Edna K. v. Jeb S.Annotate this Case
Edna K. appealed a child custody modification which declined to find a change of circumstance even though both parties sought to modify their joint custody agreement. Edna and Jeb S. never married but had one child together, G.S., in February 2012. The two had a “rocky” relationship and they separated permanently two and a half years after their son’s birth. Edna filed a complaint for primary physical custody with shared legal custody in October 2014. A private custody investigator met with the parties several times from June through August 2016. The investigator noted that the parties proposed nearly identical custodial arrangements. Rather than attempt to “substantiate or invalidate” the allegations of domestic violence raised by the parties, the custody investigator’s report stated that “50/50 custody . . . is what this investigator tried to reach.” The report briefly summarized Jeb’s criminal record and past reports of domestic violence, including a 2005 conviction for sexual abuse of a minor. The report contained only a half-page discussion on domestic violence, noting that although Jeb was the subject of a number of restraining orders, Edna’s 2015 motion stated that no domestic violence existed. The custody investigator also minimized the severity of Jeb’s conviction for sexual abuse of a minor because Jeb later obtained custody of the son born out of that relationship, so the investigator reasoned that “the court [did] not deem him a risk to his own children.” The report recommended shared legal custody and varying degrees of shared physical custody, depending on Jeb’s work schedule and location. With respect to the custody order at issue here, the superior court ruled that Edna was collaterally estopped from presenting evidence of Jeb’s history of domestic violence because the issue had been “adequately addressed” in the parties’ stipulated custody agreement. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court’s application of collateral estoppel was legal error and reversed the court’s application of collateral estoppel, vacated the court’s findings on changed circumstances, and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on issues of domestic violence.