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Riggs v. Coonradt

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 16, 2014

KELLI M. RIGGS, Appellant,
v.
ERIC E. COONRADT, Appellee

Page 1104

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, First Judicial District, Sitka, David V. George, Judge. Superior Court No. 1SI-05-00214 CI.

Teka K. Lamade, Sitka, for Appellant.

David Avraham Voluck, Sitka, for Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 1105

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A mother appeals from a modified decree involving the custody of her three children. The superior court decided that the parents' inability to communicate justified a modification of the existing joint-custody arrangement, and that the best interests of the children favored an award of sole legal custody to their father. We conclude that the superior court did not abuse its discretion in making these decisions and therefore affirm them. We also affirm, as within the superior court's discretion, its allocation of the costs of the court-appointed guardian ad litem. We remand for the superior court's clarification of one issue: whether it meant to include, in its final modified decree, a change to the father's weekend visitation schedule made by the attorney who drafted the decree.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Kelli Riggs and Eric Coonradt were married and divorced twice, first marrying in 2000 and divorcing for the second time in 2006. They have three minor children. Their relationship deteriorated after their second divorce, but they successfully negotiated a custody agreement. Under the agreement they shared custody on an alternating two-week basis, and the non-custodial parent had dinner with the children on Wednesday evenings.

Despite the agreement, tensions between Kelli and Eric persisted: there were disputes over child support, allegations that Kelli's nephew sexually abused the parties' youngest son, allegations that Kelli exposed the children to an abusive partner,[1] and Kelli's arrest for drunk driving. In September 2011 Eric moved for primary physical and sole legal custody of the children, alleging that Kelli was exposing them to violence and substance abuse. The superior court found that a neutral party was necessary to advocate on the children's behalf and in March 2012 appointed a guardian ad litem.

The superior court held a two-day evidentiary hearing in January 2013 and at its close issued an oral decree. Finding that the parties' inability to cooperate required a modification of custody, and weighing what it found to be the most relevant best interest factors, the court determined that Eric should be awarded sole legal custody. The court also

Page 1106

found that the alternating two-week system did not provide the stability that the children required, especially during the school year; it therefore modified the physical custody arrangement so that the children would live with Eric for ...


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