First, an explanation of custody:
There are two kinds of custody: (1) Legal custody, which includes the power to make important decisions concerning such areas as the child’s education, religious practices, and healthcare; and (2) Physical custody, which involves how much time the child will spend with each parent and where they will live. Each grant of custody will be either:
- Primary – one parent has more than 256 overnights with the child
- Shared – each parent has more than 110 overnights with the child
- Divided – one parent has primary custody of one or more of the children, and the other parent has primary custody of the remaining child/children
- Hybrid – the parents have primary custody of some of their children and shared custody of others
What does Alaskan family law recommend? Alaskan law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements without bringing the issue to court. The law encourages the parents to at least try to develop a “parenting plan.” A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how divorcing parents will share legal and physical custody of their children.
If parents cannot agree on a plan, they may be required to mediate their custody dispute. (A mediator is a confidential, neutral, third-party person trained in conflict resolution and helps the two sides reach a mutually acceptable plan.)
They can submit separate, proposed parenting plans to the court if they still cannot agree to a parenting plan. The court will consider their proposals when assigning custody. The court must make custody decisions using the standard “best interest of the child.”
What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?
Several components should be included in a parenting plan. These are:
- Who gets physical custody
- Who gets legal custody
- A visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent
- Pick-up and drop-off transportation
- Holiday schedules
- Consequences of breaching the agreement
- Rights of other parties, such as grandparents or stepparents
What Does the Court Consider if it Has to Determine Custody?
Alaska’s courts balance a series of factors when determining a child’s best interest. These factors include:
- The parents’ ability and willingness to raise the child
- The physical and mental health of the child
- The religious and social needs of the child
- The physical, emotional, mental, religious, and social needs and abilities of each parent
- The depth and quality of each parent-child relationship
- The parents’ conduct and moral standards
- Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse
- The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate)
In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess their best interests. Guardians ad litem work for the court system. They are the judge’s eyes and ears: they conduct an independent investigation and then make recommendations to the court.
Additionally, most divorcing parents are required to participate in a parent education program. Parent education does not focus on routine parenting skills. Instead, it helps parents understand how divorce impacts children.
How Do I File for Child Custody and Child Support?
To file for child custody, you must first file a legal document asking the court to determine custody and appoint you as the party with primary custody of the child.
The correct legal pleading you need to file depends on the circumstances of your individual case. The following is a list of initial court documents that may initiate a lawsuit for child custody and child support:
- Divorce: If you are married to the other partner, first file a “Petition for Divorce.” You may also include a request for child custody and child support in that petition. If you are not married to the party with whom you had children, then you will file a “Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship,” or a “Legal Separation” from that party, to file for child custody and support
- Paternity Action: If you are the biological father of a child but do not appear on the birth certificate, you will first need to prove you are the child’s legal father. To do so, you will have to file a “Paternity” action before you can file for legal custody or child support
- Modification: If there were a previous court order regarding the children you are seeking to change, you would need to file for a modification of that court’s previous order. You will need to show that there has been a material or significant change since the last order, which causes you to need to modify the current agreement or order.
If One Parent Has Full Custody Does the Other Need to Pay Child Support?
Child support payments are intended to help provide for the large financial responsibilities of having a child. It is a court-ordered amount of money paid to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent. Alaska has a straightforward calculation of child support. Determine your adjusted income, and then you pay a percentage of the adjusted income. With one child, you will pay 20%; with two children, you will pay 27%; with three children, you will pay 33%; and an additional 3% for each child over three.
Again, the basic idea regarding child support is that a parent has a legal responsibility to support their own child. If one parent has full custody of the child, then it is likely that the non-custodial parent will be required to make child support payments to be equally responsible for their child.
Do I Need to Allow Visitation If I Have Full Custody?
You must strictly follow the court’s order regarding allowing visitation. Therefore, if a court has determined that you have full custody, the court will also determine the other parent’s access to the child. Not following the court order may result in you being held contempt of court.
However, you are not required to allow visitation if the court did not demand it. You do not have to give visitation if the other parent demands it, especially if they threaten to withhold child support. Instead, the other parent should file for visitation. However, if visitation is denied, the other parent must respect the court’s decision and cannot scare you into allowing visitation.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Custody of My Child?
Child custody can be very emotionally charged. Custody disputes are often the most difficult issue for divorcing parents because the future of their relationship with their child will be greatly affected by the results of a custody battle.
Filing for child custody and obtaining child support payments require the assistance of a child custody lawyer in your area. An attorney can explain your state’s specific laws and your rights and options. A lawyer will also help advocate for you and your child and will work to secure the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.
An experienced attorney will have seen many different custody arrangements and will be able to propose to you ideas you haven’t even thought of. If you have custody and parenting time concerns, you must speak with an experienced Alaska child custody lawyer. Child custody laws can be complex, but a qualified lawyer can provide you with guidance regarding your specific legal rights and options.