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Ruerup v. Ruerup

Supreme Court of Alaska

January 12, 2018

CRYSTAL RUERUP, Appellant,
v.
CHARLES F. RUERUP III, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court No. 4FA-15-01659 of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Paul R. Lyle, Judge.

          Teryn Bird, IACNVL Legal Services Program, Fairbanks, for Appellant.

          Notice of non participation filed by Charles F. Ruerup, III, pro se, Fairbanks, Appellee.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices. [Carney, Justice, not participating.]

          OPINION

          MAASSEN, JUSTICE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A mother appeals the superior court's decision to modify a long-term domestic violence protective order against her now ex-husband. The protective order was issued by a magistrate judge, based on his findings that the father had committed acts of domestic violence. But the superior court, during the parties' subsequent and separate divorce and custody case, concluded that findings of domestic violence were not supported by the evidence. When modifying the protective order to accommodate a change in the parties' living arrangements, the superior court also modified the order's factual findings about domestic violence, noting its own conclusion that such findings were not justified.

         The mother argues that the superior court erred by modifying the factual findings of domestic violence underlying an unappealed final order. We agree that the court lacked the authority to modify the factual findings on which the order was based. We therefore vacate that aspect of the protective order.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         A. Facts

         Crystal and Charles Ruerup met in Alaska in 2005, had their first child, G., in 2006, and separated in 2008.[1] They agreed on sharing G.'s custody in January 2009 but soon reconciled and never followed their agreement. By early 2010 they had moved to Kentucky, where in 2012 they married without legal formalities. In February 2013 they had their second child. They then returned to Alaska, and in April 2014 they officially married. In December they again separated when Crystal moved to a domestic violence shelter with the children. Charles filed for divorce in April 2015.

         B. Proceedings

         1. 2008 custody and protective order

         When the parties first separated in 2008, they sought the court's assistance in setting up a custody arrangement for G. They reached settlement at mediation before there was any substantive litigation, and in early 2009 the court approved their parenting agreement. Around this time Crystal also raised allegations of domestic violence; a magistrate judge heard evidence on the allegations in July 2008 and denied a long-term protective order.

         2. 2015 protective order

         Crystal sought another protective order in January 2015, soon after the parties separated for good; her complaint was given a new case number. Crystal alleged that there had been numerous incidents of domestic violence between 2007 and 2015. A different magistrate judge held a hearing in March 2015 and considered only the post-2008 allegations. A number of witnesses testified, including Crystal and Charles, a friend of Crystal's, Crystal's sister-in-law, and Charles's mother, brother, and nephew. The magistrate judge found by a preponderance of the evidence that Charles had committed three acts of domestic violence against Crystal, two in 2009 and one in 2011. Based on these findings, the magistrate judge issued a long-term protective order. Among other things, the order limited the parties to certain modes of communication and barred Charles from coming within 500 feet of Crystal's home. The order did not purport to decide any custody issues. Neither party appealed it.

         3. 2015 divorce and ...


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