[column type=”one-half” last=”false”]Perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make is ending a marriage. Regardless of the number of years you have spent with someone, it’s normal to have a sense of loss or feelings of failure. When lives have been intertwined, sorting through the issues of property division and child custody can be complicated. In order to safeguard the future for you and your family, it’s wise to understand the divorce laws in Alaska.
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Alaska Divorce Laws
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Child Custody in Alaska
Alaska Child Support
Marital Asset and Debt Division
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- ADR Available: Yes
- Fault or No Fault: Both
- Parenting Plan Required: Yes
- Property Distribution: Equitable
Grounds For Divorce
In Alaska, it’s possible to file for a divorce under fault or no-fault guidelines. The petition for dissolution in a fault divorce must state one of the eligible grounds and be proven in court. The fault grounds in Alaska are:
- Failure to consummate the marriage
- Conviction of a felony
- Willful desertion
- Cruel treatment
- Habitual drunkenness
- Incurable mental illness
- An illegal drug addiction
To dissolve a marriage under no-fault law, spouses can simply cite incompatibility of temperament as the reason the marriage is over. The spouse asking for the divorce, or the one filing, is called the petitioner and the other person is the respondent.
The Divorce Types
To meet the requirements of ending a marriage in Alaska, the party filing the petition must be a resident of the state. There is no specified time amount that determines residency as long as the individual lives in Alaska.. There are two types of divorce in Alaska including:
- Uncontested dissolution, in which the parties agree to all the issues surrounding child support, visitation, marital property and alimony, among other areas.
- Contested divorce, in which there are disagreements on one or many issues between the spouses.
There is a distinction between the labels of divorce and dissolution in Alaska. A divorce is a process where couples are unable to agree on the issues and a court proceeding is likely. When couples can agree on property division, alimony and child-related issues, Alaska courts call this a dissolution.
Divorce Waiting Period
Once the petition is filed, couples must wait for at least 30 days to have a decree issued. The time required to end a marriage in Alaska will vary according to the number of contested issues between parties.
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Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a method that uses a neutral third party to help couples resolve divorce issues. Mediation is the most common form of ADR. Some of the benefits spouses have when using mediation include:
- Exploring a wide range of possible solutions
- Being in control of the outcome
- Having the time to explain each party’s position
- Resolving issues in a somewhat informal environment
- Showing children a good model for conflict resolution
Other forms of ADR include arbitration, mediation-arbitration, early neutral evaluation and settlement conferences. In all types of ADR the goal is to avoid a trial, which will save time and money. While there are many benefits to using ADR, the process is not recommended for couples that are unable to cooperate and compromise.
In an annulment, the court treats the union as though it never legally happened. There are a limited number of eligible reasons to be granted an annulment. The success of obtaining an annulled marriage rests on providing evidence to the court that a particular condition existed. In Alaska, the plausible reasons for annulment include:
- A spouse was already married.
- A spouse has an incurable mental illness.
- A spouse committed fraud.
- A spouse was under the age of 15 years old.
- A spouse was impotent.
- Spouses were close family relatives.
In some instances, such as bigamy and incest, a marriage is never legal from the start. In all the other conditions evidence must be given to an Alaska judge that proves a ground existed.
One alternative to filing for divorce is pursuing a legal separation. In this civil action, the marriage is not dissolved but couples reach binding agreements on such issues as child custody, alimony and property allocation. In Alaska, a legal separation may not be granted more than once to the same couple. In the decree to legally separate, spouses can state whether the arrangements are temporary or final.
The reasons to seek a legal separation can vary by couple and may include:
- Personal choices
- Religious beliefs
- Financial purposes
In some instances, a legal separation can give spouses the time needed to reconcile the marriage. For others, seeking a legal separation can be thought of as a trial run to divorce.
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Child Custody Determinations
Families splitting up have many issues to sort through but none perhaps more important than child-related matters. Divorcing parents must adjust to sharing parenting time with the other caregiver and working out visitation schedules that work for everyone. Judges that reside over child custody cases understand the difficult transition and award custody based on the best interests of the children.
The custody types in Alaska can be legal or physical arrangements. Each kind is either sole or joint custody, depending on the circumstances of the situation. When determining custody, a judge will consider:
- The ability of each parent to meet the emotional and physical needs of the children
- The willingness of each parent to help facilitate a relationship between the children and the other caregiver
- The love and affection between the children and each parent
- The preferences of the children, if dependents are a sufficient age
Alaska courts will review other factors before granting custody such as the mental health of each parent and the safety of the home environment. If there is evidence of illegal drug use, unlawful behavior or domestic abuse, custody will be denied.
Joint custody arrangements are the most common in Alaska divorce cases. When one parent is awarded primary custody, the other caregiver is often given visitation. The schedule for the children is outlined in the parenting plan and may be based on the work arrangements of both caregivers. Other agreements that need to be resolved concerning child visitation include how to handle holidays, summers and vacation time.
As long as the decisions that are made are in the best interests of the children, a judge is more likely to agree with the choices of the parents. When caregivers can’t reach an agreement, the court will decide on the outcome.
Grandparents do not have automatic rights over children when parents divorce. Whether a grandparent is trying to seek custody or visitation, certain objectives need to be met. In order for a grandparent to gain custody of children, it is necessary to prove that the parents are unfit. To seek visitation rights with children, the Alaska court system requires that grandparents show that the relationship is in the best interests of the children. Also, it is important that grandparents currently have, or have tried to establish, ongoing contact with children.
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Many factors are involved in the proper calculation of child support payments. In Alaska, the courts hold the position that parents are financially obligated to provide for their children. A basic formula is used to determine the appropriate amount of financial contribution by each parent. The court has discretion to deviate from the standard guidelines in instances that, for example, involve incomes that are below the poverty line. Some of the most important factors are:
- The number of children
- The gross income of each parent
- Adjustments including health care costs for the children
The calculations don’t account for overtime and bonuses of each parent. Also, if a caregiver is self employed, the tax deductions are not part of the basic child support formula.
Child Support Enforcement
When a parent falls behind on child support or stops paying, certain state and federal consequences may apply to the non-payer. Some of the measures that are taken in Alaska to prevent delinquency in paying child support include:
- Interception of tax returns
- Interception of Alaska Permanent Fund dividends and other assets
- Property liens
- Levy on bank accounts
- Loss of driver’s or professional license
- Income withholding
The court has the power to enforce other penalties such as reporting delinquent parents to credit agencies. In excessive child support delinquency, it’s possible to be in contempt of court, which could end in serving time behind bars.
The only way for a father to have any rights concerning his children is by establishing paternity. Once paternity has been determined; a father immediately acquires certain rights. One of the primary rights a father gains is the ability to petition the court for visitation. Establishing paternity can make it possible for children to know their full medical history from both sides of the family. A father can provide financially for his children and also include dependents on life insurance and medical benefits.
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Dividing property always has the potential to become a complicated ordeal. Even when spouses have split amicably and are able to negotiate with one another productively, it’s wise to seek the experience of a skilled lawyer to avoid any pitfalls. Property allocation is an area that should be explored carefully as any oversights can impact individuals for years to come.
Division Of Property
In Alaska, assets and debts are dispersed using equitable property division guidelines. While property is divided between spouses, in equitable distribution, items are not necessarily split in equal halves. Instead, a family judge will assess certain factors to award property such as:
- The length of the marriage
- The physical and mental health of each spouse
- The needs of the custodial spouse to keep the family home
- Pensions and other retirement accounts
- The tax consequences of keeping certain property
- The contribution of each spouse to the assets and household
Other aspects might play a role in the final property settlement. The court strives to make determinations on marital assets and debts based on what is fair to each spouse.
Alimony, or spousal support, is financial assistance provided to a former partner when a couple divorces. Alimony can be given to a former spouse in a lump sum, temporary payments or permanent installments. Some of the factors that are assessed by the court include:
- The length of the marriage
- The age and health of each spouse
- The earning capacity of each spouse
- The financial situation of each spouse
- The marital conduct of each spouse
- The distribution of marital property
If spouses can’t agree on alimony matters, a judge will decide based upon the relevant criteria.
Prenuptial And Postnuptial Agreements
A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement is used between couples as a planning tool in the event of divorce or death. There are many advantages to constructing one of the agreements. The main difference between the two types is that a prenuptial agreement is drafted before the marriage is official while a postnuptial contract is for legally joined couples. Some of the advantages of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement include:
- Securing a business from division
- Protecting intended beneficiaries
- To safeguard a significant gift, for instance, stocks or bonds
- Having confidence over financial matters
- Strengthening spousal relations
Any marriage can benefit from having a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in place, regardless of the amount of wealth shared between couples.
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After divorce agreements have been made and life moves on, it may become necessary to alter previously arranged contracts. Some of the areas that are commonly modified include alimony, visitation and child custody. A variety of life changes can prompt the need to seek a modification, such as job relocation, loss of employment or bankruptcy. Sometimes these changes are abrupt and can be financially burdensome.
It’s important to know that property division agreements are rarely overturned. This is why it is crucial to have reliable legal information when going through divorce in Alaska. Spousal support is another area that can be challenging to amend.
[alert type=”danger” close=”false” heading=”Important Note”] Please be aware that the information on this page is provided for illustration purposes only and it does not constitute legal advice. If you would like more information about the divorce laws in Alaska or the process of filing for divorce, connect with an experienced local attorney today by filling out the contact form. We make it easy to find and connect with a local divorce attorney. It’s Free and Safe! [/alert]