Who is entitled to custody?
The judge will generally give custody to whoever s/he thinks will be able to serve the best interests of the child. This might be one of the child’s parents or someone else with a significant connection to the child. Preference for custody, however, is given to biological parents. For a non-parent to get custody, s/he must prove that the biological parents are unfit or, if the judge believes that both parents have a history of domestic violence against each other, the judge could give custody to a non-parent.1 Neither parent is automatically entitled to preference in the awarding of custody, whether or not the parents were married.2
Although the courts try to make sure the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents, the judge will take domestic violence into consideration when making a decision about custody.3 There is a presumption (assumption) that a parent who has a history of committing domestic violence against the other parent, a child, or a domestic partner may not be awarded sole legal custody, sole physical custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody of a child. This presumption, however, can be overcome if the abusive parent complies with certain requirements.4
Also, the fact that an abused parent suffers from the effects of the abuse is not a reason to deny custody to the abused parent unless the court finds that the effects of the domestic violence are so severe that the parent is unable to safely parent the child.5
Note: If a parent is deployed into the military, s/he may have the option of delegating (giving) his/her custody/visitation rights to a family member. See Can a parent who is deployed give his/her visitation rights to a family member?
1 Alaska Statute § 25.24.150(i)(2)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.20.060
3 Alaska Statute § 25.24.150(c)(7)
4 Alaska Statute § 25.24.150(g) & (h)
5 Alaska Statute § 25.24.150(k)
Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?
Under Alaska law, there is a presumption against giving sole or shared legal or physical custody to a parent who has committed one act of domestic violence involving serious physical injury or more than one act of domestic violence with or without causing injury. However, the abusive parent can overcome this presumption by showing that he has completed a batterers’ intervention program, does not abuse drugs/alcohol, and that the best interests of the child require the abusive parent’s participation due to the other parent being absent, mentally ill, or a drug user.1
If the presumption is not overcome, then the court should allow only supervised visitation by that parent with the child, conditioned on that parent’s participating in and successfully completing an intervention program for batterers, and a parenting education program, where reasonably available. However, the court may allow unsupervised visitation if it is proven that:
- the violent parent has completed a substance abuse treatment program, if appropriate;
- the violent parent is not abusing alcohol or drugs;
- the violent parent does not pose a danger of mental or physical harm to the child; and
- unsupervised visitation is in the child’s best interests.2
If there has only been one act of domestic violence that did not involve serious physical injury, it could still be a factor for the judge to consider but the abusive parent might be able to get custody.
1Alaska Statute § 25.24.150(h)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.24.150(j); see § 25.20.061 for more restrictions that can be placed on the parent with visitation
I am the child's grandparent. Can I file for visitation of the child?
If you file for visitation before there was ever a court case for custody of the child, you may get visitation if you have established or attempted to establish ongoing personal contact with the child and the visitation is in the child’s best interest.1
If you file for visitation after there has already been a final custody/adoption order issued by the court regarding the child, you can file for visitation only if:
- you did not request visitation from the court during the custody/adoption case; or
- there has been a change in circumstances relating to the custodial parent or the child that justifies reconsideration of the your visitation rights.2
If your child has a history of domestic violence with the other parent or a history of child abuse, this will be taken into account when the judge decides whether to give you visitation rights and what the terms and conditions of the visitation will be.3
1 Alaska Statute § 25.20.065(a)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.20.065(b)
3 Alaska Statute § 25.20.065(c)
I am the child's uncle/aunt/cousin/etc. Can I file for visitation of the child?
Although the law does not specifically mention visitation rights for aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., in a custody case, the law does permit visitation rights for a grandparent or “other person” if it is in the best interests of the child.1 If you want to know more about this, please talk to a lawyer.
1 Alaska Statute § 25.20.060
Can a parent who does not have custody have access to the child's records?
A parent who does not have custody has the same access to the medical, dental, school, and other records of the child as the custodial parent.1 Therefore, if for safety purposes, you are trying to keep your address confidential from the abuser, you might want to ask the child’s school, doctor, etc. if you can use a relative’s address or if you can list your address as a P.O. Box.
1 Alaska Statute § 25.20.130