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)