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Sherrill v. Sherrill

Supreme Court of Alaska

May 13, 2016

DANNY SHERRILL, Appellant,
v.
PAULITA SHERRILL, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court No. 4FA-14-02550 of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Douglas Blankenship, Judge.

Appearances:

Danny Sherrill, pro se, Army Pacific, Appellant.

Paulita M. Hallen, pro se, North Pole, Appellee.

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

OPINION

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This appeal arises from superior court orders dividing marital property, granting child custody, and determining child support. The noncustodial, nonresident parent claims the superior court lacked jurisdiction, the orders are substantively incorrect, and the court appeared to be biased against him. We conclude that the record contains no evidence of bias and that the court did not err in entering the marital property and child custody orders. The superior court properly exercised jurisdiction and entered orders settling marital property and granting custody that reflected the parties' agreements. But in calculating the father's child support obligation, the court assumed that Alaska Civil Rule 90.3 imposes an income ceiling of $110, 000 - $10, 000 below the statutory level. Because the father's income appears to exceed $120, 000, this assumption likely rendered the support order too low. Accordingly we remand the support order for reconsideration.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Danny Sherrill and Paulita Hallen (formerly Paulita Sherrill) married in 2000 in Seoul, South Korea, and have one daughter. Before separating in 2011 they lived outside the United States. By June 2012 Paulita had moved to Alaska with their daughter, and in September 2014 Paulita filed for divorce. At the time Danny was living in Okinawa, Japan, where he was working as a temporary contractor at a U.S. military base; Danny participated in the proceedings by telephone. Both Danny and Paulita appeared pro se.

Two hearings were held that December. During those proceedings and in their briefing, Danny and Paulita agreed on most substantive matters. They agreed to settle the marital property division with a one-time payment of $35, 000 from Danny to Paulita, which Danny agreed to pay by the end of the next month. They also agreed to share legal custody of their daughter and to give Paulita primary physical custody with liberal visitation for Danny. Each also noted that Danny had been providing about $1, 600 per month in child support.

Danny, however, declined to fully document his income, claiming that the information was classified. To determine child support, which under Alaska Civil Rule 90.3 is based on the obligor's annual income, the superior court worked with the information it had and estimated Danny's annual income as $110, 000. This figure, the court explained, reflected Rule 90.3's income ceiling; any income exceeding that amount would not affect the calculation. Danny agreed that the $110, 000 estimate was fair. But Paulita, through her interpreter, [1] questioned the court's determination, asserting that the court had not accounted for Danny's retirement income and that, if it had, Danny's income would exceed "[$]120, 000, which is [the limit under] 90.3." The court did not address Paulita's concern.

Danny also expressed some concerns. He claimed that Paulita had taken their daughter to Alaska illegally and was making visitation difficult. And he requested permission "to submit documents . . . concerning [Paulita's] illegal departure . . . from [their] home in Guam and going to Alaska." The court stated that Danny was free to submit evidence, but it encouraged him to be thoughtful and to only submit documents if relevant to disputed issues. Danny acknowledged agreement with the information already before the court.

In January 2015 the court entered the final divorce decree, custody order, support order, and findings of fact and conclusions of law, which memorialized the $35, 000 marital property settlement. As decided at the hearing, the court based the child support order on an annual income of $110, 000 for a monthly obligation of $1, 833.33.

After the December hearings Danny informed Paulita that he had already satisfied the $35, 000 settlement and accordingly did not owe her any more money. When the January payment deadline passed without payment Paulita moved to enforce the order. Danny opposed her motion, claiming that he had already paid Paulita $48, 650 "over a period of three years." He also filed a notice of appeal challenging Paulita's status to file a complaint and asserting that the court was biased against him. The superior court granted Paulita's motion and ordered Danny to pay the $35, 000.

On appeal Danny asks us to vacate all orders except ...


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