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Faris v. Taylor

Supreme Court of Alaska

July 12, 2019

TAMRA FARIS, Appellant,
v.
GORDON TAYLOR, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court No. 1JU-13-00757 CI of the State of Alaska, First Judicial District, Juneau, Louis J. Menendez, Judge.

          Tamra Faris, pro se, Portland, Oregon, and Fred W. Triem, Petersburg, for Appellant.

          Paul H. Grant, Juneau, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          BOLGER, Chief Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A couple divorced after over 40 years of marriage. Although the wife had moved to a different state several years prior, the superior court determined that their date of separation was in 2014. The court also recaptured pension payments the two received after this date. The wife appeals, arguing that these and various other aspects of the superior court's property division were erroneous.

         The superior court neither erred nor abused its discretion in its determination of the date of separation. And most of the wife's other challenges to the property division are without merit. But we reverse the superior court's failure to make specific factual findings in its recapture analysis.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         A. Facts

         Gordon Taylor and Tamra Faris were married in 1973. For most of their marriage, they lived in Juneau. Faris spent her entire career working for the federal government, earning a Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) pension. In 2004 Faris accepted a promotion and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. She moved to Portland, Oregon, also for work reasons, in 2006 and currently resides there. She retired from her career with the federal government in 2010.

         When Faris moved, Taylor remained in Juneau. Taylor held a variety of jobs during his marriage to Faris, including various positions with the State of Alaska that made him eligible for Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS). He retired in 2011 and now draws from a PERS annuity and Social Security.

         B. Proceedings

         1. The divorce trial

         In 2013 Taylor filed for divorce. He and Faris reached a settlement agreement in February 2014 and the court entered a divorce decree at that time. Three days later, however, Faris sought to withdraw distribution of property from that agreement.

         The superior court held five days of trial on the couple's property division in late 2015 and early 2016, after the settlement agreement had broken down. The court issued an order dividing the marital estate in May 2017. It concluded that the parties had not separated until 2014, when they divorced.

         To divide the marital estate, the superior court first determined the properties available for distribution. These included two marital properties: a home in Juneau and a second home in Portland, Oregon.[1] The court valued the Juneau home at $450, 000 and awarded it to Taylor. It found that the Portland home was worth $5 80, 000 and awarded the home to Faris.

         The court then valued and distributed the remaining property, finding it "equitable to divide the estate with 50% of the assets awarded to each party." This split required dividing the parties' pension payments between them so that each would receive the same monthly income. The court heard expert testimony on the value of each party's pensions, but the testimony conflicted. The court elected to split the monthly pension payments in half, using a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).

         The court also considered the pension payments the parties had received since the date of separation in 2014. The court calculated the total benefit each party received from this income and credited that benefit against each party's award, thereby "recapturing" the parties' post-separation pension payments.

         2. Post-trial motions

         After the trial Faris filed several motions for reconsideration, arguing in relevant part that the court erred when it (1) recaptured the CSRS payments received between the date the divorce was granted and the close of trial and (2) determined that the date of separation was in 2014.

         The superior court denied reconsideration of these issues. It found that both parties had "treated the [post-separation] PERS and CSRS payments as separate assets," effectively converting them to a non-marital form, [2] and declined to revisit its decision to recapture. The court also declined to revisit its date of separation ...


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