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Villars v. Villars

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 31, 2014

RICHARD J. VILLARS, Appellant,
v.
OLGA H. VILLARS, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, No. 4FA-07-02606 CI Douglas Blankenship, Judge.

Richard J. Villars, pro se, Marrero, Louisiana, Appellant.

No appearance by Appellee.

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

OPINION

FABE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Richard and Olga Villars were married in Ukraine in 2004. Richard, who is a U.S. citizen, signed a Form I-864 affidavit of support in which he agreed to maintain Olga and her daughter, Linda, at 125% of the applicable federal poverty rate. Olga and Linda came to Alaska, and Richard and Olga later divorced. For several years Richard and Olga have been litigating Richard's I-864 support obligation.

After a previous appeal by Olga regarding Richard's obligation for the first eleven months of 2010, we remanded the case to the superior court to resolve Richard's obligation for that period, which is no longer at issue.

The parties have continued to dispute Richard's I-864 obligations for 2009, December 2010, and all of 2011, 2012, and 2013. Following a series of hearings and orders in the superior court relating to these years, Richard filed this appeal, alleging a variety of errors by the superior court regarding its calculations of his obligations and potential offsets against those obligations. Because the superior court properly rejected Richard's attempt to relitigate issues resolved in earlier proceedings, we affirm the superior court's orders rejecting those claims. We remand for further factual findings on issues not yet resolved.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts And Proceedings Related To The First Appeal

Many of the relevant facts in this case are the same as those in the previous case involving the same parties, Villars v. Villars (Villars I).[1] Our decision in that case provides much of the factual background relevant to the present appeal:

Richard and Olga were married in December 2004 in Kiev, Ukraine. Olga moved to Alaska in July 2005 with her minor daughter, Linda, to be with Richard. As Olga's immigration sponsor, Richard filed an INS Form I-864 affidavit of support, in which he agreed to maintain Olga and Linda "at an income that is at least 125 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines." [2]
Richard and Olga divorced on January 12, 2009. Their divorce decree incorporated Richard's support obligations under his I-864 affidavit and calculated monthly payments based on the federal poverty level for a two-person household in Alaska.
On February 22, 2009, Olga and Linda moved to California. There Olga married George Nasif on October 18, 2009. Olga's daughter Linda moved to Louisiana to live with Richard from December 2009 until June 14, 2010, under a temporary guardianship agreement.
Olga's home life was unsettled during 2010, the only year at issue here. She and George maintained separate residences for much of the year; at one point George secured a restraining order against her. Olga was evicted from her apartment in April and moved into a motel, where she lived for several months until moving into another apartment with George and Linda. Olga's marriage to George was annulled in November 2010.
Richard did not make any support payments to Olga for the first eleven months of 2010. Olga filed a motion in Alaska to enforce the divorce decree, and Richard made payments for December 2010 and January 2011 pursuant to a temporary support order. His obligations for the first eleven months of 2010 were resolved at trial. . . .
Trial was held in superior court in Fairbanks in February 2011; both parties attended telephonically. After hearing from Richard, Olga, and George, the court made written findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court first ruled that Richard's 2010 support payments should be determined by the federal poverty level in California, not Alaska. The court ruled further that the payments would be determined by the federal poverty level for a single-person household, not a two-person household, for the months Linda was living with Richard. Finally, the court ruled that Richard's support obligation would be offset by the amount of support that George provided to Olga and Linda during 2010. With some inconsistencies . . ., George testified at trial that his 2010 income was approximately $24, 000, and that he spent this entire amount to support Olga, Linda, and himself. The trial court credited this testimony and calculated an offset assuming that all of George's income went to pay all of the family's living expenses. Accordingly, the trial court divided George's income evenly between him and Olga for the months Linda was away and among the three of them for the months she was there, for a total of $14, 202.80 in support from George for Olga and Linda.
After a few other minor adjustments — $175 in income that Olga made in a few days of work and $275.90 "at minimum" in qualifying support that Richard paid toward the end of the year — the trial court found that Richard owed no further support for 2010. . . .
On appeal, Olga raise[d] many objections to the trial court's findings . . . . Olga challenge[d] the trial court's decision to account for California's lower federal poverty rate and for Linda's absence from the household for part of the year when calculating Richard's support obligations. She challenge[d] the trial court's use of George's support to offset Richard's support obligation. She also contest[ed] the trial court's finding as to the amount of support that George provided. Olga also argue[d] that the income she earned in 2010 should not be used to offset Richard's obligations.[3]

We concluded in Villars I that the superior court correctly adjusted Richard's support obligations to account for Olga's move to California, Linda's temporary absence from Olga's household, and Olga's earnings.[4] We noted that the findings of fact and conclusions of law accompanying the couple's 2009 divorce decree "incorporated Richard's support obligations under the INS Form I-864 affidavit and stipulated that this obligation was governed by federal law, "[5] which required Richard to maintain Olga and Linda "at an annual income that is not less than 125 percent of the Federal poverty line."[6] Remarking that "a sponsor is required to pay only the difference between the sponsored non-citizen's income and . . . 125% of [the] poverty threshold, "[7]and citing federal court precedent as indicating that "a sponsor's support obligations must be adjusted downward when a family member leaves the household, "[8] we concluded that the superior court properly reduced Richard's support obligations to account for the time Linda lived with Richard instead of with Olga.[9]

We also determined in Villars I that the superior court erred in calculating the contributions of support by George, Olga's new husband, to Olga and Linda. We remarked that "George testified, in apparent contradiction, that (1) he contributed $24, 000 to the support of Olga and Linda during 2010, and (2) that his entire earnings for 2010 were $24, 000, of which some went to his own support."[10] Observing that George's support was "sporadic and variable due to the significant disruptions in their living arrangements during [2010], " we concluded that the superior court's approximation of George's contributions was not sufficiently precise and remanded for a more accurate calculation.[11]

On remand, [12] the superior court calculated more precisely the qualifying support that Olga received in 2010. The superior court looked to Olga's wages, the support she received from George for various expenses, and the support she received from Richard. It determined that these resources exceeded the amount that Richard was obligated to provide pursuant to his I-864 affidavit and concluded that Richard had no further obligation to Olga for 2010.

Although the parties had begun to litigate Richard's obligations for years other than 2010 before Villars I was decided, that case addressed Richard's obligations only for 2010 — indeed only for the first eleven months of that year.[13] The present appeal relates to ...


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