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Sharpe v. Sharpe

Supreme Court of Alaska

January 8, 2016

JOLENE SHARPE n/k/a LYON, Appellant,
v.
JYZYK SHARPE, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Guidi, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-11-10036 CI.

Darryl L. Thompson, Darryl L. Thompson, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellant.

No appearance by Appellee.

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

OPINION

Page 67

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A non-custodial parent moved to modify a child support order after she quit her job in Anchorage, moved to a remote village, and adopted a subsistence lifestyle. Although the parent acknowledged that she was voluntarily unemployed, she argued that her decision was reasonable in light of her cultural, spiritual, and religious needs. The superior court disagreed and denied the motion.

The parent appeals, arguing that the superior court gave inadequate weight to her cultural and religious needs and that the child support order violates her right to the free exercise of her religion. But the superior court adequately considered all relevant factors in deciding not to modify the child support order. And there was no plain error in the court's failure to anticipate the free exercise claim, which the parent raises for the first time on appeal. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the superior court.

Page 68

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Jolene Lyon[1] and Jyzyk Sharpe divorced in July 2012. The superior court awarded Jyzyk primary physical custody of the parties' only child and ordered Jolene to pay Jyzyk $1,507.00 per month in child support.

Jolene is a Yup'ik Eskimo who was raised in Nome and has family ties to the native village of Stebbins. When the child support order was issued, Jolene was " living in Anchorage, working at Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and earning approximately [$]120,000 a year." In April 2013, she left Anchorage and took up a subsistence lifestyle in Stebbins.

Soon after relocating to Stebbins, Jolene moved to modify the child support order. She alleged that she was " no longer employed," that she was " a full time stay at home mother," [2] and that her only income was her annual Permanent Fund Dividend. These developments, she argued, constituted a material change in circumstances warranting a modification of the child support order. She requested that the court reduce her monthly child support payment to $50 per month, the minimum allowed under Alaska Civil Rule 90.3(c)(3).

Jyzyk opposed the motion, arguing that modification of the child support order was not warranted because Jolene was " voluntarily and unreasonabl[y] unemployed." Although he acknowledged that Jolene was entitled to quit her job and move to a remote community, he argued that the parties' " ten year old daughter . . . should not be required to fund [Jolene's] lifestyle choice."

The superior court held a motion hearing in July 2013. During the hearing, Jolene testified about her life in Stebbins and the benefits she derived from her subsistence lifestyle. She expressed her desire to expose the parties' child to traditional life in Stebbins. And she said that living in Stebbins, a dry community, ...


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