Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in Alaska. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with an Alaska divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce in Alaska, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
Unlike most other states, you don't have to live in Alaska for any specific period of time to get a divorce in the state. Instead, either you or your spouse must simply be a state resident when you file your divorce papers. (Alaska Stat. § 25.24.090 (2022).)
To be considered a resident of Alaska, you must live in the state and plan to stay indefinitely. (Perito v. Perito, 756 P.2d 895 (Alaska 1988).)
Even though you may file for divorce in Alaska if your spouse doesn't live in the state, you should know that the judge may not have the legal authority (known as "jurisdiction") to order your spouse to pay money or transfer property as part of the divorce judgment unless the two of you lived as a married couple in Alaska for at least six consecutive months during the six-year period before you file for divorce. (Alaska Stat. § 09.05.015(a)(12) (2022).)
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Alaska, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse will have to agree about all of the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Once those issues are resolved, it's typical to incorporate the settlement terms in a marital settlement agreement.
When you have an uncontested divorce in Alaska, you and your spouse will usually file for what's called a "dissolution of marriage." A dissolution is basically the same as a divorce, but some of the forms and procedures are different.
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Alaska. The grounds for divorce in Alaska are different for divorce and dissolution of marriage.
Ordinarily, it doesn't pay to file for divorce on fault grounds, because it tends to make the process more contentious, and it reduces the chances of reaching a settlement. The more there is to fight about in a divorce, the longer the process takes and the more expensive it becomes (think legal fees).
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for dissolution of marriage or uncontested divorce by yourself, without hiring a lawyer. A do-it-yourself divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage, but it will take some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll follow a traditional contested divorce route. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for couples who are handling their own divorce.
You can find the the forms and instructions for both divorce and dissolution of marriage on the website for the Alaska Courts Self-Help Center. There are separate forms for marriages without children and with children. You can also find additional information on the divorce process at AlaskaLawHelp.org.
There are different sets (or packets) of forms, depending on whether you have minor children, have an agreement with your spouse, and plan to file for divorce together. The necessary forms may vary from court to court, so you should contact the court clerk's office in the judicial district where you're filing for divorce (more on that below) to see whether they have special form requirements.
Your signatures on the petition or complaint must be notarized. But when you and your spouse are filing joint forms, you don't need to sign at the same time and place.
Once you've gathered, completed, and signed the forms, the next step is to file the divorce papers with the Superior Court Clerk in the district where the reason for your divorce happened (which is usually where you and your spouse lived together), or where your spouse lives now. (Alaska Rules Civ. Proc., rule 3(c) (2022).)
Alaska has been phasing in the use of electronic filing of court documents through the state's eFiling system. Check with the court clerk's office to see if electronic filing is available and mandatory in your district. If you don't need to use the eFiling system, you can bring the paperwork in person or mail it to the clerk's office.
Be prepared for the fact that Alaska courts charge fees to file legal documents.The state's filing fee for divorce is $250 (as of 2022, but always subject to change). It's always worth checking with the court clerk's office to confirm the current fee amount and the types of payments they'll accept.
If you can't afford the filing fee, you may request a waiver by filing a "Request for Exemption from Payment of Fees" along with the rest of the divorce papers. You won't be able to move ahead with your case until the judge decides whether you qualify for the waiver.
After you've filed the divorce papers, pay attention to the next steps that might be needed to move your case along.
If you and your spouse filed a joint dissolution petition or divorce complaint, simply make sure that both of you have copies of all the documents you filed with the court. There's no need to go through formal "service of process," and your spouse won't file a response.
But if you filed a complaint on your own, you must serve your spouse with the divorce papers, including the summons (which the court clerk will prepare and give to you when you file the paperwork). Generally, a state-authorized process server, often a member of the state police or a local police department, will serve the documents by hand-delivering them to your spouse. Some courts may allow you to mail the documents by certified or registered mail. Ask the court clerk about the local rules, as well as about alternate methods of service when you haven't been able to find your spouse.
You'll need to file a "Civil Rule 4(f) Affidavit" as proof that you've served your spouse with the divorce papers. If you haven't done so within 120 days after filing the divorce complaint, the court will dismiss your case unless you've provided a satisfactory reason for the delay. (Alaska Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4 (2022).)
Your spouse may file an answer that agrees or disagrees with anything you've stated or requested in the divorce complaint. (The forms for responding to a complaint are also on the court website.) If your spouse doesn't file a response within 20 days after receiving the divorce papers, you may file an application for a default divorce. Then, after a hearing, the judge may sign a default judgment that grants everything you requested in the complaint.
Early on in your Alaska divorce, you and your spouse must exchange detailed information about your income, property, other assets, and debts, along with releases allowing the other spouse to get certain financial information for six months. (Alaska Rules Civ. Proc., rule 26.1 (2022).) You may also be required to file financial statements with the court.
If you and your spouse have minor children, you'll have to take a parenting education course before the judge will grant your final divorce decree. Usually, you'll be able to meet this requirement by watching a video or completing an online class. The specific parent education requirements depend on your court location.
In contested divorces, the judge may order your and your spouse to participate in mediation in an effort to resolve your disputes. Either spouse may request a mediation order within 45 days after the defendant spouse has filed an answer. Judges may also order mediation on their own any time during the case. However, judges won't ordinarily order mediation if there's evidence of domestic violence in the marriage. (Alaska Stat. § 25.24.060 (2022).)
According to the Alaska Courts website, the earliest you can get your divorce decree is generally 30 days after you filed the complaint. How long it will actually take depends largely on whether you have an uncontested or contested case.
Even with an uncontested dissolution or divorce, you'll generally need to attend a hearing to get your final divorce. You may file a motion (individuallly or jointly with your spouse) to request permission to attend the hearing by phone, but you'll need a good reason for your request.
Most couples with contested divorces eventually reach a settlement, usually with the help of their lawyers, a mediator, or both. But the process can take several months. And if they have to go to trial to have a judge resolve one or more issues, it could take a year or more to get a final divorce.