Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wilkins v. Wilkins

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 29, 2019

YVETTE M. WILKINS, Appellant,
v.
PAUL D. WILKINS, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3AN-15-08094 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, William F. Morse, Judge.

          Kenneth P. Jacobus, Kenneth P. Jacobus, P.C., Anchorage, for Appellant.

          Michael Gershel, Law Office of Michael Gershel, Anchorage, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          WINFREE, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A wife with serious medical conditions filed for divorce, but during trial the parties agreed to a legal separation to ensure the wife's continued access to her husband's employer-sponsored health insurance. The separation agreement's primary focus was delaying the divorce for 4 years, until the wife reached age 62 and became eligible for 36 months of post-divorce continuing health insurance coverage through the husband's employer-sponsored health insurance. The superior court divided the marital estate and ordered the husband to pay spousal support for 3 years and to pay for the wife's health insurance coverage after the expected later divorce. The wife appeals, arguing that the court erred by failing to value the husband's post-retirement medical benefits, declining to consider her agreement to legally separate as a factor in her favor when dividing the marital estate, wrongfully conflating spousal support with its property award, and unfairly allocating the overall property division. We reverse the court's ruling that it did not need to value the husband's retirement health benefits and remand for its valuation and a renewed equitable property distribution consistent with this opinion.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Yvette and Paul Wilkins married in 1980. Yvette's serious medical conditions leave her unable to work and require her to take expensive medications. She receives a disability annuity and has a federal thrift savings plan. Paul works for the State of Alaska; his employer-sponsored health insurance covers a significant portion of Yvette's medical expenses. Paul's other employment benefits include retirement healthcare, deferred compensation through the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS), and a supplemental annuity (SBS). Paul also receives military retirement and Veteran's Affairs disability benefits.

         Yvette filed for divorce in 2015; she later amended her complaint to convert the proceeding into a legal separation.[1] Both Paul and Yvette believed that a legal separation postponing divorce for 7 years would allow Yvette, who was 58, to continue receiving health insurance through Paul's employer until becoming Medicare-eligible at 65. Paul, who was 57, opposed the proposed lengthy legal separation, and the divorce trial began.

         At trial Yvette presented expert testimony regarding valuation of Paul's post-retirement health insurance benefits. Basing his valuation estimates on medical-costs trends discounted to present value, the expert provided a range of values corresponding to Paul's normal, probable, and expected retirement ages.

         During trial the court observed that legally separating could delay divorce by only 4 years rather than 7 as the parties had assumed. Because Yvette was eligible for 36 months of post-divorce health insurance coverage under federal law, [2] a separation need only remain in effect for the next 4 years until she turned 62. She then could obtain COBRA coverage until becoming eligible for Medicare at 65. Paul agreed to this shorter legal separation and to not file for divorce until Yvette turned 62. He also agreed to pay for Yvette's COBRA coverage.

         The court later issued a "Decree of Legal Separation," directing that its property division order "constitutes a final division of the marital estate." In that property division order the court stated that Yvette's medical needs "make it nearly impossible simply to divide the marital estate (even unequally) and give the parties financial independence." The court identified its "primary and essential goal" as ensuring that "Yvette has adequate medical coverage" and stated that legal separation would provide the parties "equal health care coverage," which "eliminates the need to place an artificial value on the employer's contribution to Paul's healthcare coverage during his retirement."

         The court awarded Yvette 50% of the marital share of Paul's military retirement benefits by qualified military retirement order, and, by qualified domestic relations orders, 55% of the marital share of his PERS and roughly 20% of the marital share of his SBS accounts. Yvette retained the marital home, as she had requested; she was required to refinance in her name and release Paul from the mortgage obligation. The court awarded Paul the remaining value of his military benefits, PERS, and SBS accounts. The court also distributed a variety of other assets and liabilities, including ordering Paul to pay the parties' remaining debts. Finally the court ordered Paul to pay spousal support for 36 months and to pay for Yvette's post-divorce COBRA coverage.

         Yvette moved for reconsideration, arguing that the court erred by failing to value Paul's post-retirement health benefits and by placing greater weight on her insurance costs than on other factors. She also requested a more ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.