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You can search the entire site. or go to the recent opinions, or the chronological or subject indices. John B. Morris v. Andrea L. Morris (3/25/2022) sp-7587

John B. Morris v. Andrea L. Morris (3/25/2022) sp-7587

          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, email  

          corrections@akcourts.gov.  



                      THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA                                   



JOHN  B.  MORRIS,                                                  )  

                                                                   )    Supreme  Court  No.  S-17948  

                               Appellant,                          )  

                                                                                                                                

                                                                   )    Superior Court No. 3KN-17-00886 CI  

          v.                                                       )  

                                                                                           

                                                                   )    O P I N I O N  

                      

ANDREA L. MORRIS,                                                  )  

                                                                                                           

                                                                   )   No. 7587 - March 25, 2022  

                               Appellee.                           )  

                                                                   )  



                                                                                                         

                                          

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

                                                                                  

                     Judicial District, Kenai, Jason M. Gist, Judge.  



                                                                                                

                     Appearances:   Elizabeth H. Leduc, Gilman & Pevehouse,  

                                                                                                     

                     Kenai, for Appellant.   Notice of nonparticipation filed by  

                                                                                                             

                     Lannette R. Nickens, Nickens Law & Mediation, Kenai, for  

                     Appellee.  



                                                                                                   

                     Before:           Winfree,         Chief       Justice,       Maassen,         Carney,  

                                                                

                     Borghesan, and Henderson Justices.  



                                       

                     CARNEY, Justice.  



I.        INTRODUCTION  



                                                                                                                            

                     A man appeals the division of marital property in his divorce.  He argues  



                                                                                                                                   

that the superior court made five errors:  crediting the opposing expert's valuation of  



                                                                                                                             

certain marital property; refusing to credit him for post-separation mortgage and utility  



                                                                                                                           

payments; treating a particular marital debt improperly; finding that a gift of marital  



                                                                                                                         

property became his ex-wife's separate property; and declining to offset the property  


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awarded to his ex-wife with money she received fromtheir child's insurance benefit. We  



                                                                                                                             

affirm the court's order except for its treatment of the marital debt and its conclusion that  



                                                                                                                                    

the man's gift of marital property was not returned to the marital estate by his ex-wife.  



                                 

II.       FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS  



          A.        Facts  



                                                                                                                                

                    John and Andrea Morris married in 2001 and permanently separated in  



                                                                

September 2017.  Their child was born in 2003.  



                                                                                                                   

                    During the marriage John worked various jobs, including heavy equipment  



                                                                                                                        

operation and goldsmithing. Andrea primarily worked as a hairdresser until she became  



                                                                                                                    

disabled by kidney failure in 2008.   Andrea then received Social Security Disability  



                                                                                                                    

Insurance (SSDI) for herself as well as about $500 a month in Children's Insurance  



                                                                                                                           

Benefits (CIB) for their child.  Andrea was required to spend the CIB funds on the child  



                                                                                                                      

and submit an annual accounting to the Social Security Administration. Andrea received  



                                                                                                      

the CIB funds until November 2018 when John replaced her as the payee.  



                                                                                                                                

                    Throughout the marriage John and Andrea kept separate bank accounts; at  



                                                                                                   

trial they disputed who paid for which marital expenses and how much.  John testified  



                                                                                                                   

that he paid for most of the household expenses - including utilities, cars, insurance,  



                                                                                                                          

and the portion of their mortgage payments not covered by rental income - while  



                                                                                                                       

Andrea's disability benefit paid for groceries and various items for their child.  Andrea,  



                                                                                                                             

however, testified she paid for her gas, the shared phone bill, most of the food and  



                                                                   

clothing, and her student loans and medical bills.  



                                                                                                                           

                    In 2007 John and Andrea used money from the sale of his premarital home  



                                                               

to purchase their marital home in Kenai; the marital home had a detached garage with  



                                                                                                                     

an apartment.  They rented out the house at $1,400 a month to pay most of the mortgage  



                                                                                                                  

and lived in the apartment.  The rest of the mortgage was paid with John's wages.  



                                                               -2-                                                        7587
  


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

                                                                                                                            

                    Andrea and their child remained in the marital home from September 2017  



                                                                                                                      

until Andrea moved to New Mexico in December. John continued to make the mortgage  



                                                                                                                              

payments.  After Andrea left, John moved back into the apartment with the child and  



                                                                                                    

rented the main house to his son for a reduced rent of $1,200 per month.  



                                                                                                                             

                    JohnandAndreaalso purchased an investment property in Seldoviain2017  



                                                                                                           

for $39,500.  Shortly after they separated, John sold the property at a loss.  



          B.        Proceedings  



                                                                                                                        

                    Johnfiled for divorce a month after he and Andrea separated. They reached  



                                                

an agreement on child custody but proceeded to trial to determine the division of their  



                                                                                                                          

marital estate. The value and distribution of their marital property was contested during  



                   

a three-day trial.  



                                                                                                                           

                    John testified that they had tried to sell their home seven to nine years  



earlier for $309,000 and had not had any inquiries.  He testified that the house needed  



                                                                                                               

to be repainted, it had mold issues, and the roof, septic tank, and deck needed to be  



replaced.  



                                                                                                                        

                    Each called an expert witness to testify about the home's value.  Andrea  



                                                                                                                                  

called John Cristiano, a residential appraiser who had done a property inspection and a  



                                                                                                                               

sales comparison.  Cristiano testified that there was a shortage of houses for sale in the  



                                                                                                                             

area, the home was in average condition, and the condition of the septic system and well  



                                                                                                                          

was typical for the area.  He appraised the property by comparing it with similar homes  



                                                                                                                                     

in the area, adjusting for factors such as location, quality of construction, and condition.  



                                                                                                                               

Based  on  this  comparison,  he  valued  the  home  at  $310,000.                                 He  testified  that  his  



                                                                                                                              

valuation took into consideration the age of the home and "deferred maintenance and  



                                                                                                                                

repairs." But he acknowledged that he did not notice every issue with the home, and he  



                                                                                                                              

disagreed  with  John's  expert's  valuation  because  it  did  not  take  into  account  the  



                                 

apartment above the garage.  



                                                               -3-                                                         7587
  


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

                                                                                                                                     

                    John called Marti Pepper, a realtor, who valued the property at $258,000.  



                                                                                                                    

Whilesheacknowledgedthat Cristiano had a"moresophisticated"systemfor comparing  



                                                                                                                      

properties,  Pepper  testified  that  Cristiano  missed  "red  flags"  such  as  the  apparent  



                                                                                                                     

condition of the roof, attic, and deck. She testified that one of her comparison properties  



                                                                                                                              

had an above-garage apartment - albeit unfinished - and another had a bathroom and  



                    

office in the garage.  



                                                                                                                        

                    John and Andrea also disagreed about how the court should treat jewelry  



                                                                                                                              

that he had made and given to her while they were married.  John testified that the raw  



                                                                                                                           

materials for these pieces cost approximately $12,000 to $15,000, and that he had given  



                                                                                                                       

the jewelry to Andrea as a gift.  Andrea testified that when she moved to New Mexico,  



                                                                                                     

she "left all of his belongings . . . and put them in the garage, and the jewelry was part  



                                                                                                              

of it, because I didn't want anything to do with him."   Later she had acquaintances  



                                                                                                                                

collect her belongings from the house; there is no evidence that she asked them to  



                                                                                          

retrieve the jewelry.  John testified that he never found the jewelry.  



                                                                                                                               

                    They  also  disagreed  about  how  their  child's  CIB  funds  should  be  



                                                                                                                                

considered in the property division. Andrea testified that she was required to provide an  



                                                                                                                              

annual accounting of her CIB spending to the Social Security Administration and had  



                                                                                                                         

done so. She testified that she used the money for summer camp, entertainment, school,  



                                                                                                                            

clothing, and a cell phone for the child, and eventually began putting the money in an  



                                                                                                                            

account that their child had access to.  Andrea testified that when she moved to New  



                                                                                                                                     

Mexico, she received approval to use the money to furnish a bedroom there for the child.  



                                                                                                                                 

John was later granted sole legal and primary physical custody, and Andrea agreed to  



                       

make him the payee.  



                                                                                                                              

                    The superior court later issued its divorce decree and findings of fact and  



                                                                                                                               

conclusions of law.  The court valued the marital home at $310,000 and assigned the  



                                                                                                                            

value to John.  After noting that it "found both experts to be very credible," the court  



                                                               -4-                                                         7587
  


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

                                                                                                                               

"ultimately found [Cristiano's] valuation to be . . . more accurate."  It found that he had  



                                                                                                                       

"adequately accounted for the deterioration of parts of the home" and that his valuation  



                                                                              

reflected a shortage of single family homes on the market.  



                                                                                                                       

                    The superior court found that John and Andrea purchased the Seldovia  



                                                                                                                             

property for $39,500.  The purchase was financed by a $15,000 interest-free loan from  



                                                                                                                                

their child's savings account and a $17,000 loan taken out by John's business and in his  



                                                                                                                     

name.  No mention was made of the source of the remaining $7,500.  The court then  



                                                                                                                               

found that John sold the property for $35,000 but received a net amount of $33,000. The  



                                                                                                                              

court found that $15,000 was promptly repaid to the child's account, and that John kept  



                                                                                            

the remaining $18,000 as cash "to stay afloat and pay other bills."  



                                                                                                                                

                    The superior courtconcludedthat the $18,000 in proceeds were marital and  



                                                                                                                                 

assigned the value to John.   The court also found that the $17,000 loan "should be  



                                                                                                                                 

considered marital debt."  However, noting that John asked only that a "$4,500 loss be  



                                                                                                                             

counted as a marital debt," the court then assigned one half of that debt to John and made  



                                                                              

no mention of the $17,000 marital debt in its final accounting.  



                                                                                                                                      

                    The court found the jewelry John had given Andrea was separate property.  



                                                                                                                                  

It noted that "John's testimony clearly established" they were gifts, and noted that if  



                                                                                                                          

Andrea had kept them, "the court does not see why it would designate [them] as marital  



                                                                                                                                      

property.  This does not change simply because [they were] lost or even given away."  



                                                                                         

The court therefore held that it "will not treat the jewelry as marital property or assign  



              

value to it."  



                                                                                                                                

                    The superior court found that the SSDI and CIB benefits were "[o]ne of the  



                                                                                                                         

most  contested  issues  in  [the]  divorce."                      After  finding  that  "parts  of  both  parties'  



                                                                                                                                

testimony [were] credible," the court found that the funds were "justifiably spent on the  



                                                                                                                                

various day to day expenses for the family."  It therefore did not credit Andrea with the  



                       

funds she had received.  



                                                                -5-                                                         7587
  


----------------------- Page 6-----------------------

                                                              Finally, the superior court rejected Andrea's request that the court consider                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  



John's rental of the house to his son at a below-market rate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 It reasoned that because                                                       



Andrea had enjoyed the benefit of living in the home rent-free from the time the couple                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             



 separated until she left the state, "an award to Andrea alone would be unequitable." The                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       



court   also   declined   to   credit   John  for   his   post-contribution   mortgage   and   utilities  



payments.  



                                                              John filed a motion to reconsider.                                                                                                                                    He asked the court to reconsider its                                                                                                                               



decision to assign him the house rather than to order its sale; its denial of a credit for his                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        



post-separation mortgage payments; its analysis of the Seldovia property sale; its ruling                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              



that the jewelry was not a marital asset; its treatment of the CIB payments; and its                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  



accounting of past-due child support.                                                                                                                                         The court rejected most of the issues raised in the                                                                                                                                                                    



motion but adjusted John's equalization payment to Andrea to account for child support                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          



Andrea owed him.                                                 



                                                              John appeals the superior court's valuation of marital property; its decision                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  



not to credit him for post-separation mortgage and utility payments; its treatment of the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            



 Seldovia property debt; its finding that the jewelry he had given to Andrea became her                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             



 separate property; and its decision not to offset the property awarded to Andrea with                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

money she received from their child's CIB funds.                                                                                                                                                                                        1  



III.                            STANDARDS OF REVIEW  

                                                                                                                            



                                                               "There are three basic steps in the equitable division of marital assets:  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      



 (1) deciding what specific property is available for distribution, (2) finding the value of  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          



                                1                             Andrea does not participate in this appeal.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 



                                                                                                                                                                                                    -6-                                                                                                                                                                                      7587  


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                                                                                            2  

the property,          and   (3)   dividing   the property                equitably."     "[T]he characterization of                     

property as separate or marital may involve both legal and factual questions."                                               3  



                      We review findings of fact for clear error and review legal questions de  

                                                                                                                                        

         4   Clear error exists "only when we are left with a definite and firm conviction  

novo.                                                                                                                      

based on the entire record that a mistake has been made."5  Valuation of property "is a  

                                                                                                                                           

factual determination that wereviewforclear error."6  Wereviewthe equitable allocation  

                                                                                                                             

of property "for an abuse of discretion, reversing only if it is 'clearly unjust.' "7                                             Issues  

                                                                                                                                   



not timely raised in the superior court are reviewed only "for plain error.  Plain error  

                                                                                                                                    



exists 'where an obvious mistake has been made which creates a high likelihood that  

                                                                                                                                      

injustice has resulted.' "8  

                                          



IV.	       DISCUSSION  



                                                                                                                                     

           A.	        The Superior Court Did Not Clearly Err In Its Valuation Of The  

                                     

                      Marital Home.  



                                                                                                                                         

                      John argues that the superior court's valuation of  the marital home at  



                                                                                                                                

$310,000 assigned too much weight to Andrea's expert's testimony and failed to account  



           2         Pasley  v.  Pasley,  442  P.3d  738,  744  (Alaska  2019)  (quoting  Beals  v.  Beals,  



303  P.3d  453,  458  (Alaska  2013)).  



           3         Beals,  303  P.3d  at  459  (quoting  Odom  v.  Odom,  141  P.3d  324,  330  (Alaska  



2006)).  



           4         Pasley, 442 P.3d at 744.  

                                                       



           5         Id. (quoting Hockema v. Hockema, 403 P.3d 1080, 1088 (Alaska 2017)).  

                                                                                                                                 



           6         Id. (quoting Hockema, 403 P.3d at 1088).  

                                                                               



           7         Id. (quoting Grove v. Grove, 400 P.3d 109, 112 (Alaska 2017)).  

                                                                                                                  



           8         D.J. v. P.C., 36 P.3d 663, 667-68 (Alaska 2001) (quoting Sosa v. State,  

                                                                                                                                   

4 P.3d 951, 953 (Alaska 2000)).  

                                         



                                                                    -7-	                                                            7587
  


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

for the deteriorated condition of the home. We review the valuation of property for clear                                                                           



error and reverse "only when we are left with a definite and firm conviction based on the                                                                               



                                                                                         9  

entire record that a mistake has been made."                                                



                                                                                                                                                                               

                           The superior court heard conflicting testimony from the expert witnesses.  



                                                                                                                                                                

Each criticized the other's methods.   Andrea's expert Cristiano testified that John's  



expert's valuation failed to account for the apartment above the garage.  John's expert  



                                                                                                                                                                     

Pepper testified that Cristiano failed to account for the condition of the property.  The  



                                                                                                                                                        

court found both experts credible, but found Cristiano's valuation more persuasive  



                                                                                                                                                            

because the homes used  for comparison "more accurately represented the [marital]  



home."  



                                                                                                                                                               

                           John argues that the superior court "failed to fully consider" the home's  



                                                                                                                                                             

condition.  But the court explicitly addressed that criticism and found that by using an  



                                                                                                                                                              

"effective  age"  in  his  valuation  Cristiano  satisfied  the  concerns  about  the  home's  



                                                                                                                                                      

condition.                John  also  argues  that  the  court  put  too  much  weight  on  Cristiano's  



                                                                                                                                                           

comparable properties because some had better locations or were kept in better condition  



                                                                                                                                                             

than the marital home. But Cristiano's report and testimony took into account a number  



                                                                                                                                                                       

of factors including the quality of construction, the condition rating, remodel status, and  



location.  



                                                                                                                                                         

                           "[I]t is the function of the trial court, not of this court, to judge witnesses'  

                                                                                              10    Because the superior court carefully  

                                                                                                                                                            

credibility and to weigh conflicting evidence." 



             9             Pasley, 442 P.3d at 744.                



              10  

                                                                                                                                                                 

                           Burton  v.  Fountainhead  Dev.,  Inc.,  393  P.3d  387,  392  (Alaska  2017)  

                                                                                                                  

(quoting Lentine v. State, 282 P.3d 369, 375-76 (Alaska 2012)).  



                                                                                    -8-                                                                            7587
  


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

considered   the   conflicting   testimony   and   because   Cristiano's   testimony   provided  

sufficient support for the superior court's valuation, the court did not clearly err.                                           11  



                                                                                                                                     

           B.	       The Superior Court Did Not Err By Declining To Credit John For His  

                                                                                        

                     Post-Separation Mortgage And Utility Payments.  



                                                                                                                    

                     John argues that he should have received credit for "more than $55,000"  



                                                                                                                                      

in post-separation mortgage and utility payments for the marital home.  Although the  



                                                                                                                  

court must "consider payments made to maintain marital property from post-separation  



                                                                                                                                 

income when  dividing marital property," it is not required  to  give  credit for  those  



                                                              12  

                                                 

payments in its final property division. 



                                                                                                                              

                     Both  parties  made  proposals  for  property  division  in  their  closing  



                                                                                                                                     

arguments. John did not ask the court to credit him for his post-separation mortgage and  



                                                                                                                                  

utility payments.  He first made the request in his motion to reconsider, valuing these  



                                                                                                                                

payments at $26,595. The superior court denied reconsideration of the issue and several  



                                                                                                                           

others "because they [were] either new arguments, or they were adequately addressed  



                     

in the initial findings."  



                                                                                                                                     

                     Generally,  "arguments  raised  for  the  first  time  on  reconsideration  are  

              13 but can be reviewed for plain error.14  "Plain error exists 'where an obvious  

waived"                                                                                                                       



           11        See   Hockema,   403   P.3d at   1089-90   (affirming   valuation   of   excavation  



equipment  where  expert  testified  that  he  had  adjusted  appraisals  to  account  for  condition  

of  equipment).  



           12        Ramsey v. Ramsey, 834 P.2d 807, 809 (Alaska 1992).  

                                                                                                 



           13         Wells v. Barile, 358 P.3d 583, 589 n.17 (Alaska 2015).  

                                                                                                   



           14        McCarter  v.  McCarter,  303  P.3d  509,  513  (Alaska  2013)  (rejecting  

                                                                                                                          

arguments raised for the first time in a motion for reconsideration after finding no plain  

                                                                                                                                   

error); Schaeffer-Mathis v. Mathis, 407 P.3d 485, 495 (Alaska 2017) (noting that because  

                                                                                                                              

an argument raised for the first time in a motion for reconsideration is untimely, it is  

                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                    (continued...)  



                                                                   -9-	                                                           7587
  


----------------------- Page 10-----------------------

                                                                                                                                                       15  

mistake has been made which creates a high likelihood that injustice has resulted.' "                                                                      



                                                                                                                                         

                        The superior court carefully considered John's payment of the mortgage  



                                                                                                                                                     

and utilities for the marital home in response to Andrea's request that the court credit her  



                                                                                                                                                

for John's post-separation occupancy of the marital property and rentalofthe main house  



                                                                                                                              

to  his  son  at  a  below-market  rate.                                 The  court  balanced  John's  post-separation  



                                                                                                                                                 

contributions against the benefit he received from living in the apartment and from  



                                                                                                                                          

renting the main house to his son at a below-market rate.  The court noted that Andrea's  



                                                                                                                                            

request "ignores that prior to her move to New Mexico, she enjoyed the same benefits  



                                                                                                                                                     

that she now complains John began receiving in 2018 when she left."  As a result, the  



                                                                                                                                                  

court concluded that to give Andrea credit "would be unequitable."  It would also have  



                                                                                                                                                

been inequitable to give such a credit to John for the similar benefits he enjoyed.  There  



                                                                                                                                              

is no plain error in the court's denial of a credit for post-separation costs of the marital  



home.  



                                                                                                                                         

            C.	         The  Superior  Court  Erred  In  Its  Distribution  Of  The  Seldovia  

                        Property.  



                                                                                                                                                       

                        John asserts that the superior court erred by not assigning him $17,000 in  



                                                                                                                                                

marital debt from the purchase of the Seldovia property. Of the $39,000 purchase price,  



                                                                                                                                                        

$32,000 was financed by a $15,000 interest-free loan from their child's account and a  



                                                                                                                                                     

$17,000 loan taken out by John's business and in his name.  John sold the property for  



                                                                                                                                                   

$35,000 and netted $33,000 after closing costs.   He repaid their child's account and  



                                                                                                                                               

retained the remaining $18,000.  In his closing argument John asked the court to assign  



                                                                                                                                                   

only the pre-closing-cost loss of $4,500 "as a marital debt," not the $17,000 loan.  The  



            14          (...continued)  



                                       

subject to plain error review).  



            15         D.J.  v. P.C.        , 36 P.3d 663, 668 (Alaska 2001) (quoting                                 Sosa v. State          , 4 P.3d      



951, 953 (Alaska 2000)).         



                                                                         -10-	                                                                   7587
  


----------------------- Page 11-----------------------

                                         16  

superior court  "recaptured"                 the  $18,000 that  John  retained  and  included  that  amount  



                                                        17  

in  its  calculation  of  the  marital  assets.             The  court  then  reduced  that  amount  by  one  half  



of   the   $4,500   loss   that   John   still   contends   is  "marital  debt,"   and   assigned   him   the  



remaining  value  of  $15,750.   The  court  also  classified  the  $17,000  loan  as  a  marital  debt  



but  neither  included  nor  assigned  that  debt  in  the  final  accounting.  



                    John first  requested that the $17,000 debt be assigned  to him as a marital  



debt  in  his  motion  for  reconsideration  after  he  received  the  court's  decision.   The  court  



denied  reconsideration  because  it  was  "either  [a]  new  argument[]  or  [it  was]  adequately  

addressed  in  the  initial  findings."   We  review  John's  untimely  argument  for  plain  error.18  



                    Classifying   the   debt   as  marital   but   failing   to   include   it   in   the   final  



distribution   of   the   marital   estate   was   plain   error.     The   superior   court   assigned   the  



proceeds  of  the  sale  to  John.   Because  John  received  the  benefit  of  the  sale  he  should  also  



have  been  assigned  the  burden  of  the  debt  he  used  for  the  original  purchase.   Although  

                                                                                                                  19 it cannot  

the  superior  court  has  considerable  discretion  when  dividing  marital  property,                                  



fail to do so altogether.  Having determined an asset or debt is marital, the court must  

                                                                                                                           

distribute it equitably.20   There is a high likelihood that assigning one party the proceeds  

                                                                                                                      

                   



          16        See  Aubert  v.  Wilson,  483  P.3d  179,  189  (Alaska  2021)  ("If  the  court  finds  



the  asset  was  dissipated,  wasted,  or  converted  to  non-marital  form,  it  may  'recapture'  the  

asset.").  



          17        John does not appeal the court's recapture of the Seldovia proceeds.  

                                                                                                             



          18        Schaeffer-Mathis, 407 P.3d at 495 (citing D.J., 36 P.3d at 668).  

                                                                                                            



          19        See Doyle v. Doyle, 815 P.2d 366, 368 (Alaska 1991) ("The trial court has  

                                                                                                                              

broad discretion in property division cases.").  

                                                         



          20        This holding is consistent with our requirement that "the trial court must  

                                                                                                                           

render findings of ultimate fact that support any decreed property division; the findings  

                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                              (continued...)  



                                                              -11-                                                        7587
  


----------------------- Page 12-----------------------

of a sale but not the corresponding debt has resulted in injustice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        We therefore remand                                                       



the property division for the superior court to equitably apportion the $17,000 in marital                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              



debt.   



                                                                     We also note that the value of the debt assigned to John should be offset by                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               



 a true and accurate accounting of the proceeds he received from the sale.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The court's   



 $15,750 value of the proceeds is incorrect. Both John and the court incorrectly classified                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  



the $4,500 loss as a marital debt. John and Andrea purchased the Seldovia property with                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               



 $39,500 in marital funds.                                                                                                             They sold the property at a gross price of $35,000.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      After  



closing costs, John received $33,000.                                                                                                                                                                     Thus, the total loss to the marital estate was                                                                                                                                                                              



 $6,500.   When valuing the proceeds from the sale, the superior court properly started                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  



with the $33,000 in net proceeds. It subtracted the $15,000 repaid to the child's account                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           



 and was left with $18,000 in cash proceeds that John retained.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The valuation should                                                         



have ended there. Because                                                                                                                the $18,000 sum is derived fromthe                                                                                                                                                     net proceeds of $33,000,  



the $6,500 loss to                                                                                 the marital estate is already                                                                                                                            accounted   for.     However, the court                                                                                                                            



discounted the $18,000 valuation by half of the $4,500 loss that John claimed he                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 incurred  



 from the sale, which mistakenly inflated the loss the marital estate incurred to John's                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 



benefit.  



                                                                     This missing $2,250 affects the entire chain of calculation involved in the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            



court's asset distribution.                                                                                                         For example, there is a $2,250 discrepancy between the sum                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         



of the assets listed and the court's calculation of total assets. We therefore remand to the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 



 superior court to correct or clarify its distribution of the Seldovia property.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



                                  20                                 (...continued)  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

must be explicit and sufficiently detailed to give this court a clear understanding of the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

basis of the trial court's decision." Id. (emphasis added). Here the superior court offered  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

no explanation as to why it chose not to assign the debt.  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                     -12-                                                                                                                                                                                                           7587
  


----------------------- Page 13-----------------------

               D.	            It Was Error to Conclude Andrea Did Not Return The Jewelry To The                                                                                        

                              Marital Estate.   



                              The superior court found that the jewelry John made and gave to Andrea                       



was   her   separate   property.     John   argues   the   jewelry   should   be   considered   marital  



property because he bought the raw materials with marital funds.                                                                                He urges us to follow            



other states that treat interspousal gifts as marital property.                                                                      "[W]hether the trial court                     



applied the correct legal rule . . . is a question of law that we review de novo using our                                                                                              



                                                     21  

independent judgment."                                     



                                                                                                                                                                                        

                              We have not decided whether property that starts as marital property can  



                                                                                                                                 22 

                                                                                                                                                                                  

be transmuted by gift into one spouse's separate property.                                                                             The superior court found  



                                                                                                                                                                                       

that it could and did. It found that "John's testimony clearly established" the jewelry was  



                                                                                                                                                                                 

a gift, and noted that if Andrea had kept the jewelry, "the court does not see why it would  



                                                                                                                                                                                      

designate [the jewelry] as marital property. This does not change simply because it was  



                                                                                                                                                                                           

lost or even given away."  The court therefore held that it "will not treat the jewelry as  



                                                                                                                                                                               

marital property or assign value to it." But Andrea clearly intended to return the jewelry  



                                                                                                                                                                               

to the marital estate by leaving it with John's possessions in the garage at the marital  



                                                                                                                                                                              23  

                                                                                                                                              

home.  It is therefore not necessary to decide whether there was transmutation. 



                              Assuming the jewelry was Andrea's separate property, John argues she  

                                                                                                                                                                                        



"had left the jewelry behind for [him] when she moved to New Mexico, indicating that  

                                                                                                                                                                                       



               21            Pasley v. Pasley                     , 442 P.3d 738, 744 (Alaska 2019) (alteration in original)                                                



(quoting  Beals v. Beals                            , 303 P.3d 453, 459 (Alaska 2013)).                            



               22             We have repeatedly addressed and refined the transmutation analysis for  

                                                                                                                                                                                         

property that starts as separate and becomes marital.  See, e.g., Kessler v. Kessler, 411  

                                                                                                                                                                    

P.3d 616, 621 (Alaska 2018); Fortson v. Fortson, 131 P.3d 451, 463-64 (Alaska 2006);  

                                                                                                                                                                                 

Burgess v. Burgess, 710 P.2d 417, 422 (Alaska 1985).  

                                                                                                          



               23             See State v. ACLU of Alaska, 204 P.3d 364, 369 (Alaska 2009) ("[T]his  

                                                                                                                                                                             

court should not issue advisory opinions or resolve abstract questions of law.").  

                                                                                                                                                                 



                                                                                           -13-	                                                                                    7587
  


----------------------- Page 14-----------------------

 she believed it was a marital asset."                                                      At trial, Andrea testified that the night she kicked                                                          



 John out of the house, she "left all of                                                     his  belongings . . . and put them in the garage,                                                                  and  



 the jewelry was part of it                                    , because I didn't want anything to do with him."                                                                           Later, when   



 she directed her friends to collect her belongings fromthe house she did not instruct them                                                                                                                    



 to retrieve the jewelry.                                  The record before the superior court shows that Andrea left the                                                                                         



jewelry with the rest of John's possessions, indicating her intent that the jewelry "be                                                                                                                          



 treated   as   marital   property   for   the   purpose   of   dividing   property   in   the   event   of   a  

 divorce."24  



                                  We need not decide the novel question of whether the jewelry actually was  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 



 separate property because Andrea's actions demonstrate her clear intent to return the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



 gifts to the marital estate.  It was therefore error to classify the jewelry as her separate  

                                                                                                                                                                                                      



property. We remand to the superior court to classify the jewelry as marital property and  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  



 to determine how to equitably distribute it given that it has disappeared.  

                                                                                                                                                      



                 E.	              The Superior Court Did Not Err When It Considered Andrea's CIB  

                                  Payments.  

                                                                



                                  John argues that the superior court should have made specific findings  

                                                                                                                                                                                                     



 about how their child's CIB funds were used and then adjusted the final property award  

                                                                                                                                                                                                           



based on the findings.   He also argues that "[a]t a minimum" the court should have  

                                                                                                                                                                                                              



 accounted for payments Andrea received after she moved to New Mexico.  We review  

                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 factual findings for clear error.25  We review a court's decision to distribute a disputed  

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

piece of property "for an abuse of discretion, reversing only if it is 'clearly unjust.' "26  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   



                 24               Kessler, 411 P.3d at 619 (emphasis omitted).                                               



                 25               Pasley, 442 P.3d 744.                       



                 26               Id.  (quoting  Grove v. Grove                                          , 400 P.3d 109, 112 (Alaska 2017)).                                     



                                                                                                        -14-	                                                                                                 7587
  


----------------------- Page 15-----------------------

                                            The superior court made specific findings regarding Andrea's use of the                                                                                                                                                                 



CIB payments.                                       After noting that their testimony about the CIB funds "was markedly                                                                                                                                        



different," the court "found parts of both parties' testimony credible."                                                                                                                                                                The court found                     



that because John worked out of town, Andrea handled "much of the day to day finances                                                                                                                                                                               



at home."                           It concluded that their child's CIB benefits "were justifiably spent on the                                                                                                                                                                     



various day to day expenses for the family" and that "[a]ny other conclusion would only                                                                                                                                                                                         



be speculation on the court's part."                                                              



                                            The superior court's findings are supported by the record, and we "grant                                                                                                                                                      



especially great deference when the trial court's factual findings require weighing the                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                                     27  Andrea testified that she spent  

credibility of witnesses and conflicting oral testimony."                                                                                                                                                                                                                     



the money on family expenses, that she was required to submit an annual accounting of  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          28  

how she spent the funds, and that she sought prior approval for debatable spending.                                                                                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         



John testified that he was not aware where the money went but that he did not believe the  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     



money went toward household bills. He offered no evidence to support his speculation.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The evidence supports the court's treatment of the CIB benefits.29  

                                                                                                                                                                                         



                      27                    Stanhope v. Stanhope                                                    , 306 P.3d 1282, 1287 (Alaska 2013) (quoting                                                                                                         Bigley  



v.  Alaska Psychiatric Inst.                                                           , 208 P.3d 168, 178 (Alaska 2009)).                                                            



                      28                    In addition, given Andrea's testimony that she received approval to spend  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

CIB funds on a room for their daughter in Andrea's New Mexico home, the superior  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

court reasonably found that these post-separation funds had not been misappropriated.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       



                      29                    We have previously turned to federal law for guidance when calculating  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

child support.  See Osmar v. Mahan, 53 P.3d 149, 152 (Alaska 2002) (holding CIB  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

payments meant for an unrelated stepchild did not constitute income because federal law  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

requires funds to be spent on eligible child alone).  

                                                                                                                                                                         



                                                                                                                                         -15-                                                                                                                                  7587
  


----------------------- Page 16-----------------------

                                                       The   superior   court   did   not   clearly   err   or   abuse   its   discretion   in  its  



                                                                                                                                30  

 consideration of the CIB funds.                                                                                                        



V.                          CONCLUSION  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                      We AFFIRM the superior court's valuation of the marital property and its  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

 decision  not  to  offset  the  award  by  post-separation  payments  or  the  CIB  funds.  



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

However, we REMAND for reconsideration of the distribution of the Seldovia property  



                                                                                                  

 and the treatment of the jewelry.  



                           30                         We note that the superior court did not fail to "account for the payments                                                                                                                                                                                        



Andrea received" in the final distribution. In his motion for reconsideration, John asked                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

the court to offset Andrea's award by the "back [child] support" she owed him given she                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 "will have no ability to repay" it.  The court then reduced the amount he owed Andrea                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

based on the parties' stipulation that Andrea owed $2,928 in back child support based   

 on her income from both SSDI and CIB.                                                                                                                                In  Miller v. Miller                                                         , we held that CIB benefits                                                

 count as income for purposes of calculating the child support award, but that the parent                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

who "earned  the benefits . . . [the child] receives . . . must be credited for [those]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

payments made to [the child] on [the parent's] behalf." 890 P.2d 574, 577 (Alaska 1995).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

However, because the parties stipulated to the amount of past-due child support and                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Andrea does not                                                           participate in this appeal, we do not address this issue.                                                                                                                                                                                     See also   

Rosenbaum v. Shaw                                                                 , 459 P.3d 467, 475 (Alaska 2020) (allocating risk of loss to parent                                                                                                                                                                               

who overpaid child support because of failure to account for CIB payments).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               



                                                                                                                                                                        -16-                                                                                                                                                               7587
  

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