Alaska Separation Agreement Law

Divorce – Separation Agreements – Alaska

Note:  This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of separation agreements in Alaska, but does include basic and other provisions.

General Summary: Separation and Property Agreements may be entered into before a divorce is filed to be effective immediately, or may be entered into after a divorce is filed to resolve all issues.  Property Settlement and Separation Agreements are more closely scrutinized when part of an action for dissolution of marriage.  The key factors are all a matter of fairness given the assets available to the parties and the obligations of the parties such as child support, earning capacity and prospects, etc.

Discussion: Ageements are governed by provisions of Title 25 of the Alaska Statutes.

Statutes:

Alaska Statutes
Title 25. MARITAL AND DOMESTIC RELATIONS
Chapter 25.24. DIVORCE AND DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE

Dissolution of marriage:

(a) A husband and wife together may petition the superior court for the dissolution of their marriage under AS 25.24.200 – 25.24.260 if the following conditions exist at the time of filing the petition:

(1) incompatibility of temperament has caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage;

(3) the spouses have agreed as to the distribution of all real and personal property that is jointly owned or community property under AS 34.77, including retirement benefits and the payment of spousal maintenance, if any, and the tax consequences resulting from these payments; the agreement must be fair and just and take into consideration the factors listed in AS 25.24.160 (a)(2) and (4) so that the economic effect of dissolution is fairly allocated; and

(4) the spouses have agreed as to the payment of all unpaid obligations incurred by either or both of them and as to payment of obligations incurred jointly in the future…Sec. 25.24.200.
Petition for dissolution:

(e) If the petition is filed by both spouses under AS 25.24.200(a)[dissolution of marriage], the petition must state in detail the terms of the agreement between the spouses concerning the custody of children, child support in terms of periodic payments and in terms of health care expenses, visitation, spousal maintenance and tax consequences, if any, and fair and just division of property, including retirement benefits. Agreements on spousal maintenance and property division must fairly allocate the economic effect of dissolution and take into consideration the factors listed in AS 25.24.160 (a)(2) and (4)…

(10) that the petition constitutes the entire agreement between the petitioners; and…Sec. 25.24.210.

Hearing: (d) If the petition is filed by both spouses under AS 25.24.200 (a)[dissolution of marriage], the court shall examine the petitioners or petitioner present and consider whether
… (2) the written agreements between the spouses concerning child custody, child support, and visitation are just as between the spouses and in the best interests of the children of the marriage; in determining whether the parents’ agreement on visitation is in the best interests of the children under this paragraph, the court shall also consider whether the agreement should include visitation by grandparents and other persons;
(3) the written agreements between the spouses relating to the division of property, including retirement benefits, spousal maintenance, and the allocation of obligations are just; the spousal maintenance and division of property must fairly allocate the economic effect of dissolution and take into consideration the factors listed in AS 25.24.160 (a)(2) and (4);
(4) the written agreements constitute the entire agreement between the parties; and… (g) The court may amend the written agreements between the spouses relating to child custody, child support, visitation, division of the property, including retirement benefits, spousal maintenance, and allocation of obligations, but only if both petitioners concur in the amendment in writing or on the record.
(h) In its examination of a petitioner under (d) of this section, the court shall use a heightened level of scrutiny of agreements if… (3) there is a minor child of the marriage; or
(4) there is a patently inequitable division of the marital estate. (i) If the court finds that a higher level of scrutiny is required by (h) of this section, the court shall examine the written agreements between the spouses to determine that they are just, that they constitute the entire agreement between the parties, and that the agreements concerning child custody, child support, and visitation are in the best interest of the children of the marriage, if any. The court shall require the presence of both spouses at a hearing for this purpose unless the court finds on the record that it would constitute a significant hardship on one of the spouses to appear and that a just agreement has been reached. If one of the spouses cannot attend the hearing because it would constitute a significant hardship, the court may require that spouse to be available by telephone to answer questions, at that spouse’s expense.  Sec. 25.24.220.

Judgment:

(a) If the petition is filed under AS 25.24.200 (a), and is not subject to AS 25.24.220 (h), the court may grant the spouses a final decree of dissolution and shall order other relief as provided in this section if the court, upon consideration of the information contained in the petition and the testimony of the spouse or spouses at the hearing, finds that

(1) the spouses understand fully the nature and consequences of their action;
(2) the written agreements between the spouses concerning spousal maintenance and tax consequences, if any, division of property, including retirement benefits, and allocation of obligations are fair and just and constitute the entire agreement between the parties;
(3) the spousal maintenance and division of property fairly allocate the economic effect of dissolution and take into consideration the factors listed in AS 25.24.160 (a)(2) and (4);
(4) each spouse entered into the agreement voluntarily and free from the coercion of another person; and
(5) the conditions in AS 25.24.200 (a) have been met.

(b) If the petition is filed under AS 25.24.200 (a) and is subject to AS 25.24.220 (h), the court may grant the spouses a final decree of dissolution and shall order other relief as provided in this section if the court, upon consideration of the information contained in the petition and the testimony of the spouse or spouses at the hearing, finds that

(1) the spouses understand fully the nature and consequences of their action;
(2) the written agreements between the spouses concerning child custody, child support, and visitation are in the best interest of the children of the marriage, constitute the entire agreement of the parties on child custody, child support, and visitation, and, as between the spouses, are just;
(3) the written agreements between the spouses concerning spousal maintenance and tax consequences, if any, division of property, including retirement benefits, and allocation of obligations are just and constitute the entire agreement between the parties;
(4) the spousal maintenance and division of property fairly allocate the economic effect of dissolution and take into consideration the factors listed in AS 25.24.160 (a)(2) and (4);
(5) each spouse entered the agreement voluntarily and free from the coercion of another person; and
(6) the conditions in AS 25.24.200 (a) have been met…

(c) If the petition is filed by one spouse under AS 25.24.200 (b), the court may grant the spouse a final decree of dissolution and change the petitioner’s name, if so requested, if the court, upon consideration of affidavits supplied by the spouse and the testimony of the spouse at the hearing, finds that

(1) the spouse present at the hearing understands fully the nature and consequences of the action;
(2) the conditions in AS 25.24.200 (b) have been met; and
(3) the requirements of AS 25.24.165 (b) have been satisfied, if a change of name is requested.

(d) The court shall dismiss a petition or continue action on a petition filed under AS 25.24.200 – 25.24.260 before findings are made if

(1) a representative of the unmarried children who are under the age of 19 objects to a term of an agreement between the spouses;
(2) either of the spouses withdraws from an agreement required under AS 25.24.200 (a); or
(3) the petition alleges that the conditions in AS 25.24.200 (b) exist, but the whereabouts of the absent spouse becomes known to the other spouse or the court before findings are made.

(e) The court shall deny the relief sought in a petition filed under AS 25.24.200 – 25.24.260 if the court does not make the findings required under (a) – (c) of this section.

(f) If the petition is filed by both spouses under AS 25.24.200 (a), the court shall change either spouse’s name, if the spouse seeking a change of name to a name other than a prior name complies with AS 25.24.165(b), and shall fully and specifically set out in the decree the written agreements of the spouses and shall order the performance of those written agreements. The court shall also state, in the decree, whether child support payments are to be made through the child support enforcement agency. If the petition is filed by one spouse under AS 25.24.200(b), the decree must state that it does not bar future action on the issues not resolved in the decree.  Sec. 25.24.230.

Case Law:

It is still the case that “`[s]tipulations and settlements are favored in law because they simplify, shorten and settle litigation without taking up valuable court resources,'” and that this principle applies in the context of divorce property settlements. Murphy v. Murphy, 812 P.2d 960 (Alaska 1991)(quoting Interior Credit Bureau, Inc. v. Bussing, 559 P.2d 104, 106 (Alaska 1977). It also remains the case that divorce property settlements do not receive the same statutorily-mandated level of heightened scrutiny that dissolution property agreements receive. It is equally the case, however, that even under the more relaxed scrutiny afforded property settlements in divorce actions, courts need not accept property settlements as controlling when the facts indicate that an agreement was not made with full understanding.  Kerslake v. Kerslake, 609 P.2d 559 (Alaska 1980).

A property settlement incorporated into a divorce decree is merged into the decree, so that the rights of the parties derive from the decree, not the agreement.  O’Link v. O’Link, 632 P.2d 225, 228 (Alaska 1981).  If the divorce decree incorporates the property settlement agreement, the property division is a final judgment.  O’Link v. O’Link, 632 P.2d 225, 228 (Alaska 1981).

There are four factors that may constitute extraordinary circumstances sufficient to set aside a property division in a final divorce decree under Rule 60(b)(6): (1) the fundamental, underlying assumption of the dissolution agreement had been destroyed; (2) the parties’ property division was poorly thought out; (3) the property division was reached without the benefit of counsel; and (4) the [property in dispute] was the parties principal asset.”  Schofield v. Schofield, 777 P.2d 197, 202 (Alaska 1989).  Because these factors merely serve as equitable factors for the court to consider, each factor need not be present in order for the court to properly grant Rule 60(b)(6) relief. Clausen v. Clausen, 831 P.2d 1257, 1260-61(Alaska 1992).

Principles of contract law are not applicable in an attempt to obtain relief from a final judgment [when the final judgment comprises] the terms of a property settlement incorporated into a divorce decree. Stone v. Stone, 647 P.2d 582, 584 (Alaska 1982).
But, basic contract interpretation principles to the interpretation of a property division agreement incorporated into a divorce decree. Keffer v. Keffer, 852 P.2d 394, 397 (Alaska 1993).

[W]here a support provision is an integral part of the property settlement, Alaska courts generally hold that the support provision is not subject to later modification. Keffer v. Keffer, 852 P.2d 394, 397 (Alaska 1993).  The primary question is whether the payments provided for were integrated into the property settlement or are part of a separable provision. Alimony payments are integrated into the property settlement when they constitute part of the consideration given for other property benefits. Keffer v. Keffer, 852 P.2d 394, 399(Alaska 1993).  “Integration” is grounded on the theory that spousal support was, at least in part, negotiated as a “trade off” for other property benefits. Where a party receives alimony in exchange for claims on other property, it would be unjust to modify the alimony while leaving the remaining property distribution untouched.


Inside Alaska Separation Agreement Law