Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Alaska

Understanding how one parent’s move will affect custody.

Our society is an increasingly mobile one. People often move cities or even states for a new job or a new marriage. If you and your ex share custody of your child, either parent’s move can have a big impact on custody.

In some situations, parents can work out their own agreements for custody and visitation following a move. However, more often one parent will object to the other’s move and a judge will have to make the final decision. Ultimately, a child’s needs come first, so a judge’s decision will be based on a child’s best interests. Many different factors will affect the outcome of your case, so consult a local family law attorney if you have more questions about relocation proceedings in Alaska.

Child Custody Basics in Alaska

When parents separate or divorce, a judge will issue a custody order designating which parent has physical and legal custody, or if the parents will share custody of their children. Parents can share legal custody (decision making power on a child’s behalf) even if one parent is awarded sole physical custody (where child resides). A parent who moves out of state during an initial custody proceeding can still receive full physical custody. Specifically, in one Alaska case a mother received custody of her child even though she’d moved to Texas after she and the child’s other parent separated. The judge gave the mother custody because it would serve the child’s best interests.

A judge’s decision is based on numerous factors that affect the child’s overall well-being. For example, a judge will likely consider:

  • each parent’s physical and mental health
  • the child’s emotional, physical and educational needs
  • the child’s relationship with each parent
  • each parent’s ability to provide a stable home environment
  • the child’s relationship with siblings and extended family, and
  • either parent’s history of domestic violence or abuse.

The parent who is awarded sole physical custody (the custodial parent) will have an advantage in a relocation proceeding. However, this doesn’t mean that the noncustodial parent can’t overcome that advantage and obtain custody.

Can I Request a Custody Modification Based on the Other Parent’s Relocation?

A relocation is more than a move to a different neighborhood. Generally, a noncustodial parent can object to the other parent’s move if it impacts visitation. For example, one parent’s move to a new neighborhood 15 minutes away won’t impact visitation, but a move 1500 miles away will. A nonmoving parent can seek to modify custody based on the other parent’s move. One parent’s relocation constitutes a change in circumstances, which is necessary to modify custody. Nevertheless, the nonmoving parent bears the burden of proving that a change in custody is in the child’s best interests.

For example, in one Alaska case, a father properly sought to change custody based on the mother’s proposed move out of state. Ultimately, the court refused to modify custody arrangements because the father couldn’t show that the move would negatively impact the child.

In another Alaska case, a judge denied a father’s preliminary injunction request to prevent the child’s mother from moving out of state. The mother stated that her move was to pursue her education, work fewer hours, and ultimately spend more time with her children. Because the children’s father could not show that the move would harm the children, the court denied his request to prevent the move.

What Happens at a Relocation Proceeding?

A judge can decide to hold a hearing based on one parent’s proposed relocation. You should bring all relevant evidence to the hearing including witnesses, children’s report cards or medical records, and any other information that might be helpful to your case. Each parent should expect to testify at a relocation hearing. Be prepared to explain any reasons for opposing the relocation. The parent opposing the relocation has the burden of proving that moving away is not in the child’s best interests. Alternatively, if you are the moving parent, make sure you have an explanation for the move and can show how it will improve your child's life.

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