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Hall v. Hall

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 16, 2019

ADOLPH HALL, Appellant,
v.
BERTHA DELORES HALL, Appellee.

          Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3PA-14-01357 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Jonathan A. Woodman, Judge.

          J. Matthew Hayes, Matanuska Law LLC, Palmer, for Appellant.

          Lynda A. Limon, Anchorage, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          STOWERS, JUSTICE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In a divorce case the superior court divided the marital estate equally; this included the marital home and an adjoining lot, which the spouses agreed should be sold. The husband remained in the home after the wife moved out, and he paid the mortgage until the properties sold nearly two years after the divorce was final.

         Once the properties sold the parties requested a hearing on the allocation of the sale proceeds. The husband argued that he should be reimbursed for his post-divorce mortgage payments. The wife countered that the husband's use of the home as his residence offset any claim he otherwise had to reimbursement. The superior court denied reimbursement to the husband, and the husband appeals.

         In Ramsey v. Ramsey we said that the superior court has discretion to award credit for post-separation payments made to preserve marital assets.[1] While we review these rulings deferentially, the court must make factual findings sufficient for review; the findings must clearly indicate the court's consideration of a Ramsey credit and its rationale for awarding one or not. In this case the findings in the court's order allocating the sale proceeds were insufficient, so we remand the case for additional findings.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Adolph and Bertha Hall married in 1975 and separated in November 2014. Superior Court Judge Eric Smith granted their divorce in August 2015. Among the major marital assets were the marital home and an adjoining lot, which the parties stipulated should be sold to satisfy marital debts.[2] Judge Smith divided the marital estate equally and directed the parties to "cooperate to ensure that the properties are] sold as quickly as possible."

         Bertha moved out of the home months before the trial, and Adolph remained. After the divorce Adolph made various repairs to the home, and he continued to pay the mortgage, insurance, and taxes on the properties. The properties did not sell until June 2017, nearly two years after the parties' divorce. The parties requested that the sale proceeds be impounded pending a decision about how to allocate them. Superior Court Judge Jonathan A. Woodman, who had taken over the case after Judge Smith retired, held a hearing in July.

         Adolph sought reimbursement for several post-divorce expenses on the properties, including mortgage payments totaling $69, 858.69. The mortgage was a joint debt, he argued, and Judge Smith made the parties equally responsible for it. Bertha responded that nothing in the divorce trial or in Judge Smith's order indicated that Adolph would be reimbursed for post-divorce mortgage payments. She contended that any reimbursement would have to take the form of a Ramsey credit, [3] and before awarding one the court would need to take evidence on the rental value of the home and offset Adolph's payments by this imputed rent.

         In November 2017 Judge Woodman issued an order allocating the sale proceeds, denying Adolph's request for reimbursement for the mortgage payments. Adolph moved for reconsideration, arguing that after the divorce the parties were cotenants; since there was no ouster, Adolph argued he was not liable to Bertha for the imputed rental value of the home. He also contended that the July 2017 hearing had afforded him "no time or opportunity to present evidence" on the rental value of the home. Judge Woodman summarily denied Adolph's motion.

         Adolph appeals.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review "the superior court's decision to grant credit for post-separation mortgage payments for abuse of discretion."[4] "Under the abuse of discretion standard, we ask 'whether the reasons for the exercise of discretion are clearly untenable or unreasonable.' "[5]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The superior court's order allocating the sale proceeds included this ...


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