In a dispute over child custody, courts in Alaska make decisions based on “the best interests of the child”. In other words, the court considers all factors directly affecting the well-being of the child.
Prior to granting custody, courts want to ensure both parents have the capability and desire to meet the child’s physical, emotional, mental, religious, and social needs. If the child is of sufficient age and capacity, the courts will consider the child’s preference. Courts also consider the love and affection existing between the child and each parent and the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent.
The existence of violence or substance abuse in either household can be another significant factor in a custody decision. A parent with a history of violence against the other parent or against the child may be required to submit to supervised visitation or may have visitation rights curtailed significantly. The court may require a violent parent to prove completion of an anger management or parenting program before granting visitation time. If both parents have a history of domestic violence the court may grant custody to the less violent parent or to a suitable third person with both parents having supervised visitation until they can prove they are ready to parent efficiently.
Child custody and visitation orders may be modified if a judge decides that a change is in the best interests of the child. Courts consider a parent’s failure to pay child support as a factor in this decision if the parent was aware of the obligation amount and had the funds to meet the obligation or had access to funds to meet the obligation. A crime involving domestic violence since the last custody or visitation award is also consideration for modifications.
Temporary duty, mobilization, or deployment of a parent to military services will not result in a change in custody or modification to a permanent custody award in Alaska. When a parent is deployed, courts may grant a temporary order modifying custody but also specifying that deployment was the basis of the order. The temporary order must include reasonable visitation for the deployed parent during a period of leave. Additionally, the order will generally state that the custody arrangement reverts to the permanent order within 10 days of the non-custodial parent receiving notification of the deployed parent’s ability to resume custody. Courts will only modify the child custody order permanently if the judge believes it is not in the child’s best interest to live with the parent after the parent’s return from deployment.
However, a court may grant a hearing on a temporary change of custody if a child of a deployed parent has been moved out of state and the non-deployed parent argues that resumption of the permanent custody order will result in immediate danger of irreparable harm to the child. Courts may also grant temporary orders delegating a deployed parent’s visitation rights under an existing order to another family member who has a close relationship with the child if the delegation is in the child’s best interest; however, delegation will not be permitted to a family member residing in a household with a history of domestic violence by or against that family member.