It’s critical to understand the processes and laws related to getting a divorce in Alaska so that you can have the best possible outcome for your situation.
Whether or not you retain an attorney, there are still many basic things you should know about to protect your interests.
Here’s a primer on what you should know.
- The Basic Divorce Laws in Alaska
- Alaska Property Division Laws
- Retirement Plans and Pensions
- Gifts and Inheritance
- Determining Alimony (Spousal Support)
- How is Child Support Calculated?
- How is Child Custody Handled?
- Alaska Divorce Law FAQs
The Basic Laws Regarding Divorce in Alaska
Alaska offers both divorce and dissolution as legal ways of ending your marriage.
A dissolution takes place in an uncontested divorce. This is when both spouses agree on all the issues that must be settled such as dividing assets and debts, custody, alimony, and other related issues. Both spouses simply need to complete paperwork, submit it to the court, go through a short hearing, and then a final divorce decree will be issued.
When couples have disagreements, a divorce will be necessary. In this type of action, one spouse will file a complaint with the court, explaining that their marriage is over. The complaint will also spell out how disputed issues are to be handled.
If you can’t appear in person at any court-related actions, Alaska allows people to appear by telephone, at the judge’s discretion. You will need to file a Motion to Appear by Phone to make this request.
Typically, this is allowed if you live more than 50 miles from the courthouse, or the hearing is for a minor matter. However, judges will probably not grant your request if the only reason you don’t want to appear in person is because you don’t want to be in the same courtroom as your spouse.
Both parents are presumed to have equal righting when it comes to custody and visitation. Courts prefer that parents work out an agreement between them, but will step in and use a number of factors to determine custody arrangements that are always decided with the child’s best interests placed above all else.
When child custody is involved, the courts also require a child support order to be put in place. You will need to file detailed financial information with the court that will be used to determine the correct amount for your situation.
How is the Division of Property Handled?
Alaska is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property must be divided in a fair and equitable way. This does not mean it must be divided equally, on a 50/50 basis
Before property can be divided, it must be established that property is either separate or marital.
In Alaska, the following are not considered marital property and won’t be divided, unless one spouse did something that changed the separate item to marital status, such as commingling the asset.
- Gifts to one spouse (engagement ring)
- Premarital assets
- Property acquired during marriage solely from separate sources
- Social Security benefits
- Military disability payments
- Post-separation credit card debt that is not marital debt because one spouse had no other way to support him or herself.
A couple can also create a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement that identifies separate property.
Also, just because a party acquired property before marriage does not necessarily mean that it won’t be considered marital property. A spouse’s premarital separate property can become marital when a married couple demonstrates an intent, through their words or actions during marriage, to treat one spouse’s separate property as marital property.
Per Alaska Statute AS 25.24.160(4), courts must use the following factors when dividing assets and debts in a dissolution or divorce.
- The length of the marriage and the parties’ station in life during the marriage
- The age and health of the parties
- The parties’ earning capacity, including their educational backgrounds, training, employment skills, work experiences, length of absence from the job market, and responsibilities to take care of children during the marriage
- The parties’ financial condition, including the availability and cost of health insurance
- The parties’ conduct, including whether either has unreasonably spent or sold marital assets
- The desirability of awarding the family home, or the right to live in it for a reasonable period of time, to the party who has primary physical custody of children
- The circumstances and necessities of each party
- The time and manner of buying or receiving the property in question
- Whether the property can produce any income and its value at the time of division.
Retirement Plans and Pensions
Pensions, 401k plans, and other types of retirement accounts that are earned during a marriage are considered marital property and must be divided like other assets in Alaska.
Placing an exact value retirement accounts can be complicated and involve large sums of money. People often retain a certified divorce financial analyst, accountant, pension valuator, actuary, or business appraiser to reach an accurate figure. There are different methods for doing this depending on the type of accounts that are involved.
Once the value for each spouse has been determined, each retirement account is split with the help of an attorney or a specialized firm must create a qualified domestic relations order, often referred to as a QDRO.
Did you know you can get a QDRO online? It’s much faster and easier online than in person, especially if you use QDRO Counsel, our #1 choice for getting an online QDRO.
The QDRO is submitted to the plan administrator and the court for approval. When executed, the QDRO makes a spouse an alternate payee, and the account is divided according to the instructions in the document.
Dividing Bank Accounts
In Alaska, any bank accounts with assets that were acquired during the course of the marriage are considered marital property and must also be divided equitably.
If you have a separate bank account from before the marriage, and the assets have been kept separate, you may be able to make the case that the funds in that account are your assets only.
However, if you have commingled the funds or pledged the assets as marital property, then they will be divided as part of the settlement.
What About Debts?
Debts are treated much the same way as assets in a divorce. You must decide which spouse is responsible for which debts. The same equitable distribution rules that apply to assets also apply to debts as well.
Be aware that debts incurred by both parties are always divided equally in the eyes of creditors. However, you may be able to negotiate a settlement that allows one spouse to be responsible for the debt. But, if your name still appears on the debt, you are responsible for it, no matter what your agreement with your spouse says.
Gifts and Inheritance
In Alaska, inheritance and gifts are considered separate assets, even if they are acquired during marriage.
They are not subject to a division of assets, unless they were commingled with marital assets or bank accounts during the course of the marriage.
Determining Alimony (Spousal Support)
Alimony in Alaska is officially called spousal support.
Courts can order support before a divorce is final, afterwards, or both. In most cases, the support is for a limited amount of time and for a specific purpose.
Alaska courts consider several possible factors in determining the amount and duration of support. Those factors include:
- how long you were married
- your age and health
- how much money you can make
- how long you went to school
- what are your work skills
- how much work experience you have
- if you worked during the marriage
- if you took care of the kids
- if you unreasonably used up marital money
- how the property and debt is divided, and
- other relevant factors.
Courts will either grant rehabilitation support or reorientation support.
Rehabilitation support pays for job training or school. You must use the money to get skills to work or move up in your job. If you don’t use the money for school, the court can take it away.
You usually need to tell the court what your work goal is, how the school or training program meets that goal, and how long it will take to finish the program.
Reorientation support is the money that helps you get used to living on less money than when you were married. This money is paid for a short period, usually a year or less, and usually when the division of marital property does not meet what one party needs to survive.
Courts can order both types of support, but it will depend on the facts of each individual case.
If you want the court to change or no longer require spousal support, you can file a Request to Modify Order or Decree Concerning Spousal Maintenance or Property Allocation, Form DR-735.
How is Child Support Calculated?
In Alaska, Civil Rule 90.3 lays out the formulas used to calculate child support. Much of this is determined by figuring out the income of each parent. Often times, Alaska’s Child Support Services Division will step in to help ensure support rulings are followed.
Child support is not optional and can’t be waived. The nature of child support will be determined by how child custody is in place. Different formulas are used for:
In some cases, support will vary from Civil Rule 90.3, but those instances are rare.
Parents involved in child custody cases must fill out the Child Support Guidelines Affidavit DR-305 form.
How is Child Custody Handled?
Courts prefer that parents work out a solution when it comes to child custody and visitation rights. Many times, because this is such a heated issue, parents aren’t able to resolve this issue on their own.
In all cases, even when you agree, the court will need to review your parenting plan to make sure it is enforceable. To do this, you should file a formal Parenting Agreement with the court.
You will need to decide both legal and physical custody as part of your agreement.
Physical custody is with the place and parent where a child lives.
Legal custody is which parent is responsible for making the major decisions in a child’s life, such as medical decisions, church and school attendance and other important issues.
Unless there is a court order stating otherwise, both parents are presumed to have equal rights and access to their children in Alaska. Neither parent can keep the other parent from seeing their children, no matter what the status of the parents’ relationship is with each other.
In all cases, courts will decide how child custody and visitation based on what the best interests of the children are in the case. For example, if one parent has a history of domestic violence or substance abuse, this will impact custody issues.
The best interest factors the courts use to help determine custody include:
- the physical, emotional, mental, religious, and social needs of the child
- the capability and desire of each parent to meet these needs
- the child’s preference if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form a preference
- the love and affection existing between the child and each parent
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity
- the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child, except that the court may not consider this willingness and ability if one parent shows that the other parent has sexually assaulted or engaged in domestic violence against the parent or a child, and that a continuing relationship with the other parent will endanger the health or safety of either the parent or the child
- any evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect in the proposed custodial household or a history of violence between the parents
- evidence that substance abuse by either parent or other members of the household directly affects the emotional or physical well-being of the child
- other factors that the court considers pertinent
Alaska law does not allow the court to terminate one parent’s rights in a custody proceeding. But supervised visitation or substance abuse testing can be ordered in cases where there are suspected dangerous behaviors.
To have jurisdiction in Alaska, a child must have lived in the state for at least the previous six months. If this is not the case, you’ll need to file for custody in the state where the children previously lived or wait until six months has elapsed.
The impact of substance abuse
Substance abuse may place a child in danger and if either spouse engages in this type of dangerous behavior, the court has the right to restrict visitation or allow for only closely monitored visits.
If a parent begins to abuse drugs or alcohol after a divorce is finalized, then the other parent can seek a modification of current custody and visitation orders to protect the child.
What role does domestic violence play?
Domestic violence can take many forms. It is more than just physical harm and can also include threats, psychological abuse, or malicious property damage and can be perpetrated on any family member, not just a spouse.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, protect you and your family members immediately. Call 911 and seek safety elsewhere.
You can petition the court for a protective order (restraining order) that prohibits certain kinds of behavior. Courts provide for three kinds of protective orders, including:
- Domestic violence protective orders
- Stalking protective orders, and
- Sexual assault protective orders
Which order to ask for depends on whether you have a specific relationship defined in the law with the other side and what actions the other side took toward you that causes you fear and makes you feel like you need protection.
Alaska Divorce FAQs
How is adultery treated in Alaska divorce laws?
Adultery is one of the fault-based reasons that can be stated when seeking a divorce in Alaska.
Though it is more difficult to prove, some people choose this option as a way to negotiate better terms for spousal support or a division of assets.
What is a bifurcation of marital status, and how does it work?
A bifurcated divorce takes place when a marriage is terminated by the courts even though there are still unresolved issues to be decided. This can include custody, support, alimony and property division disagreements that will be decided at some point in the future.
Sometimes, a spouse will drag out a divorce as a form of emotional blackmail, or a bifurcation may be requested for tax purposes. Also, a bifurcated divorce may be sought when an automatic stay is put on the divorce proceedings due to a bankruptcy action.
Some states do not allow bifurcated divorces but Alaska (Alaska Statutes Sec. 25.24.155b) has specific laws regarding the bifurcation of a divorce.
Judges are reluctant to grant bifurcated divorces because it leads to judicial inefficiencies and removes some of the impetus to finalize all issues remaining to be settled.
What are disclosure obligations?
By law you must disclose all your assets, income, debts and other financial obligations to your spouse by completing a notarized Financial Declaration. This document is used to determine child and spousal support, and how assets should be fairly divided in Alaska.
Do not attempt to hide assets when completing this document or you could wind up paying a stiff price for being less than honest about your current financial situation.
What about health insurance during and after divorce?
In Alaska, if you have access to healthcare or you have been providing it to your spouse and children during marriage, you may have to continue to provide coverage during the divorce process.
Employers will generally not cover a spouse after a divorce, and if you are no longer covered through an ex-spouse’s policy, you will need to get health coverage another way. Many people get coverage through COBRA benefits or the state’s health insurance marketplace.
In all cases, provisions for your children’s healthcare will be a priority, and one or both of the parents will be legally responsible to ensure coverage continues for minor children.
Are there special rules and considerations for military divorces?
If you or your spouse are in the armed forces, you can get a divorce in Alaska if you have been stationed in-state for at least 30 days prior to filing.
In general, active duty military members do have three choices for venue when filing for divorce:
- The state where the military member is stationed
- The state where the military spouse resides
- The state where the military member claims legal residency (This may be the state where he/she is originally from or the state where he/she plans to reside after discharge or retirement).
Either spouse can file for divorce in any of the three locations, but they must follow the divorce laws, and procedures in the state where they file.
While many issues are handled the same as they are in civilian divorces, there are a few notable differences.
Also, pursuant to the Service Members’ Civil Relief Act, and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) of 1982, active-duty members are afforded certain protections.
For example, a military spouse can request a delay in divorce proceedings so that his or her military duties are not impacted. Legal action can be delayed when he or she is on active duty plus 60 days beyond the end of his or her enlistment.
The USFSPA also governs how military pensions are disbursed and whether or not a former military spouse has full medical and commissary privileges.
For this to happen, the former spouse must have been married at least 20 years; the military spouse had at least 20 years of creditable service, and those two overlapped by at least 20 years.
What if my spouse does not respond to any divorce actions in a timely way?
Your spouse has 20 days to file a response after being served with paperwork. If they choose not to respond, you can file a Motion of Default and a judge can issue a judgment for your divorce.
In most cases, all terms you are asking for are granted, including things like child support, alimony, a division of assets and other key issues.
Unless you want to be saddled with a poor settlement, it’s usually wise to respond within the allotted timeframe.
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