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Houston v. Wolpert

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 5, 2014

GARY JAY HOUSTON, Appellant,
v.
MEREDITH JANE WOLPERT, Appellee

Page 1280

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Gregory Heath, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-10-00959 CI.

Regina Largent, Largent Law, LLC, Soldotna, for Appellant.

John Parsi, Law Offices of Kenneth Goldman, PC, Palmer, for Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 1281

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Upon dissolution of their marriage, a father and a mother agreed to give primary custody to the mother and " open and liberal visitation" to the father. The father filed a motion for modification of custody, alleging the mother had unreasonably restricted his visitation. The superior court found the mother had been uncooperative, but concluded it was in the best interests of the child to remain in the mother's custody with a specific visitation schedule for the father. The father appeals the superior court's decision, arguing the superior court abused its discretion when it did not award him custody. He also appeals the superior court's denial of his motion for attorney's fees and costs. We conclude there was no abuse of discretion in the custody decision, but we must remand the attorney's fee issue for further findings.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Gary Houston and Meredith Wolpert dissolved their marriage in April 2010. They agreed Meredith would have primary custody of their daughter, born in 2007, subject to Gary's " open and liberal" visitation.

Meredith moved to Soldotna about seven months after the dissolution. Once she moved, Meredith restricted Gary's visits to only one weekend a month in Soldotna. Gary could not afford many overnight visits in Soldotna, which meant he could only visit his daughter for the day. A little more than two years after the dissolution, Gary moved to Soldotna to be closer to his daughter. But even though Gary now lived in the area, Meredith only allowed one weekend overnight visit per month.

In August 2012 Gary filed a motion to modify custody. Gary sought primary physical

Page 1282

and sole legal custody and alleged Meredith " arbitrarily impose[d] severe limitations upon [his] visitation" -- enough " to substantially interfere with the parent-child relationship." He also sought temporary orders asking for their daughter to have equal access to both parents in the interim.

The parties disputed the circumstances of their interactions and the reasons the visitations were so infrequent. Gary argued Meredith interfered with his visitation by refusing to let him see their daughter and by refusing to respond to his communications. Meredith attributed the difficulty of scheduling visitation to conflicting availability and implied Gary did not make enough of an effort to see their daughter.

The superior court referred the matter to a family court master and scheduled a hearing regarding interim visitation. At the hearing, the master heard arguments from both sides and found that, while the parties needed a ...


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