ERROL P. DOWNS, Appellant,
DEBORAH DOWNS, Appellee.
from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, No.
1PE-13-00059 CI, First Judicial District, Petersburg, William
B. Carey, Judge.
R. Arden, Anchorage, for Appellant.
F. Butterfield, Wyatt & Butterfield, LLC, Anchorage, for
Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and
husband appeals the superior court's unequal property
division in a divorce proceeding that gave the wife the
majority of the marital estate. He argues that the superior
court abused its discretion when dividing the property and
that the property division was therefore inequitable. Because
the property division was neither clearly unjust nor based on
clearly erroneous factual findings, we affirm the superior
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Downs and Deborah Downs were married in 1985. Errol suffered
a heart attack in approximately 1988, had heart surgery in
1989, and did not return to work. Errol began collecting
Social Security Disability Insurance in 1994. That same year,
the parties moved to Alaska following Deborah's
retirement from her job with the State of Oregon, eventually
buying a house in Petersburg. She then took a job with the
State of Alaska. Deborah worked for the State until her
retirement in 2009.
parties separated after Deborah sought a domestic violence
protective order against Errol in January 2013. Deborah
alleged that she feared for her safety because Errol was
behaving strangely and threatening to hurt her. Around the
same time that Deborah filed the domestic violence protective
order, Errol moved out of the marital home and into a motel
room. He lived at the motel until August when he was moved to
the Petersburg Medical Center. Doctors diagnosed him with
dementia, as well as depression, malnutrition, alcoholism,
and other conditions.
filed for divorce in October 2013. Approximately six months
later Errol's attorney petitioned the probate court to
appoint a guardian for Errol. The petition was granted, and a
public guardian was appointed. The following April Errol's
leg was amputated above the knee, leaving him unable to walk.
As a result of his significant healthcare needs, he moved to
an assisted living facility in Anchorage.
February 2016 Deborah filed a motion to dismiss the divorce
complaint on the basis that Errol was not competent to get a
divorce. At trial the superior court determined that Errol
was competent, denied Deborah's motion to dismiss, and
then proceeded to divide the marital estate.
requested approximately 50% of the marital assets. His
guardian testified regarding his financial needs and the
impact that the property division could have on his
eligibility for services, including Medicaid. The guardian
testified that he had an irrevocable trust that ensured his
continuing eligibility for Medicaid,  a separate burial account,
Permanent Fund Dividend account, and a checking account that
had a balance of less than $2, 000 (as required to maintain
Medicaid eligibility). At the time of trial Errol resided in a
long-term healthcare facility. The cost of the facility was
covered in large part by long-term care insurance he received
as a beneficiary of Deborah's insurance
plan. The remainder of the monthly cost was
covered by Medicaid.
guardian testified that if Errol received his proposed
portion of the marital assets, they could be placed in his
trust and then used to buy a home for him. She highlighted
the importance of maintaining Errol's Medicaid
eligibility but did not claim that he could not receive the
benefit of his proposed share of the marital assets.
argued that all of the marital assets except 95% of her
monthly Oregon state retirement benefit should be awarded to
her. She argued that her Oregon state retirement benefit
could pay for Errol's monthly health insurance
premiums.Deborah contended that this was equitable
because all of Errol's needs were met by Medicaid and his
long-term health insurance and because Errol had not
identified any additional needs. Further, Deborah noted that
at Errol's death assets in his trust would revert to the
State of Alaska.
superior court granted the divorce. In its division of the
marital assets, Errol received $31, 680, which was 40% of the
proceeds from the sale of the parties' boat and
hand-troll fishing permit. He was also awarded 95% of
Deborah's monthly Oregon state retirement benefit, as
well as some household items. The court awarded Deborah the
rest of the marital estate, including a car, the marital home
(which was free of any mortgage and valued at $245, 000), and
her other retirement accounts.
justify its division the court discussed the relevant
statutory factors from AS 25.24.160(a)(4). It found that
Deborah was retired, 67 years old, and needed the marital
assets to live comfortably for the rest of her life. It also
found that, because Errol needed to maintain Medicaid
eligibility, his assets were in an irrevocable trust and that
any assets in that trust would revert to the State of Alaska
upon his death. It specifically found that Errol was unlikely
to ever live independently, that all of his needs were met by
Medicaid and long-term health insurance, and that he had been
unrealistic about his potential future living situation.
now appeals the superior court's unequal property
STANDARD OF REVIEW
dividing marital property in a divorce proceeding, the trial
court must complete three steps: "(1) determin[e] what
property is available for distribution, (2) find the value
of the property, and (3) divid[e] the property
only appeals the third step: the superior court's
division of property, which we review for abuse of
discretion and will reverse only if it is
"clearly unjust" or "based on a clearly
erroneous factual finding or mistake of
law." We review factual findings for clear
error, reversing "if, upon review of the entire record,
we are ...