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Sarah D. v. John D.

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 12, 2015

SARAH D., Appellant,
JOHN D., Appellee

Page 420

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 421

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Patrick J. McKay, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-12-11124 CI.

Phyllis A. Shepherd, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Notice of nonparticipation filed by Kenneth M. Wasche, Kenneth M. Wasche, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellee.

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


Page 422

WINFREE, Justice.


Sarah D. and John D. separated shortly after their daughter turned three. Each claimed that the other was abusive and obtained a short-term domestic violence protective order after they separated; they later stipulated to a mutual no-contact order but violated it by continuing a sporadic romantic relationship. They sharply contested numerous domestic violence allegations and generally cast each other in a bad light throughout their divorce proceedings.

Sarah requested interim attorney's fees. After the superior court denied her request, Sarah consented to her lawyer's withdrawal.

Page 423

Sarah and John then agreed to a property settlement. Before litigating custody Sarah again requested interim attorney's fees and twice filed continuance motions requesting time to obtain counsel. Her motions were denied, and she appeared pro se throughout a four-day custody trial. John's parents helped pay for his lawyer, and he was represented at all times. Over Sarah's objections, John's father was allowed to intervene as a party for visitation purposes.

Finding John and Sarah's relationship dysfunctional, Sarah manipulative and guilty of one incident of domestic violence, and neither party credible, the court awarded shared physical and sole legal custody to John and gave John's father unspecified visitation during John's custodial time. Sarah appeals the court's denials of her requests for an interim fee award, trial continuances, and to compel a witness's attendance at trial. She also appeals the court's orders granting the grandfather intervention and visitation and the court's domestic violence finding and custody decision. We vacate the order granting the grandfather visitation and otherwise affirm all but the custody decision, remanding for more detailed findings and conclusions on domestic violence issues.


Sarah and John married in 2009 shortly after their daughter's birth. Their daughter was three years old when they separated in November 2012. At separation Sarah and John each obtained an ex parte short-term domestic violence order against the other, and Sarah filed for divorce. John was represented by counsel throughout the proceedings, and Sarah had counsel until she consented to his withdrawal in mid-March 2013.

In December 2012 Sarah and John each petitioned for a long-term domestic violence protective order against the other, but then voluntarily withdrew their petitions and stipulated to a mutual no-contact order permitting them to text or email each other only about their daughter. Neither John nor Sarah honored the no-contact order; indeed, until a month before the custody trial began in late May 2013 they routinely violated the order to have consensual sex.

At the end of interim hearings in mid-January 2013 the parties agreed to a shared physical custody schedule. The superior court ordered John to continue making mortgage payments on the marital home, where Sarah and the daughter remained, and John moved in with his parents. The parties entered into a property settlement agreement in late March, and the court confirmed it a month later. John was to keep the marital home, but Sarah was to live there until May 31. Therefore, for the bulk of the time between their November 2012 separation and the late-May 2013 trial, John lived with his parents and Sarah continued to live rent-free in the marital home.

In early April Sarah asked the superior court to postpone the May custody trial until September. Sarah anticipated a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) for her share of John's retirement but believed it would take " two to three months" before she would " actually have access to [those] funds." She asked for the continuance so that she could obtain the funds, retain counsel, and allow her new counsel to prepare for trial.[1] John responded that Sarah had " consented to the withdrawal of her attorney in March 2013" and that " inexcusable delay in employing new counsel" was not " a ground for continuance." John pointed out that during the February scheduling conference Sarah had anticipated a May custody trial. The court denied Sarah's motion for a continuance without comment.

In late April the superior court issued a divorce decree, noting that the parties had agreed to proceed to trial over custody. The court also issued Sarah a QDRO giving her a percentage ...

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