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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. Adolph Hall v. Bertha Delores Hall (8/16/2019) sp-7401

Adolph Hall v. Bertha Delores Hall (8/16/2019) sp-7401

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

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                       THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA                                         

ADOLPH  HALL,                                                          )  

                                                                       )     Supreme  Court  No.  S-16973  

                                 Appellant,                            )  


                                                                       )     Superior Court No. 3PA-14-01357 CI  

           v.                                                          )  


                                                                       )     O P I N I O N  


BERTHA DELORES HALL,                                                   )  


                                                                       )     No. 7401 - August 16, 2019  



                                 Appellee.                             )  



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


                      Judicial District, Palmer, Jonathan A. Woodman, Judge.  


                      Appearances:              J.  Matthew  Hayes,  Matanuska  Law  LLC,  


                      Palmer,  for  Appellant.                  Lynda A.  Limón, Anchorage,  for  




                      Before:  Bolger, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen,  


                      and Carney, Justices.  


                      STOWERS, Justice.  



                      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.  

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                             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                                              

                                                                                                                                                  1   While we review  

credit for post-separation payments made to preserve marital assets.                                                                                                         

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.  




                             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 propert[ies 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  


               1             834 P.2d 807, 809 (Alaska 1992).                            



                             Other assets not at issue in this appeal included real estate in Louisiana and  


Mississippi. We addressed these and other assets in Hall v. Hall, 426 P.3d 1006 (Alaska  


                                                                                           -2-                                                                                  7401

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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                         

                                                                                                                                                                                                          3    and  before  

any   reimbursement   would   have   to   take   the   form   of   a   Ramsey   credit,                                                                                                                                    

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  


                  3                  See Ramsey                      , 834 P.2d at 809 ("We have required that trial courts consider                                                                                   

payments made to maintain marital property frompost-separation income when dividing                                                                                                                                     

marital property. We have not, however, held that the spouse who makes such payments                                                                                                                                

must   necessarily   be   given   credit   for   them in                                                                           the   final   property   division."   (citation  


                                                                                                                   -3-                                                                                                          7401

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mortgage payments for abuse of discretion."                                      "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 ruling  


on the mortgage payments:  


                                   [Adolph] lived in the house post-separation until the  


                       house  was  sold.                 [Adolph]  seeks  reimbursement  for  the  


                       mortgage  payments  he  made  during  this  time.                                          [Bertha]  


                       opposes, arguing that [Adolph] had the benefit of living in the  


                       home rent-free during that period, and thus is not entitled to  


                       credit for the mortgage payments.   The Court agrees with  


                        [Bertha],  thus  [Adolph]  shall  not  be  reimbursed  for  


                       mortgage payments made between separation and the  


                        sale of the house. (Emphasis in original.)  


The court did not discuss whether it had declined to award Adolph a Ramsey credit or  


instead had determined that Ramsey was inapplicable in this case because the parties had  


divorced more than two years prior.  


                       We  hold  that  Ramsey  applies  to  payments  made  to  maintain  marital  


property from post-divorce until the time of sale and that the superior court was required  


to conduct a full analysis under Ramsey and its progeny.6                                              In Ramsey we noted:  


            4          Maxwell v. Sosnowski                   , 420 P.3d 1227, 1231 (Alaska 2018).                   

            5          Jensen D. v. State, Dep't of Health & Soc. Servs., 424 P.3d 385, 387  


(Alaska 2018) (quoting Burke v. Maka, 296 P.3d 976, 980 (Alaska 2013)).  


            6          We reject Adolph's argument that cotenancy principles apply to spouses  


once  their  divorce  is  final.                     When  former  spouses  liquidate  their  marital  property  


following a divorce, they remain subject to the superior court's discretion to fashion an  


                                                                           RETT  R. T       URNER, E        QUITABLE  DISTRIBUTION  

equitable distribution of property.  See 2 B 



                                                                         -4-                                                                   7401

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                                             We have required that trial courts consider payments                                             

                              made   to   maintain   marital   property   from   post-separation  

                              income   when   dividing   marital   property.     We   have   not,  

                              however, held that the spouse who makes such payments                                                          

                              must necessarily be given credit for them in the final property                                                    

                              division. . . . [I]t is our view that no fixed rule requiring credit                                                     

                              in all cases should be imposed.                                            Instead, the fact that one                        

                              party   has   made   payments   from   non-marital  income   to  

                              preserve marital property should be considered as one of the                                                                   

                              circumstances to be weighed by the trial court in dividing the                                                                 

                                                                    [  ]  

                              marital property.                      7 

We remanded the case and directed the superior court to "make written findings on this  



                              Under Ramsey, the superior court must consider a credit, but it need not  


award one unless it finds that doing so is equitable; either way, the court must make  


written findings explaining its decision.  Looking only to Ramsey and some of our other  


decisions, one might conclude that any written finding is sufficient.  For example, in  


Knutson v. Knutson we said:  "We have recognized that living in the marital residence  


after dissolution or divorce has value. The record justifies an assumption that the benefit  


of living in the home was not materially less than the cost of the mortgage payments."9  


But we did not describe the underlying factual record in greater detail. Our analysis was  


similarly spare in Rodriguez v. Rodriguez :  


               6              (...continued)  

OF  PROPERTY  §  6:86,  at  608-09  (4th  ed.  Jan.  2019  update)  ("So  long  as  the  divorce  case  

remains pending, . .  . parties  to  a  divorce  case  [are]  not  at  all  like  other  joint owners of  


               7              Ramsey, 834 P.2d at 809 (citation omitted).  


               8              Id.  

               9              973 P.2d 596, 601 (Alaska 1999) (citation omitted).  


                                                                                             -5-                                                                                      7401

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                             [T]hesuperior court determined that                                          Rolandowas                  not entitled  

                             to reimbursement because he had lived in the house after the                                                              

                             parties separated and thus a credit would constitute an unfair                                                      

                             advantage to Rolando.                             In other words, any benefit which he                                      

                             may have imparted to the marital estate was offset by the                                                                 

                             benefit he received from the estate by living rent-free.                                                            [10]  

We relied on Rodriguez in our recent decision in Hockema v. Hockema, stating: "Given  


the benefit Scott derived from living in the home . . . it was not clearly unjust for the  


court to deny him credit for the mortgage payments he made."11  


                             We do not disavow these decisions, but in hindsight we may not have done  


a sufficient job of explaining why we affirmed in these cases where the superior court's  


findings were themselves facially sparse.  As an appellate court, we are loathe to make  


assumptions about key factual matters.12                                                     The superior court has broad discretion to  


award a Ramsey credit in full, in part, or not at all.13  But however deferential our review,  


we must be able to discern that the superior court considered a Ramsey credit and what  


its rationale was for awarding or denying it.  


                             These requirements are not new.  The majority of our post-Ramsey cases  


have been more specific; these cases control. For example, in Berry v. Berry the superior  


court's property distribution implicitly denied a Ramsey  credit to the wife, but "the  


               10            908  P.2d   1007,   1013  (Alaska   1995).  

               11            403  P.3d   1080,   1091  (Alaska  2017).  

               12            See  Berry  v.  Berry,  978  P.2d  93,  97  (Alaska  1999)  ("[T]he  absence  of  fact  

findings  on  the  credit  issue  consigns  us  to  speculation  and  prevents  us  from  applying  the  

deferential  .  .  .  standard  of  review.").  

               13            See Partridge v. Partridge, 239 P.3d 680, 691 n.47 (Alaska 2010) ("[I]t is  


for the trial  court to  decide whether  [to award]  a  dollar-for-dollar credit in the  final  


property division.").  


                                                                                          -6-                                                                                  7401

----------------------- Page 7-----------------------


superior court did not expressly resolve the credit issue" in its findings.                                                                        We were   

unable to conclude from the record, as a matter of law, that the wife was not entitled to                                                                         

               15   We therefore remanded the case to the superior court for consideration of the  

a credit.                                                                                                                                                       

Ramsey  credit, specifying that its factual findings "must be explicit and sufficiently  


detailed  to  give  this  court  a  clear  understanding  of  the  basis  of  the  trial  court's  




                          In Edelman v. Edelman there was no factual dispute that the wife had made  


the post-separation mortgage payments for which she sought credit in the property  


distribution.17   The superior court did not award her the credit, but neither did it explain  


its reasoning; because we could not tell fromthe record whether the court had considered  


the issue at all, we remanded the case for findings of fact.18  Likewise, in our unpublished  


decision in Johnson v. Johnson we acknowledged that when one spouse remains in the  


marital home and pays to maintain it, the superior court may reason that the benefit to  


                                                                                                                                                19    But, we  

the marital estate is offset by the spouse's enjoyment of living rent-free.                                                                                     




                          even  though  we  have  declined  to  impose  a  fixed  rule  


                          regarding credit for post-separation payments, we do require  


                          that trial courts at a minimum:  (1) consider whether a party  


                          should be reimbursed for post-separation costs incurred to  


             14          Berry, 978 P.2d at 96.



                         Id. at 97.



                         Id. at n.15 (quoting Doyle v. Doyle, 815 P.2d 366, 368 (Alaska 1991)).

             17           3 P.3d 348, 354 (Alaska 2000).                  

             18          Id.



                         Johnson v. Johnson, No. S-12891, 2009 WL 564692, at *5 (Alaska Mar.  


4, 2009).  

                                                                                -7-                                                                         7401

----------------------- Page 8-----------------------

                       preserve the marital property, and (2) make factual findings                              

                       on whether a credit is appropriate.                        [20]  

Still other cases make the same point.  The superior court in Korn v. Korn determined  


the rental value of the marital home and used this to reduce the occupying spouse's share  


of the marital estate.21                  But because there were no findings to explain how the court  


derived this rental value or why it decided to impute it to the occupying spouse, we  


vacated the court's property division and remanded the case.22  


                       In a recent unpublished decision, we affirmed the superior court's denial  


of a Ramsey credit because the court "made the required findings, noting that Benjamin  


had resided in the home throughout the proceedings and that the home had a 'reasonable  


rental  value of at least the amount of the monthly  mortgage payment,'  which  was  


$1,280."23   The court's findings made evident its consideration and analysis of a Ramsey  




                       The superior court in this case recited Bertha's argument that Adolph was  


not entitled to a Ramsey credit because he had lived rent-free in the marital home while  


he was making the post-divorce mortgage payments. The court stated that it "agree[d],"  


but it did not sufficiently explain why it agreed.  If the court determined that the rental  


value of the home was roughly equivalent to the mortgage payments, or if it determined  


that other equitable factors weighed against awarding a credit to Adolph, then those  


            20         Id.  

            21         46  P.3d   1021,   1023  (Alaska  2002).  

            22         Id.  at   1024.  

            23         Benjamin  S.  v.  Stephenie  S.,  No.  S-16007,  2018  WL  669169,  at  *8  (Alaska  

Jan.  31,  2018).  

                                                                        -8-                                                                  7401

----------------------- Page 9-----------------------

 determinations failed to make their way into its findings of fact.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    This deficiency in the                                                                        

 findings prevents us from conducting a meaningful review of the court's order.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                 We therefore vacate the court's order allocating the proceeds from the sale                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 of the marital home and the adjoining lot, and we remand for the court to clarify the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

 factual basis for its decision. In its discretion the court is free to take additional evidence                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 as it finds necessary, including on what the rental value of the home might have been                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 during the time between the parties' divorce and the sale of the home. With that analysis                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

 complete, the court should consider again whether to award a                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Ramsey  credit for some or                                                                                                

 all of Adolph's post-divorce mortgage payments, explaining its decision with sufficient                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

written findings.                                                                24  

V.                               CONCLUSION  

                                                                 The superior court's order allocating the proceeds from the sale of the  


marital  home is  VACATED  and  the  case is  REMANDED for  further  proceedings  


 consistent with this opinion.  


                                 24                              In   a   recent   decision   involving  the   same   parties,   we   remanded   for   the  

 superior court to consider whether certain out-of-state properties were marital assets.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Hall   v.   Hall,   426   P.3d   1006,   1011   (Alaska   2018).     In   light   of   that   decision,   and  

 depending on the court's findings on remand in the case now before us, it may be                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

necessary for the court to revisit the equitable distribution of the marital estate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                                                                            -9-                                                                                                                                                                                              7401

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