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Alaska Child Support Enforcement Division v. Delaney (8/7/98), 962 P 2d 187


     Notice:  This opinion is subject to correction before publication in
the Pacific Reporter.  Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of the
Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone (907)
264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878.


             THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA

STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT   )
OF REVENUE, CHILD SUPPORT     )    Supreme Court No. S-8066
ENFORCEMENT DIVISION, ex rel. )
KAREN WALLACE,                )    Superior Court No.
                              )    3AN-82-8473 CI
               Appellant,     )
                              )    
          v.                  )    O P I N I O N       
                              )
DONALD B. DELANEY, JR.,       )    [No. 5015 - August 7, 1998]
                              )
               Appellee.      )   
                              )


          Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage,
                      Karen L. Hunt, Judge.

          Appearances:  Terisia K. Chleborad, Assistant
Attorney General, Anchorage, and Bruce M. Botelho, Attorney
General, Juneau, for Appellant.  No appearance by Appellee.

          Before: Matthews, Chief Justice, Compton,
Eastaugh, Fabe, and Bryner, Justices.

          COMPTON, Justice.


I.   INTRODUCTION
          The Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) appeals a
superior court order that reduced Donald Delaney's child support
arrearage to a judgment that did not include interest.  We conclude
that CSED is entitled to collect $6,497.18 in interest from Donald.
We reverse and remand with instructions to amend the judgment
accordingly.
II.  FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
          In November 1990 Karen Wallace and Donald Delaney were
divorced.  Pursuant to a Child Custody and Support Order (Support
Order) Karen was awarded custody of their only child.  The Support
Order required Donald to pay $283.33 per month in child support. 
It provided that if either parent applied to CSED for CSED
services, support payments would thereafter be made directly to
CSED.  The Support Order also stated: "Notice is given that
interest will be imposed in accordance with AS 47.23.020 on
payments which are 10 or more days overdue or if payment is made by
a check backed by insufficient funds."  As Karen had already
endorsed the Support Order stating that "I hereby apply for the
administrative and enforcement services of [CSED],"the court
clerk's office promptly mailed a copy of the Support Order and
Karen's endorsement to Karen, Donald, and CSED.  Donald was living
in Washington State, Karen in Anchorage.
          On January 30, 1991, CSED sent a letter to Donald
informing him that "[t]he payment records in your file establish
that your payments toward that support debt are presently owing in
the amount of $528.76 including penalty and interest computed to
date in accordance with (AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C)) and interest on any
judgment amount."  Furthermore, the letter stated that Donald was
"hereby notified, pursuant to Alaska Statute 25.27.150, that [he
is] liable under said support order . . . for current and past due
support . . . . [His] liability under said support order is
accruing monthly."  CSED sent the letter to Donald's residence in
Washington.  In February 1992 CSED sent Donald a Child Support
Account Audit, which showed that he owed $4,273.13 in past due
support and interest.  
          To collect support from Donald, CSED solicited the help
of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Office
of Support Enforcement (OSE).  In October 1996 OSE sent Donald a
letter stating that it was no longer enforcing the current support
requirement of his child support order.  Rather, OSE's letter
stated, Donald "must pay a past-due child support debt of
$16,787.13 for the period 1/1/91 - 9/30/96 (69MO X $283.33)
$19,549.77 LESS PD $2,762.64)."  On November 25, 1996, Donald
signed an OSE Waiver of Statute of Limitations Defense (Waiver)
form.  The Waiver stated that Donald agreed "with [a] $200/month
limitation on amount to be paid each month."
          On December 31 CSED moved pursuant to AS 25.27.226 to
reduce Donald's child support arrearage to judgment.  CSED's
supporting memorandum stated: "CSED is entitled to judgment against
Donald Delaney in the amount of $23,284.31 for support arrears
accrued through December 19, 1996.  CSED also requests post
judgment interest at the legal rate of 6%, pursuant to AS 25.27.025
and AS 43.05.225(2)(B), and costs incurred in executing on the
judgment."  In January 1997 Donald responded by letter to CSED's
motion, stating:
          I currently am paying on this debt to the
Office Of Support Enforcement in Seattle.  I am making regular
payments of $200.00 per month.  I have enclosed the papers that
were recently filed here in Seattle.  From this point on could you
please deal with the Seattle office and in turn they can contact me
as to what is going on with my case.  I do not feel it is necessary
for me to be dealing with both offices.

With his letter to CSED, Donald enclosed a copy of the OSE notice
stating that he owed $16,787.13 and the Waiver he signed stating
that he would pay $200 per month toward the debt.  In its Reply to
Defendant's Response to Motion to Reduce Child Support Arrears to
Judgment, CSED stated that Washington's enforcement of the support
order "does not prevent CSED from reducing arrears to judgment
under AS 25.27.226. . . . Despite the involvement of the Washington
child support agency, Alaska law continues to govern the nature and
amount of the support obligation under the Alaska order."
          In February 1997 the superior court entered a judgment
against Donald for $16,787.13.  The judgment did not reflect the
interest that CSED calculated that Donald owed on his support
arrearage.  CSED appeals. 
III. DISCUSSION
     A.   Standard of Review
          This appeal involves the interpretation of Alaska's child
support statutes.  Issues of statutory interpretation are questions
of law which we review de novo.  See State v. Valdez, 941 P.2d 144,
148 (Alaska 1997);  Sauve v. Winfree, 907 P.2d 7, 9 (Alaska 1995). 
On questions of law, our duty is "to adopt the rule of law that is
most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy."   Guin
v. Ha, 591 P.2d 1281, 1284 n.6 (Alaska 1979). 
          B.   Under Either the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of
Support Act or the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, CSED Is
Entitled to Collect $6,497.18 in Interest from Donald.

          In 1953 the Alaska Legislature enacted the Uniform
Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA).  See former
AS 25.25.010 - 25.25.270 (repealed 1995).   This legislation "was
intended as a means to improve the enforcement of child support
obligations when parents cross state lines."  Valdez, 941 P.2d at
148.   Until 1995, when the Alaska Legislature repealed URESA and
replaced it with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA),
AS 25.25.101 - 25.25.903, URESA was the controlling law regarding
support orders in Alaska. [Fn. 1]
          Pursuant to former AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C) [Fn. 2] and
AS 25.27.025, [Fn. 3] CSED charged Donald interest on his support
arrearage.  A CSED Audit Worksheet showed that, as of December
1996, Donald owed CSED $23,284.31 in support arrearage.  This
amount included accrued interest.  This is the amount that CSED
moved the superior court to reduce to a judgment.  In accordance
with former AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C), CSED notified Donald in 1991
that he was being charged interest on support payments more than
ten days past due. [Fn. 4]  Therefore, CSED met the statutory
requirements (set out in former AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C) and
AS 25.27.025) for charging Donald interest on his support
arrearage.
          1.   Under URESA, CSED is entitled to collect $6,497.18
in interest from Donald.
               a.   Washington's recalculation of the child
support owed by Donald and agreement with him to pay $200 per month
did not supersede Alaska's support order.
          When OSE informed Donald that he owed $16,787.13 in child
support arrearage and arranged for him to pay $200 per month in
support, it was acting contrary to CSED's mandatory policy of
charging interest on support arrearage.  See former
AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C) (providing that CSED "shall"charge interest
on child support payments more than ten days overdue).  CSED argues
that "the Washington child support agency's calculation of Mr.
Delaney's child support debt does not affect the child support
order and is not binding in Alaska.  The Washington agency was
simply enforcing the Alaska order."  CSED cites our holding in
Valdez in support of its argument.
          In Valdez, CSED appealed the superior court's conclusions
that it was barred from collecting arrearages from Valdez and that
a California support order superseded a support order in an Alaska
divorce decree.  See Valdez, 941 P.2d at 146.  We held that the
superior court had erred on both issues.   See id. at 154.  
          In 1983 Valdez was ordered by an Alaska divorce decree to
pay $400 per month in child support.  See id. at 146.  Valdez then
moved to California.  See id.  In 1984 the California superior
court, responding to a URESA petition filed by CSED, [Fn. 5]
approved a stipulation that required Valdez "to pay $250 per month
with an additional $25 toward arrearages."  Id. at 147-48.  In 1994
Valdez's ex-wife filed a petition in the Alaska superior court to
increase Valdez's support payments.  See id. at 147.  The
modification was granted.  See id.  Later, the Alaska superior
court, in response to Valdez's Motion to Clarify Amount of Child
Support Arrearages, ordered that 

          child support amounts assessed against Mr.
Valdez shall be $400 through July 31, 1984.  From August 1, 1984 to
the present, absent no other court orders in evidence, the amount
of child support assessed shall be $250 per month. . . . This court
and CSED are bound by the United States Constitution to give full
faith and credit to judgments and orders of other states. 

Id.  Both parties appealed.
          On appeal this court identified the issue in Valdez as
the "effect which a new support order entered by a responding state
court has on a support order previously entered by the initiating
state."  Id. at 148.  We held that section 30 of URESA and
section 31 of the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support
Act (RURESA) mean that  "[a] responding court may order the payment
of an amount differing from an earlier order entered by the
initiating state.  However, such an order modifies, nullifies, or
supersedes an earlier order only when the responding court so
specifies.  Otherwise, the original order of support remains fully
enforceable."  Id. at 149.  We stated that "an interpretation that
gives deference to the original, unmodified order of support
correlates with the intent of URESA to aid in the enforcement of
support obligations when parents travel to new jurisdictions."  Id.
at 150.
          CSED argues that "[i]f, under Valdez an order issued by
a Washington tribunal has no affect on an Alaska support order,
then certainly the manner in which the Washington agency calculated
and enforced Mr. Delaney's debt under an Alaskan order can have no
effect."  We agree.  Pursuant to Valdez, OSE's calculation (which
did not include interest) has no effect on the original Alaska
support order, which included interest.
          Washington's OSE assisted CSED by collecting some support
payments from Donald [Fn. 6] and by sending him a Notice to Resume
Child Support Payments (Notice).  The Notice calculated Donald's
support arrears as totaling $16,787.13.  Since we held in Valdez
that a court order that did not specify that it was modifying,
nullifying, or superseding the original support order could not
affect the original order to pay support, OSE's Notice can have no
effect on Alaska's support order, which states that interest will
be charged on any support payments more than ten days overdue.  See
Valdez, 941 P.2d at 149.
          The Notice sent by OSE was not a court order, nor did it
specify that it modified, nullified, or superseded Alaska's support
order.  The notice stated:
          On or about 02/01/93 the Office of Support
Enforcement (OSE) stopped enforcing the current support requirement
of your child support order.  The child support order covered the
following children: Donald B. Delaney. 

          OSE is now enforcing your child support order
for the children listed above. 

          . . . . 

          You must pay a past-due child support debt of
$16787.13 . . . .

          While OSE's Notice stated that it was no longer enforcing
the original support order, it did not specifically state that the
Notice (fixing the amount owed at $16,787.13) was meant to modify,
supersede, or nullify the amount or terms of the original support
order.  Rather, the Notice was informing Donald that OSE would not
be attempting to collect the individual child support payments, as
required under the support order, but rather would be seeking to
collect the total amount of child support payment that was in
arrears, i.e., $16,787.13.  The Notice did not state that OSE was
choosing to not enforce Alaska's mandatory policy of charging
interest on past due child support payments.  Furthermore, the
Notice stated: "Your child support obligation continues as long as
your child support order remains in effect.  The source for your
support obligation is: . . . A state or tribal court order entered
on 11/02/90."  More important than OSE's failure to specifically
mention that it was modifying the support order by choosing to not
charge interest is the fact that the Notice was merely a letter
from a Washington agency, not a court order as in Valdez.  We
conclude that OSE's Notice was insufficient to eliminate the
provision of the original support order requiring Donald to pay
interest. 
          Former AS 25.25.060 might have made Washington law
applicable with respect to Donald's duty to pay interest on late
support payments, had the original child support order been
modified.   But the Alaska decree was not modified and it plainly
calls for interest on unpaid arrearages.  It follows that whether
under Washington law interest is due on unpaid arrearages is
irrelevant.  Furthermore, even if Washington law was applicable to
the case at hand, the provision in Alaska's order requiring payment
of interest on support payments is compatible with existing
Washington law.
          We conclude that under URESA CSED may collect $6,497.18
in interest from Donald.
          2.   Under UIFSA, CSED is entitled to collect $6,497.18
in interest from Donald.
          UIFSA, as adopted by the Alaska legislature in 1995,
specifically provides that "[a] tribunal of this state issuing a
support order consistent with the law of this state has continuing,
exclusive jurisdiction over a child support order." 
AS 25.25.205(a).  Furthermore, "[t]he law of the issuing state
governs the nature, extent, amount, and duration of current
payments and other obligations of support and the payment of
arrearages under the order."  AS 25.25.604.  Alaska loses exclusive
jurisdiction over a child support order only if another state
modifies the support order.  See  AS 25.25.205(c).  
          In the instant case, Alaska is the issuing state [Fn. 7]
and Washington the responding state. [Fn. 8]  Alaska thus retains
exclusive jurisdiction over the support order as long as Washington
has not modified it.  UIFSA's choice of law provision provides that
Alaska's exclusive jurisdiction extends to the "amount and . . .
other obligations of support and the payment of arrearages under
the order."  AS 25.25.604.  Unless Washington modified the support
order, CSED was entitled to collect from Donald interest on his
support arrearage.  
          Pursuant to UIFSA, a petitioner must meet the following
three requirements to enable a Washington court to modify the
Alaska support order: 
          (A)  the child, the individual obligee, and
the obligor do not reside in [Alaska];

          (B)  a petitioner who is not a resident of
[Alaska] seeks modification; and

          (C)  the respondent is subject to the personal
jurisdiction of the tribunal of the [modifying state, Washington].

AS 25.25.611(a)(1)(A)-(C). [Fn. 9]  Donald's child still resides in
Alaska, the issuing state; thus, Washington could not have modified
the support order.  We conclude that Alaska retained exclusive
jurisdiction over the Support Order and that, under UIFSA, CSED was
entitled to collect interest from Donald. 
IV.  CONCLUSION
          We REVERSE the superior court's order reducing Donald's
child support arrears to a judgment for $16,787.13 and REMAND with
instructions that it amend the judgment to include $6,497.18 in
interest, thus increasing Donald's obligation to a total of
$23,284.31.


                            FOOTNOTES


Footnote 1:

     Because we conclude that CSED is entitled to collect $6,497.18
in interest from Donald under either URESA or UIFSA, we need not
decide which statute is controlling. 


Footnote 2:

     Former AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C) provides in part:

          (a)  The agency shall

          . . . . 

          (2)  adopt regulations . . . that establish

          . . . .

          (C)  subject to AS 25.27.025 and to federal
law, a uniform rate of interest on arrearages of support that shall
be charged the obligor upon notice if child support payments are 10
or more days overdue or if payment is made by a check backed by
insufficient funds . . . .

          This subsection was renumbered AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(B) in
1997, after the superior court ruled in this case.


Footnote 3:

     AS 25.27.025 provides:  "The rate of interest imposed under AS
25.27.020(a)(2)(C) shall be six percent a year or a lesser rate
that is the maximum rate of interest permitted to be imposed under
federal law."  This statute was amended in 1997 to reflect that AS
25.27.020(a)(2)(C) was changed to 25.27.020(a)(2)(B).


Footnote 4:

     "The payment records in your file establish that your payments
toward that support debt are presently owing in the amount of
$528.76 including penalty and interest computed to date in
accordance with (AS 25.27.020(a)(2)(C)) and interest on any
judgment amount."


Footnote 5:

     "Alaska served as an 'initiating state' in 1984 by forwarding
a URESA petition to California, the state to which [Valdez] had
moved.  Upon receipt of the petition, California, the 'responding
state,' had several options, including establishing a new support
order or enforcing an existing support order."  State v. Valdez,
941 P.2d 144, 148 (Alaska 1997) (citations omitted).


Footnote 6:

     CSED credited Donald for all of the support payments he made
to OSE.


Footnote 7:

     "'[I]ssuing state' means the state in which a tribunal issues
a support order or renders a judgment determining parentage."  AS
25.25.101(9).    


Footnote 8:

     "'[R]esponding state' means a state in which a proceeding is
forwarded under this chapter or a law substantially similar to this
chapter, the former provisions of this chapter, the Uniform
Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, or the Revised Uniform
Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act."  AS 25.25.101(16).  


Footnote 9:

     Washington has also adopted UIFSA.  Specifically,
RCW 26.21.580 sets out the same three requirements that a
petitioner must satisfy to enable a Washington court to modify
another state's support order.