Adultery in Alaska: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

If you’re getting divorced in Alaska and you or your spouse has cheated, you’ll need to know how the adultery will affect the judge’s decisions about your case, including alimony, child custody, and child support.

By , Retired Judge

Adultery can cause a marriage to become an emotional nightmare, and it's a common cause of divorce. When you're ending your marriage because one (or both) of you has cheated on the other, it's possible that the adultery will impact the outcome of your divorce, including any potential award of alimony. Every state's alimony laws are different; here's a breakdown of how the state of Alaska's alimony laws address adultery.

An Overview of Alimony in Alaska

Divorce can cause financial turmoil and reveal hard truths about each spouse's post-divorce financial prospects. Often, one spouse will be in a better position than the other, with, for example, a higher-paying job, a more promising career path, or access to more assets.

The courts attempt to balance these financial inequities by ordering the spouse who's more financially sound to pay alimony (also referred to as "maintenance" or "spousal support") to the other. The main goal of alimony is to ensure that both spouses can provide for their own needs after the divorce.

Under the state of Alaska's divorce laws, alimony awards must be fair and necessary. Courts can award alimony for either a limited or indefinite period of time, as a lump sum or in installments. (Alaska Stat. § 25.24.160 (a) (2) (2021).) The trend in Alaska (as in many states) is for alimony awards to be short-term. There are basically two classifications of short-term alimony in Alaska:

  • "Rehabilitation" support continues for a period that allows the needier of the two spouses to take steps to improve their employment status. For example, a spouse who's been out of the job market for a while might require training to be able to compete.
  • "Reorientation" support aims to help needier spouses adjust to living on less money than was available during the marriage. You'll typically see this where one spouse's share of the division of marital property isn't enough to maintain the lifestyle the spouse enjoyed during the marriage. (This type of alimony usually lasts for a year or less.)

Although rare, you might see an indefinite alimony award when there was a long-term marriage and one of the spouses is incapable of becoming self-sufficient because of age or medical issues.

Alaska law also permits judges to award "temporary" alimony to a needy spouse during the divorce and before the court issues a final judgment of divorce. Temporary alimony stops when the divorce process ends. (Alaska Stat. § 25.24.140 (a) (2) (2021).)

What Role Does Adultery Play in an Alaska Divorce?

Alaska provides for "fault-based" and "no-fault" divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one spouse accuses the other of misconduct. In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse blames the other for the failure of the marriage.

Under Alaska divorce laws, adultery is one of the acceptable grounds (reasons) for divorce. Some other grounds are:

  • conviction of a felony
  • willful desertion for a period of one year
  • cruel and inhuman treatment meant to impair health or endanger life
  • personal indignities that make life difficult
  • incompatibility
  • habitual gross drunkenness
  • incurable mental illness when the spouse has been confined to an institution for a period of at least 18 months immediately prior to the start of the divorce, and
  • addiction of either spouse, subsequent to the marriage, to the habitual use of opium, morphine, cocaine, or a similar drug.

(Alaska Stat. § 25.24.050 (2021).)

In the above list, "incompatibility" is the no-fault ground. Many couples prefer to go the no-fault route because it tends to tamp down the hostility that often accompanies divorces based on claims of marital misconduct. This, in turn, usually leads to less overall anxiety and lower legal fees.

How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Alaska?

Although adultery in Alaska is a basis for divorce, it doesn't impact alimony, in and of itself. That's because Alaska's alimony law specifically states that when deciding alimony issues, judges must not take marital fault into account. Rather, the factors judges should consider are:

  • the length of the marriage and the spouses' station in life during the marriage
  • the spouses' age and health
  • the spouses' earning capacity, including their educational backgrounds, training, employment skills, work experiences, length of absence from the job market, and custodial responsibilities for children during the marriage
  • the spouses' financial condition, including the availability and cost of health insurance
  • the conduct of the spouses, including whether there's been unreasonable depletion of marital assets
  • how the spouses' property is divided as part of the divorce, and
  • any other factors the court thinks are relevant in each individual case.

(Alaska Stat. § 25.24.160 (a) (2) (2021).)

Although one of the above factors is "the conduct of the spouses," this does not refer to who's at fault for the marriage ending. Rather, it's geared primarily to how a spouse's actions might have impacted the family finances. In that respect, adultery can have an indirect effect on alimony, such as in situations where a spouse who's having an affair drains the couple's bank account to finance the infidelity, like with trips or gifts.

Does Adultery Affect Custody or Child Support in Alaska?

In most Alaska divorce cases, the fact that a spouse has cheated doesn't affect custody or child support. However, it's important to remember that when it comes to custody matters, judges must prioritize the best interests of the children. So when a parent's adulterous behavior compromises a child's health or safety, it could certainly affect a judge's custody decision. For example, when a parent leaves a young child unattended because that parent is off having an extra-marital affair, a judge would probably be less inclined to entrust the child's well-being to that parent.

When it comes to child support, Alaska child support guidelines advise that the amount of time a child spends with a parent who is obligated to pay child support can factor into a calculation of the support amount. As a rule, the more time a parent has with a child, the less child support the parent will have to pay, because they're already spending money on the child during parenting time (also known as "visitation"). If the court denies or significantly limits parenting time because of a parent's adulterous behavior, the offending parent will likely be paying more money for support.