Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify which parent has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline.
Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, Alaska courts may intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. In Alaska, when one parent is awarded primary physical child custody, a child support award is calculated for an amount that is equal to the adjusted annual income of the non-custodial parent multiplied by a specified percentage, which depends on the number of children.
There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, who is referred to as the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Joint custody may be ordered by an Alaskan court if both parents can agree and submit a written parenting plan, and it is considered to be in the best interest of the child. For a full text of child custody law in Alaska, go to: Alaska Legal Resource Center.
In Alaska, courts will typically award one of four types of physical custody arrangements, which include the following:
- Shared physical custody - the child resides with each parent for at least 30% but no more than 70% of the year
- Primary physical custody - the child resides with other parent less than 30% of the year
- Divided custody - one parent has primary physical custody of one or more children, and the other parent has primary custody of one or more children, and the parents do not share physical custody of any of their children
- Hybrid custody - at least one parent has primary physical custody of one or more children, and the parents have shared physical custody of at least one child
According to lawyers.com, Alaska courts consider various factors when awarding child custody:
- The age of the parent and child
- The physical and mental condition of the parent and child
- The relationship existing between each parent and each child
- The needs of the child
- The role played by each parent in the upbringing and caring for the child
- The home where the child will live
- The child's wishes if the child is of a sufficient age, intelligence, and maturity to make that decision
When considering child custody, Alaskan courts commonly examine which parent will be the most likely to see to it that the non-custodial parent remains an important part of the child's life. There is no presumption in favor of sole custody or joint custody. In Alaska, child custody arrangements may be modified based on a showing that a change in circumstances has occurred. If the parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule, the court will order one. For a comprehensive summary of child custody laws in Alaska, go to findlaw.com.