YVONNE M. GAMBINI, Appellant,
PERRY W. HAMILTON, Appellee.
from the Superior Court No. 3PA-16-01858 CI of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Vanessa White,
M. Gambini, pro se, Wasilla, Appellant.
of nonparticipation filed by Kenneth J. Goldman, Kenneth J.
Goldman, P.C., Palmer, for Appellee.
Before: Bolger, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and
BOLGER, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Gambini appeals the superior court's property division
order for her divorce from Perry Hamilton. Gambini argues
that she is entitled to more than half of the marital estate
and that the superior court erroneously treated a loan she
made to Hamilton prior to their marriage as a marital
obligation. She also contends that the court incorrectly
valued Hamilton's retirement account and that several of
its procedural decisions unfairly prejudiced her or violated
her rights. None of Gambini's claims amounts to
reversible error. We therefore affirm the superior
court's property division order.
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
in 2006 Gambini and Hamilton rekindled a relationship from
decades prior. Hamilton was married to someone else at the
time, though he was in the process of dissolving that
marriage. As part of this process, he agreed to take on
certain financial obligations on behalf of his then-wife.
Hamilton and Gambini married on May 29, 2007.
five months before they married, the couple took out a home
equity line of credit (HELOC) for $50, 000, secured by a
cabin Gambini owned in Washington, where they were living at
the time. At trial Gambini asserted that $37, 000 of this
first HELOC was a personal loan to Hamilton; she could not,
however, remember "what [the $37, 000] was actually
spent on." Hamilton testified that Gambini offered to
help him speed along his divorce proceedings by lending him
some money from the HELOC on her cabin; Hamilton recalled
using $14, 000 of the HELOC funds to pay off debt associated
with his previous marriage, but he was not certain how the
rest was spent.
and Hamilton made interest payments on the HELOC from a joint
bank account, but they never made any payments toward the
principal. Approximately one year after their marriage, the
couple amended the HELOC, taking out another $42, 005.90 on
the line of credit. This second HELOC disbursement helped
fund the couple's move to Alaska and their purchase of
two properties in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough: one on
Hewitt Lake and one on Kim Drive.
the couple sold the Kim Drive property to Gambini's son.
They used the proceeds from the sale to purchase two lots
adjoining the Kim Drive property- the Barbi Drive lots - and
to develop them for a residence. A loan on Hamilton's
4Ol(k) also partially financed the purchase of the Barbi
and Hamilton contracted with Selway Corporation to finance
the construction of a residence on the Barbi lots. The couple
conveyed the lots to Selway, which used the property as
security for a loan to finance construction of the residence;
the couple would purchase the residence from Selway upon
construction. Construction on the residence was near
completion when the couple separated. At that time they
modified the contract with Selway so Gambini became the sole
filed for divorce in August 2016. Her complaint recited the
basic elements of a claim for divorce and included no
specific claims as to the division of the marital estate.
After Hamilton served his response, Gambini moved for leave
to amend her complaint to add specific claims about the
division of marital assets as well as contract and tort
claims. The superior court denied this motion in December. In
the course of discovery, Gambini also filed a "Motion to
Determine the Sufficiency of Defendant's Objections and
Answers to Plaintiff s Request for Admissions and to Deem
Such Requests Admitted." The superior court did not rule
on the motion before the case went to trial.
parties filed trial briefs in May 2017, and a bench trial was
held the next day. Hamilton appeared with counsel, and
Gambini was unrepresented, although her brother, sister, and
business partner were present. Gambini and Hamilton were the
superior court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of
law in December. The court divided the marital estate roughly
equally. It granted each party a parcel of real property;
declared the Washington cabin Gambini's separate property
but the HELOC taken out on it a marital obligation; and
awarded Gambini half of the marital portion of Hamilton's
4Ol(k), to account for his share of the HELOC assigned to
Gambini. The court also noted its decision not to address
Gambini's discovery motion prior to trial, declaring the
motion now moot.
December 2017 Hamilton filed a proposed Qualified Domestic
Relations Order (QDRO) to govern the transfer of the portion
of his 4Ol(k) owed to Gambini. Gambini filed her appeal in
January 2018, and Hamilton filed a notice of
non-participation later that month. During the pendency of
Gambini's appeal, she and Hamilton engaged in litigation
over the QDRO.
appeal Gambini argues that the superior court improperly
classified two real-property parcels and the HELOC secured by
her Washington cabin as marital. She also contends that the
court abused its discretion in dividing the marital estate
equally and that it incorrectly valued Hamilton's
retirement account. She challenges the manner in which the
trial court handled her divorce proceedings, arguing that it
improperly prejudiced her in a variety of ways. And she
challenges the QDRO issued after she filed her notice of
reviewing Gambini's claims, we affirm the superior
court's property division order. Although the court's
reasoning with respect to classification of the HELOC as a
marital investment was partially flawed, its ultimate
conclusion was not clearly erroneous. And none of
Gambini's other claims amount to reversible error.
The Superior Court's Classification Of Assets And
Obligations Was Not Erroneous.
making an equitable division of marital assets, the superior
court must first determine "what specific property is
available for distribution," which involves classifying
assets as separate or marital. "The characterization of
property as separate or marital may involve both legal and
factual questions." "Findings of fact are reviewed for
clear error, but whether the trial court applied the correct
legal rule in exercising its discretion is a question of law
that we review de novo using our independent
judgment." "We will find clear error only if
'we are left with a definite and firm conviction on the
entire record that a mistake has been made.'
Classifying the entire HELOC as a marital obligation was not
argues that a portion of the HELOC was a personal loan to
Hamilton, made prior to the marriage to assist Hamilton with
expenses related to his previous marriage. She contends that
the superior court erred by classifying such funds, used to
finance the expenses of another marriage, as a marital
obligation. The superior court considered Gambini's
arguments and observed that she "provided no documents
memorializing the loan and she did not seek repayment of the
loan at any time during the parties' nine-year
marriage." The court concluded that the HELOC in its
entirety was a marital investment because it found that
Gambini and Hamilton "intended [it] to be a means to
finalize [Hamilton's] divorce so that they could begin
superior court's factual finding that no part of the
HELOC constituted a personal loan to Hamilton was not clearly
erroneous. The court was correct that Gambini did not submit
any documents identifying a subset of the HELOC funds as a
loan to Hamilton, nor did she introduce evidence that she had
ever sought repayment of the alleged loan. Moreover the
evidence indicated that the funds at issue were spent on an
indeterminate mix of joint and separate obligations and
expenses. On this record, we are not left "with a
definite and ...