he " did not want the order signed until corrections were made" and that counsel should not " proceed with invalid orders." Beverly opposed the motion, arguing that the order divided only disposable retired pay and that Jason's email did not direct counsel not to proceed— it simply suggested an amendment to a proposed order.

The superior court denied Jason's motion to vacate. Jason appealed and appears before us pro se. He raises the following points on appeal regarding the division of his military pension: (1) the superior court erred by not allowing Jason to present evidence; (2) the superior court violated the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (the Act) by dividing gross pay, by dividing disability pay, and by dividing over 50% of retired pay; (3) the superior court erred by disregarding the stipulated property settlement agreement and accepting a military retirement order that violated federal law; (4) the superior court erred by awarding Beverly additional compensation, outside the scope of the settlement agreement, without explanation; and (5) the superior court erred by barring the parties' children from coverage under Jason's retirement plan.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

" We construe property settlement agreements in divorce actions in accordance with basic principles of contract law. Questions of contract interpretation are reviewed de novo." [1] " We review the equitable division of marital property for abuse of discretion...." [2] We review factual findings supporting a property division for clear error. [3] We review de novo whether the superior court applied the correct legal rule.[4] Whether the superior court's " division of a military pension is consistent with federal law is a question of law we review de novo." [5]

" A superior court's decision to deny a motion requesting an evidentiary hearing is subject to our independent review. A hearing is not necessary if ‘ there is no genuine ...


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