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Caroline J. v. Theodore J.

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 28, 2015

CAROLINE J., Appellant,
v.
THEODORE J., Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White, Judge. Superior Court No. 3PA-12-01623 CI.

Johnny O. Gibbons, Dickerson & Gibbons, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Theodore J., Pro se, Palmer, Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 1086

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

At the end of Theodore J. and Caroline J.'s

Page 1087

marriage,[1] the superior courtgranted Caroline a long-term domestic violence protective order and awarded her interim sole physical and legal custody of the couple's three children. During the pendency of the divorce and custody trial, the superior court ordered reunification counseling for Theodore and the children, but Caroline continually failed to bring the children to the counseling sessions, and the court found she had engaged in parental alienation. After Theodore completed a domestic violence intervention program, the court awarded the parents shared physical and joint legal custody of the children. Caroline appeals. We affirm the superior court's custody order.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Theodore J. and Caroline J. married in June 2004. Theodore works for the United States Postal Service (USPS) and Caroline is a homemaker. Caroline and Theodore had three children during their relationship: Thomas, born in 2003, Katrina, born in 2004, and Taylor, born in 2006.

The parties had been having trouble with their marriage and participated in a marriage workshop through their church in 2008. The couple continued to have problems after the workshop.

In May 2012 the parties' problems appear to have worsened. Caroline filed a petition for a long-term domestic violence protective order on May 22, alleging that a few days earlier she and Theodore got into an argument and he hit her with a pot. On May 25 Theodore filed for divorce.

B. Proceedings

In August 2012 the court held an evidentiary hearing on Caroline's petition for a protective order. The court heard testimony from Caroline and from Rhonda Street, the domestic violence investigator who processed her petition. Street testified that Caroline had presented as very nervous. And she testified that Theodore continually called Caroline's phone. Caroline alleged that Theodore had hit her with a pot on May 18, a Friday. She testified that immediately afterward she left and went to a friend's house, where she stayed until the following Monday. She testified that on Tuesday she filed her petition for a domestic violence protective order. Theodore denied the allegations. He testified that on May 18 Caroline went to Anchorage with a friend and he came into the city to pick her up on Monday. He said that she left Monday night to get a snack with the children but did not return. He testified that he repeatedly called her phone the next day trying to determine where she and the children were. Theodore also testified that after he told Caroline he wanted a divorce she threatened to kill herself.

The superior court granted the petition for a long-term domestic violence protective order and ordered professionally supervised visitation. Later, the court issued an interim custody order awarding sole physical and legal custody to Caroline based on the long-term domestic violence protective order.

During the same time period, the children's therapist, Linda Ann Rasmussen, notified the Office of Children's Services (OCS) that she thought the children had been abused. During the OCS interviews, Theodore admitted to accidentally cutting the youngest, Taylor, while spanking him, because the spoon Theodore was using broke. The OCS worker testified at trial that her supervisor directed her to substantiate the abuse even though she believed the two older children were coached.

During the first day of testimony, Rasmussen testified the children told her that since their parents' separation they believed their father had stolen their bikes, entered their home without permission, and ripped pages out of one of their Bibles. Rasmussen accepted the children's statements as true, and she repeatedly reminded the court that OCS had " substantiated abuse" of the children. But the court expressed concern over Rasmussen's testimony, noting that she might be " over-enmeshed" with ...


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