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Ruppe v. Ruppe

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 25, 2015

TERRI L. RUPPE, Appellant,
v.
TERRY C. RUPPE, Appellee

Page 1285

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1286

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Frank A. Pfiffner, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-12-11535 CI.

Terri L. Ruppe, Pro se, Waialua, Hawaii, Appellant.

Terry C. Ruppe, Pro se, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 1287

FABE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Terri Lin Ruppe appeals from a superior court order granting her divorce, determining custody, distributing marital property, and setting child support obligations for her former husband, Terry. She raises issues related to legal custody, the calculation of interim child support, the duration of permanent child support, the distribution of property, and the non-award of spousal support and attorney's fees. We affirm most of the superior court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, but we reverse its determination that payments Terry made during the pendency of the divorce could be credited against his post-divorce child support obligations.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Terry and Terri Lin Ruppe married in 1997. They have a daughter, born in 2004, and permanent guardianship of a niece, born in 1996, and a nephew, born in 1998, the children of Terri Lin's sister. Terry is a warrant officer in the U.S. Army and Terri Lin has been a housewife since 2003. The family moved to Anchorage in April 2010, due to Terry's stationing at Fort Richardson. The Ruppes lived on base in a home that was paid for by the $2,202 Terry received as a monthly Basic Allowance for Housing and owned a residential property in Virginia, which they rented to tenants.

The marriage permanently disintegrated after Terry's return from Afghanistan in October 2012, and Terry moved out in November. Terry made an official request that Terri Lin and the children be permitted to remain in on-base housing until the resolution of the divorce. Although both Terry and Terri Lin believed that she would have to leave that housing by the end of March 2013, she and the children were in fact able to stay in on-base housing until mid-June. Terry filed for divorce in December 2012; Terri Lin counterclaimed in January 2013.

Between the start of the parties' separation and the trial, Terri Lin made two relevant withdrawals from joint accounts. First, she withdrew $4,500 from a joint account after that amount was deposited in the account as per diem pay/travel voucher for a training Terry attended after the separation. Second, she withdrew $4,000 from a joint account associated with the Virginia property and used this amount to pay her initial attorney's fees.

In February 2013 Superior Court Judge Frank A. Pfiffner held an initial status hearing. At this hearing the parties indicated that they believed that Terri Lin and the children would stay in the on-base housing until March 31. At the hearing Terry offered to fulfill his child support obligations by paying Terri Lin $2,200 directly every month until she moved out of the on-base housing that was funded by his Basic Allowance for Housing, and by paying Terri Lin $3,000 directly every month thereafter.

After the February hearing the superior court set interim child and spousal support in a March order. The superior court explicitly included the $2,202 Terry received in Basic Allowance for Housing from the military each month in its calculation of his income, as required by Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 90.3.[1] The superior court calculated Terry's base monthly child support amount as $2,407.

The March order adopted several of the assumptions and proposals from the February hearing. The order noted that Terry had " testified that he would like to pay $3,000 in child support and spousal support until the divorce trial in May," and thus ordered $2,407 in monthly interim child support and an additional $593 in monthly interim spousal support. The interim child and spousal support order stated that it was effective retroactively to December 2012, the first month after the parties separated. It also stated that Terry was to be credited with the amounts actually paid to Terri Lin since the separation, which the court calculated to be " $4,500 per month . . . (including his [Basic Allowance for Housing] of $2,202 per month through March 31, 2013)" in the worksheet

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that accompanied the narrative order. The order thus appears to have been written under the assumption that Terri Lin and the children would leave the on-base housing after March 31, an assumption that also explains the superior court's direction that Terry's first payment be due April 1.

Terri Lin and the children continued to live on base until the May trial, and Terry continued to pay Terri Lin approximately $2,200 a month. Terri Lin interpreted the March order to require Terry to pay her $3,000 directly each month regardless of housing, and she requested that the Child Support Services Division garnish Terry's wages for the additional $800 per month she believed he owed, which the agency did.

In mid-April the parties stipulated to an order that granted Terri Lin primary physical custody of the children and permitted her to relocate to Hawaii. Legal custody and visitation were left for later resolution at trial, which occurred over three days in May.

In July 2013 the superior court granted the divorce, ordered child support, and made findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court reaffirmed that Terri Lin would have primary physical custody, awarded joint legal custody, and provided for unsupervised visitation for Terry ...


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