Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-09-01717 CI.
Kenneth J. Goldman, Law Office of Kenneth J. Goldman, P.C., Palmer, for Appellant.
Marguerite Humm, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Anchorage, for Appellee.
Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.
Raymond Boulds and Elena Nielsen were unmarried cohabitants for 16 years and raised children together. When their relationship ended, they litigated child custody and property ownership. The superior court determined which tangible personal property was domestic partnership property and divided that property equally between the parties. The superior court also considered three employment benefits that Boulds accumulated during his relationship with Nielsen: an insurance death benefit, a 401(k) retirement account, and a union pension. The court determined that the insurance death benefit and the 401(k) retirement account were not domestic partnership assets and belonged to Boulds alone. But the court determined that the union pension was a domestic partnership asset and was subject to division. Because Boulds appealed to this court, the superior court has not yet issued an order dividing the union pension.
Boulds argues that federal law prohibits dividing his union pension with a non-spouse, and that the superior court misapplied Alaska law by examining only Boulds's own initial intent to share the union pension with Nielsen for the benefit of their children. We conclude that federal law does not bar Nielsen from receiving a share of the union pension and that the superior court did not err in determining Nielsen was entitled to half of the union pension under Alaska law. We therefore affirm the superior court's decision and remand for the final division of the union pension.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Raymond Boulds and Elena Nielsen began cohabiting in 1993 and separated in 2009; they never married. Boulds and Nielsen have three children together. Boulds also raised Nielsen's son from a prior relationship as his own child. During their relationship, Boulds worked on the North Slope and Nielsen was a stay-at-home mother. Although Nielsen worked as a waitress when the parties met, she began receiving disability income in 1996. This money was spent on the household and children. Boulds claimed Nielsen as a dependent on his taxes for at least some of the years they were together.
During the relationship Boulds accumulated three employment benefits through his employer: an insurance death benefit, a 401(k) retirement account, and a union pension governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). When Boulds was first hired by his employer, he listed Nielsen as his intended pre-retirement death beneficiary for the union pension, even though the form specified that only a spouse, child, parent, or sibling could be listed. Boulds's employer told him approximately one year later that he could not list a cohabitant. He then listed his children as the beneficiaries.
After the relationship ended the parties engaged in a series of child custody and property division proceedings. Trial was held on ...