Where can I file for child custody? (Which state has jurisdiction?)
Jurisdiction refers to which court has the power to hear a case, and custody jurisdiction is state law. However, most states (if not all) have adopted one of two laws: either the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
Alaska has adopted the UCCJEA, which we explain here.
Under the UCCJEA, you can generally only file for custody in the "home state" of the child. (There are exceptions to the "home state" rule -- see next section.)
The "home state" is the state where the child has lived with a parent, or a person acting as a parent, for at least six consecutive months. If the child is less than six months old, the "home state" is the state where the child has lived from birth. (Temporarily going out of the state does not change anything.)
If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least six months. Until then, a custody case can be started in the state that the child last lived in for at least six months.
Example: If a family lives in state A for one year, state A is the home state. If the mom and kids then move to state B, state A is still the home state for the next 6 months, if one parent continues to live in State A.
There are exceptions to the home state rule. In some cases, you can file for custody in a state where the children and at least one parent have "significant connections." Usually, however, you can only do this if there is no home state or if the home state has agreed to let another state have jurisdiction.1 This can be complicated, and if you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer in both states about this. For a list of legal resources, please see our Finding A Lawyer page under the Places that Help tab.
If you have lived in Alaska for less than six months, see Can I get temporary emergency custody?
1Alaska Stat. § 25.30.300