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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Coleman v. McCullough (12/14/2012) sp-6733

Coleman v. McCullough (12/14/2012) sp-6733

        Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in the PACIFIC  REPORTER . 

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TIERICE V. COLEMAN,                           ) 

                                              )       Supreme Court No. S-14367 

               Appellant,                     ) 

                                              )       Superior Court No. 3AN-09-04745 CI 

        v.                                    ) 

                                              )       O P I N I O N 

ELKA M. MCCULLOUGH,                           ) 

                                              )       No. 6733 - December 14, 2012 

               Appellee.                      ) 


               Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third 

               Judicial District, Anchorage, Patrick J. McKay, Judge. 

               Appearances:      Herman G. Walker, Jr. and Lynda A. Limón, 

               Anchorage, for Appellant.       No appearance by Appellee. 

               Before:      Carpeneti,     Chief   Justice,  Fabe,   Winfree,    and 

               Stowers, Justices. 

               STOWERS, Justice. 


               Tierice Coleman is the biological father of two minor sons, T.C. and J.C.1 

T.C. was born in January 2000 to Elka McCullough, a woman with whom Coleman had 

a brief relationship. J.C. was born in March 2000 to Laura Bianchi, a woman with whom 

        1      We use initials to protect the children's privacy. 

----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

 Coleman had a long-term relationship at the time of J.C.'s birth and with whom he was 

 cohabitating at the time of trial. 

                McCullough petitioned for child support with respect to T.C.  Coleman did 

 not contest that he owes support, but he argued that he should be allowed a deduction 

 under Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 90.3(a)(1)(D)2  because he is currently living with 

 J.C.,   the   child  of   his   relationship   with   Bianchi,   and   his   relationship   with   Bianchi 

 commenced prior to his relationship with McCulluogh. McCullough argued that because 

 J.C. was born after T.C., Coleman should not be allowed a deduction for his support of 

 J.C.  The superior court concluded that Coleman is not entitled to a deduction.  Coleman 

 appealed the superior court's ruling to this court, and we affirm that decision. 


                We reverse a child support   order only if "the superior court abused its 

 discretion    or  applied   the  wrong     legal  standard."3    We    exercise    our  "independent 

judgment when interpreting the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure." 4              We review questions 

 of law de novo and "adopt the rule of law which is most persuasive in light of precedent, 

 reason,   and   policy."5   We   interpret   statutes   "according   to   reason,   practicality,   and 

         2      Rule 90.3(a)(1)(D) reads:        "Adjusted annual income as used in this rule 

 means the parent's total income from all sources minus . . . child support for children 

from prior relationships living with the parent , calculated by using the formula provided 

by this rule . . . ." (Emphasis added.) 

         3      Kestner v. Clark , 182 P.3d 1117, 1121 (Alaska 2008). 

         4      Joseph v. State , 26 P.3d 459, 463 (Alaska 2001). 

         5      Ford v. Municipality of Anchorage , 813 P.2d 654, 655 (Alaska 1991). 

                                                   -2-                                            6733

----------------------- Page 3-----------------------

common sense, taking into account the plain meaning and purpose of the law as well as 

the intent of the drafters."6 



                Coleman   argues   that   Rule   90.3(a)(1)(D)   requires   that   he   be   allowed   a 

deduction for J.C.7 when calculating the child support owed for T.C.8  Rule 90.3(a)(1)(D) 

reads:   "Adjusted annual income as used in this rule means the parent's total income 

from all sources minus . . . child support for children from prior relationships living with 

the parent . . . ." (Emphasis added.)  Coleman argues that his income should be adjusted 

due to his current support of and residency with J.C., because, though J.C. was born after 

T.C., he was born to Bianchi, with whom Coleman had a relationship before he had a 

relationship with McCollough.          He believes that the plain language of the Rule and 

policy considerations support this result.        Coleman is incorrect. 

                In Alaska, a parent's duty of support begins on the day of the child's birth.9 

Even though the issue of support in this case is being litigated many years after the 

children's births, Coleman's duties of support arose on the day each child was born.  In 

Skinner v. Hagberg, for example, we explained: 

                        The trial court acknowledged "the general law" that a 

                parent's duty of support arises on the date the child is born, 

                but stated   that the Commentary   to   Alaska Civil Rule 90.3 

                directed    it  to  consider    "all  relevant   factors,"   including 

        6       Thoeni   v.   Consumer   Elec.   Servs.,   151   P.3d   1249,   1258   (Alaska   2007) 

(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). 

        7       His child with Bianchi, and his younger child. 

        8       His child with McCullough, and his older child. 

        9       See Matthews v. Matthews, 739 P.2d 1298, 1299 (Alaska 1987). 

                                                  -3-	                                           6733

----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

                 whether Hagberg knew he had a child support obligation, in 

                 determining when Hagberg's duty of support began.   The 

                 trial   court   found    that   Hagberg      did   not   know     "in   any 

                 meaningful sense" that he had a child support obligation until 

                 he received the paternity test results dated June 1, 2004, and 

                 chose     that  date   for  the   inception    of   Hagberg's      support 

                 obligation.  Settled law does not allow this approach. . . . [A] 

                 biological parent's duty of support begins on the child's date 

                 of birth and not when paternity is adjudicated. 

                                                     . . . 

                 [O]ur case law is clear:       the duty of parental support begins 

                 on the date of the child's birth.       Neither Civil Rule 90.3 nor 

                 the Commentary grants a trial court discretion to adjust the 

                 effective date of a parental child support obligation.               Civil 

                 Rule 90.3(c)(1) permits the trial court discretion to "vary the 

                 child    support    award     as  calculated"     under    Rule   90.3    in 

                 "unusual      circumstances"       when    manifest     injustice   would 

                 result if the award were not varied.   Read together with Civil 

                 Rule 90.3(c)(1), the Commentary relied on by the trial court 

                 refers only to limited circumstances in which the trial court 

                 may consider all relevant factors in deciding   whether it is 

                 appropriate to deviate from the Civil Rule 90.3 calculation of 

                 the   amount     of   retroactive    support    due   from   the   date   of 


                 Coleman's   duty       of   support   to  T.C.   arose   on   the   day   of   T.C.'s birth. 

Coleman's duty of support to J.C. arose two months later. These are the relevant dates 

for calculating child support and for applying Rule 90.3(a)(1)(D)'s provision regarding 

support   for   children   from   prior   relationships.   The   date   of   the   inception   of   the   prior 

relationship is immaterial. Coleman is therefore not entitled to a deduction for J.C. 

                 The     Commentary         to  Rule    90.3(a)(1)(D)       supports     this  conclusion. 

Commentary VI.B.2, which is directly on point, reads: 

        10       183 P.3d 486, 489-90 (Alaska 2008) (emphasis omitted). 

                                                     -4-                                               6733 

----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

                Subsequent   Children.       A   parent   with   a   support   obligation 

                may have other children living with him or her who were 

                born   or   adopted   after   the   support   obligation   arose.   The 

                existence of such "subsequent" children, even if the obligor 

                has   a   legal   obligation   to   support   these   children,   will   not 

                generally     constitute   good    cause   to  vary   the   guidelines. 

                However, the circumstances of a particular case involving 

                subsequent children might constitute unusual circumstances 

                justifying variation of support. The court should reduce child 

                support     if  the  failure  to  do   so  would    cause   substantial 

                hardship to the "subsequent" children.[11] 

Read in conjunction with Hagberg ,12 this Commentary emphasizes that at T.C.'s birth, 

Coleman had no other support obligations, but at J.C.'s birth, Coleman had a preexisting 

support obligation to T.C.       J.C. is a child who was "living with [Coleman] who [was] 

born . . . after the support obligation arose."13 


                The judgment of the superior court is AFFIRMED. 

        11      Alaska R. Civ. P. 90.3 cmt. VI(B)(2). 

        12      183 P.3d at 489, 490. 

        13      Alaska R. Civ. P. 90.3 cmt. VI(B)(2). 

                                                  -5-                                             6733 

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