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Legal Information: Alaska

Alaska Custody

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Laws current as of August 9, 2023

What is custody?

Alaska judges have understood custody to include the following two parts:

  1. Legal custody, which means the right and responsibility to make major decisions about your child’s upbringing. These decisions include choices about education, health care, morals, and religion.1
  2. Physical custody, which means the right and responsibility for physical care and immediate supervision of your child.2

1 Elton H. v. Naomi R., 119 P.3d 969, 975 (2005)
2 Co v. Matson, 313 P.3d 521, 524 (2013)

What is joint custody?

Joint custody is also called shared custody.1 With a joint custody order, both parents share legal and physical custody of the child.2

Joint legal custody is when you and the other parent share the rights and responsibilities to make major decisions affecting your child’s welfare.3

Joint physical custody is when you and the other parent share the physical care and supervision of your child. Your child has frequent and continuing contact with each of you as much as possible, although not necessarily for equal periods of time.1 The child lives with each of you for a specified period of at least 30%, but no more than 70%, of the year.4

Note: If you have the child living with you for more than 70% of the year, that means you have primary physical custody.5

1 AK ST § 25.20.060(c)
2 Bell v. Bell, 794 P.2d 97, 99 (1990)
3 Bell v. Bell, 794 P.2d 97, 99 (1990), quoting 17 A.L.R.4th 1015 n. 1
4 AK R RCP Rule 90.3(f)(1)
5 AK R RCP Rule 90.3(f)(2)

Will the judge always give joint custody?

There is a preference for both parents to share joint legal custody, regardless of the physical custody arrangement.1 However, the judge will only order shared custody if it is in the best interests of your child.2 The judge will look at the factors listed in How will the judge decide whether or not to give joint custody? to make his/her decision. Additionally, joint legal custody is only appropriate when you and the other parent can cooperate and communicate regarding your child.3

1 Bell v. Bell, 794 P.2d 97, 99 (1990)
2 AK ST § 25.20.060(c)
3 Farrell v. Farrell, 819 P.2d 896, 899 (1991)

How will the judge decide whether or not to give joint custody?

When the judge is deciding whether or not to give joint custody, also called shared custody, the judge will look at the following factors:

  1. what your child wants, if s/he is old enough and mature enough to give an opinion;
  2. what your child needs;
  3. how stable each parent’s home environment is;
  4. your child’s education;
  5. the advantages of keeping your child in the community where s/he lives now;
  6. the recommendations of a neutral mediator, if one was assigned;
  7. if there is any evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect in either your or the other parent’s household;
  8. if there is a history of violence between you and the other parent;
  9. if there is evidence that substance abuse by you or the other parent, or anyone in either of your homes, directly affects your child’s emotional or physical well-being;   
  10. any other factors the judge believes are relevant; 1 and
  11. what would be the best possible amount of time for the child to spend with each parent. Note: To figure this out, the judge will look at:
  • how much time the child actually spends with each parent;
  • how close the parents live to each other and to the child’s school;
  • how easy or hard is it for the child to travel between the parents;
  • any special needs of the child, which one parent can take care of better than the other parent;
  • how willing and able each parent is to help and encourage the child to have a close and continuing relationship with the other parent. However, except the judge will not consider this if the abuser sexually assaulted or committed domestic violence against you, your child, or any other child, and having a continuing relationship with the abuser will endanger your or your child’s health or safety.2

1 AK ST §§ 25.20.090(1)-(5); 25.20.090(7)-(10)
2 AK ST § 25.20.090(6)

Should I start a court case to ask for supervised visits?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised. If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure. Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time – and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised. Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to AK Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.