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Richter v. Richter

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 1, 2014

MATTHEW RICHTER, Appellant,
v.
SHELLEY RICHTER, Appellee

Page 935

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-11-02920 CI.

Richard W. Postma, Jr. and Mitchell K. Wyatt, Law Offices of Mitchell K. Wyatt, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Elizabeth-Ann Neufeld Smith, Law Offices of Kenneth Goldman, PC, Palmer, for Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 936

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

The superior court granted a divorce to Shelley and Matthew Richter and equitably divided their marital property. Matthew appeals, challenging the court's jurisdiction and its finding that a loan from Matthew's mother was marital debt. We affirm.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Shelley Richter (now Sailer) and Matthew Richter married in California in January 2010. They separated in October 2011, and Shelley filed for divorce. At the three-day divorce trial in December 2012, Matthew argued that the superior court lacked jurisdiction over him because he is a resident of Idaho. He contended that he had not resided in Alaska for at least six consecutive months while in a marital relationship with Shelley, as is required by Alaska law before the court can acquire personal jurisdiction over the parties in a divorce action.[1]

Matthew and Shelley are both helicopter pilots, and their work requires frequent travel. According to Matthew, he moved to Alaska five or six years before trial but " was only there seasonally" until he and Shelley got married, when he began living in Alaska year-round. At trial he identified Idaho as his residence, but he also testified that he had had an Alaska driver's license for about three years, that he applied twice for an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend but never qualified, and that he used an Alaska address for his 2010 federal income tax return. He testified that because he and Shelley both traveled frequently, there was no continuous six-month period of time when they lived together in Alaska during their marriage.

Shelley testified that Matthew rented out his house in Idaho and brought most of his belongings to Alaska shortly after they got married, and that they bought a condo together in Anchorage in April 2010. She testified that Matthew told her in March 2011 that he wanted to move back to Idaho, but he did not actually leave until October 2011, when they agreed to separate.

After hearing this testimony, the superior court concluded that it had personal jurisdiction over Matthew because " [h]e was a resident [of Alaska] from January of 2010 until at least September of 2011 in a marital relationship and he resided in this state consecutively during that time."

Other issues at trial involved the parties' marital property and debts. Their main disagreement concerned a $100,000 loan from Matthew's mother, Patricia Richter. Shelley entered the marriage with over $100,000 in debt for student loans, bearing a variable interest rate that could go as high as 16 percent. According to Matthew, his mother offered to help Shelley with refinancing the student loan debt and co-signing a new loan at a lower interest rate; he testified that he had no involvement in that transaction. Shelley testified, on the other hand, that Matthew's mother " made $100,000 available to [her and Matthew] to use as investment," which they first considered investing in commercial properties in Girdwood. Shelley testified that " [t]hose properties didn't work out[,] and as we sat there empty handed, not sure what our next move was, we started analyzing our finances and looking at where our liabilities were." Concluding that reducing Shelley's student loan debt was their wisest financial move, they jointly decided to use the $100,000 from Matthew's mother to ...


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