Below you will find basic information about divorce in Alaska. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.
- What is the difference between dissolution and divorce? Which one do I file?
- What are the residency requirements to file for divorce or dissolution in Alaska?
- What are the grounds for divorce in Alaska?
- What temporary orders can the judge make while the divorce is going on?
- Can I get alimony in a divorce?
- Do the parties have to go to mediation in a divorce case?
- What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?
- Where can I find additional information about divorce laws in Alaska?
What is the difference between dissolution and divorce? Which one do I file?
The basic difference between dissolution and divorce relates to whether the spouses agree on all of the issues related to the end of the marriage or not. In addition, dissolution does not assign fault to either party while divorce does. In either case, ultimately, a divorce decree will be granted but the process for getting that order will be more or less complicated depending on whether a divorce or dissolution is filed.
A dissolution is where both spouses agree on the following:
- how to divide any property or debt;
- the amount of spousal support and child support;
- custody and visitation of any children of the marriage; and
- equitable division of assets such as 401K, retirement benefits, etc.1
Unlike in a divorce where a spouse has to allege a reason or “ground” for divorce, the dissolution petition lists the reason for dissolution as “Our marriage has broken down and we no longer want to be married.” In the law, the technical language for this is “incompatibility of temperament has caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.”2
To file for a dissolution, both spouses usually jointly fill out, sign, and file dissolution papers with the court. However, it could be possible for one spouse to apply on his/her own if the whereabouts of the other spouse are unknown and that spouse cannot be personally served with the court papers.3 In a dissolution proceeding, a short hearing is usually scheduled, allowing the judge to go over all the particulars and make sure everything is in order before issuing a final decree of divorce.4
If the marriage lasted less than two years, there are no children, and there are no property or debts to divide, an alternative option is to file for an uncontested divorce. You may want to get advice from a lawyer as to the pros and cons of filing for an uncontested divorce complaint via a dissolution petition.
A divorce is filed when both spouses are not in agreement on all four issues listed above. In addition, the spouses may not be in agreement as to the reason (“ground”) for why the marriage ended. In this case, one spouse files a divorce complaint with the court and proposes a property, debt, equitable distribution, support, and custody division. The other spouse would then file an answer and/or a counterclaim that proposes his/her own division of those issues. The court will then schedule a trial, providing both spouses with a chance to argue their case, before making a final decision.4
1 Alaska Statute § 25.24.200(a)(2), (a)(3)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.24.200(a)(1)
3 Alaska Statute § 25.24.200(a), (b)
4 Alaska Statute § 25.24.220(b), (c); see AlaskaLawHelp.org
What are the residency requirements to file for divorce or dissolution in Alaska?
To file for divorce or dissolution in Alaska, either you or your spouse must be a resident of Alaska.1 Unlike many other states, the law does not set out a specific time period of residency before you can file. In Alaska, courts have interpreted residency as being physically present/domiciled in the state with the intent to remain in the state indefinitely and to make a home in the state.2 The Alaska Courts website explains residency as follows: “You are in Alaska when you file and intend to stay as a resident.”1 If you are uncertain if you would be considered a “resident,” we suggest talking to an attorney who specializes in divorce in Alaska prior to filing. See our AK Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.
1Alaska Courts website; see also Alaska Statute § 25.24.090
2 See Alaska Statute § 01.10.055(a); see also Perito v. Perito, 756 P.2d 895 (Supr. Ct 1988), citing Adams v. Adams, 522 P.2d 1125 (Supr. Ct 1974)
What are the grounds for divorce in Alaska?
Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for a divorce. The judge can grant you a divorce for any of these reasons:
- your spouse failed to “consummate the marriage” (have sexual relations) at the beginning of the marriage that continues up until you file for divorce;
- adultery (your spouse cheats on you);
- your spouse is convicted of a felony;
- your spouse deserts you for a period of at least one year;
- your spouse:
- engages in cruel and inhuman treatment meant to harm your health or endanger your life, such as acts of domestic violence;
- personally humiliates you to the point that it makes life burdensome; or
- has a temperament that is incompatible with yours;
- your spouse is habitually drunk and the drunkenness began after you were married and continued for one year before filing for divorce;
- institutionalization for mental illness for a period of at least 18 months before filing for divorce; or
- your spouse is addicted to the habitual use of opium, morphine, cocaine, or a similar drug and the addiction started after you were married.1
Note: If adultery is the only ground for divorce, there needs to be more than just a confession from your cheating spouse to get a divorce on that ground. In addition, if after you learn that your spouse has cheated, you continue to live together as spouses (“cohabitate”), you tell your spouse that you forgive him/her, or you wait more than two years to file for divorce, these can be defenses offered by your cheating spouse to fight against the divorce being granted based on adultery.2 Telling your spouse that you forgive him/her for committing any of the acts in numbers four, five, and six, listed above, can also be a defense to a divorce based on one of those grounds.3
If you want to file for a “no-fault divorce” based on the fact that your marriage has broken down and you do not want to list one of the fault-based grounds outlined above, you may be able to file for a dissolution or an uncontested divorce. To see if you’d qualify for either of those, go to What is the difference between dissolution and divorce? Which one do I file?
1 Alaska Statute § 25.24.050
2 Alaska Statute §§ 25.24.070; 25.24.120
3 Alaska Statute § 25.24.130
What temporary orders can the judge make while the divorce is going on?
While the divorce is making its way through the court system, you can ask the judge to issue a temporary order granting any of the following:
- attorney fees and costs that are close to the actual fees and costs that you will need to spend for the divorce case;
- reasonable spousal maintenance, including medical expenses;
- reasonable child support for any minor children living with you or for an 18-year old child who is unmarried and still in school;
- a domestic violence protective order;
- a protective order that does any of the following:
- provides for “the freedom of each spouse from the control of the other spouse;”
- makes your spouse leave (“vacate”) the marital residence or leave your home if you owned it before the marriage;
- prohibits your spouse from communicating with you directly or indirectly;
- prohibits your spouse from entering a car or other vehicle that’s in your possession; or
- prohibits your spouse from getting rid of your property or joint marital property without your permission.1
In addition, if both spouses agree, the judge can order the parties to go to personal or family counseling or mediation.2
1 Alaska Statute § 25.24.140(a), (b)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.24.140(c)
Can I get alimony in a divorce?
Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse. The judge can award spousal support as part of a dissolution proceeding if both parties have already agreed upon an amount and the judge has considered whether the spousal maintenance takes into consideration the factors below.1
If you or your spouse request spousal support in the divorce proceeding, the judge will consider certain factors to determine a fair alimony award. These factors include, but are not limited to the:
- length of the marriage;
- standard of living that was established during the marriage;
- age and health of you and your spouse;
- earning capacity of you and your spouse, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experiences, length of absence from the job market, and custodial responsibilities for children during the marriage;
- financial situation of you and your spouse, including the availability and the cost of health insurance;
- conduct of you and your spouse, including whether there has been unreasonable spending or destruction of marital assets;
- division of property; and
- other factors the judge decides are relevant to your case.2
1 Alaska Statute § 25.24.220(d)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.24.160(a)(2)
Do the parties have to go to mediation in a divorce case?
At any time within 30 days after a complaint or cross-complaint in a divorce action is filed, either party can file a motion with the court requesting mediation and the judge can order it. Even if neither party requests mediation, the judge can order it at any time if the judge believes that mediation will help the parties settle the case. However, if you have a current protective order, or if you object to mediation based upon domestic violence, the judge cannot refer you to mediation.1
After the first mediation conference, however, either party can withdraw, or the mediator can end the mediation if the s/he determines that mediation efforts are unsuccessful.2
1Alaska Statute § 25.24.060(a), (f)
2 Alaska Statute § 25.24.060(d)
What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?
While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:
- First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
- Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
- Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse - for the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.
- Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side. In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce. If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
- Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues. The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce. Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.
Where can I find additional information about divorce laws in Alaska?
The Alaska Court System website has the following resources:
- answers to frequently asked questions about divorce, including information about residency requirements; and
- links to court forms you need if you wish to file for divorce.
AlaskaLawHelp.org provides some answers to questions about the differences between divorce, dissolution, and annulment.
Alaska Family Law Self-help has informational videos on various topics including how to behave in court, child support, division of marital property, spousal support, and many others.
The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault’s 2015 Edition of the Women’s Legal Rights Handbook contains information on divorce, including grounds for divorce.
WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information provide on their sites.