Grounds for Divorce in Alaska

Learn more about the options for divorce in Alaska.

Alaska has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, but even snow-covered mountains and glaciers can’t mute the startling facts surrounding divorce. If you and your spouse are facing a divorce, you might be surprised to find that you have a few options (and even an alternative) in the “north to the future” state.

Dissolution of Marriage

Divorce can be an emotional, stressful, and complicated process. If you and your spouse can’t agree on when or how to end your marriage, you’ll need to file for a “contested divorce.” Contested divorce requires couples to file for divorce, and to ask the court for guidance on the major legal issues in the case. This typically results in spending more time in court and more money on legal fees.

On the other hand, if you and your spouse begin the divorce process agreeing on the major legal issues, like custody, child support, alimony, and property division, you can ask the court to grant you an uncontested divorce—or, dissolution of marriage. Like a contested divorce, the dissolution process permanently ends your marriage, but it allows you and your spouse to maintain most of the control over your divorce-related issues and how you resolve them.

Alaska Allows No-Fault Divorce

In the past, courts required divorcing spouses to prove that marital misconduct caused the breakdown of their relationship. Although some states still allow this “fault-based” process, every state now offers couples the opportunity to file for divorce without placing blame, called “no-fault divorce.”

Marriage is a legal contract, so a court must have a legally acceptable reason—or, grounds— before it can approve a divorce. Each state’s no-fault grounds vary, but the overall idea is the same—that the marital relationship is broken and there’s nothing either spouse can do to fix it.

No-fault divorce is the most common divorce proceeding in Alaska because spouses only need to tell the court that there is “an incompatibility of temperament,” which means that it’s impossible for you and your spouse to continue living together in harmony as a married couple. This eliminates the need to prove any marital misconduct and will generally result in a faster divorce judgment.

For example, in one Alaska case, a husband and wife both filed for divorce, but the wife asked the court only to decide property division issues, and delay the divorce for 3 years so she could continue using her husband’s health insurance. The husband disagreed and asked the court to grant the divorce based on the no-fault grounds of incompatibility. The court agreed with the husband and stated that judges should grant a divorce as soon as the parties inform the court that they are unable to remain married.

What If My Spouse’s Misconduct Caused the Breakdown of Our Marriage?

Sometimes a spouse’s actions during the marriage can result in the relationship failing, and if that’s the case, in Alaska, you have the option of asking the court for a divorce based on those actions. In most situations rehashing your bad times isn’t advantageous, but in certain situations, it may be beneficial to file for a fault-based divorce. Although it’s not true in every state, some states, like Alaska, may use your spouse’s misconduct (fault) as a factor in child custody, property division, or spousal support.

The fault-based grounds allowed in Alaska include:

  • failure to consummate the marriage at the time of the marriage and continuing at the time of the divorce filing
  • one spouse committed adultery during the marriage
  • either spouse is convicted of a felony
  • desertion of the marriage for at least 12 months
  • cruel and inhuman treatment that impairs a spouse’s health or endangers a life
  • either spouse has an incurable mental illness and lives in a mental institution for at least 18 months
  • habitual gross drunkenness since the marriage and continued for one year after the marriage began, and
  • either spouse’s addiction to drugs during the marriage.

Fault-based divorce may allow you to prove to your family and social circle that you weren’t the reason for a failed marriage, but spouses should approach this option with care since the process will be more time-consuming, expensive, and emotional.

Residency and Waiting Requirements

Unlike most states, there is no residency requirement in Alaska, which means that you don’t have to live there for a specific amount of time in order to file for divorce. However, you must prove to the court that you are a current resident of Alaska, with the intent of staying in the state after your divorce.

Military residency requirements

If you or your spouse are active in the military and continuously (more than 30-days) serving on a base in Alaska, the court considers you a resident of the state for the purposes of divorce. This means that even if you don’t intend on residing in Alaska after your stay at the base, you can still ask the court to grant a divorce while you are there.

Military spouses have three options for filing for divorce, which include filing the paperwork in the state:

  • where the military person is stationed
  • where the spouse resides, or
  • where the military member claims legal residency.

Either spouse can use any of the above methods for choosing where to file for divorce, but it’s essential that you review each state’s laws for property division, child support and custody, and spousal support before you decide.

Legal Separation as an Alternative to Divorce

If you and your spouse agree that there is a breakdown of your marriage and that you both want to live separate and apart but remain legally married, legal separation might be an option. Couples typically use this type of legal proceeding if their religion prohibits divorce, but it’s also seen in families where the parents don’t believe a divorce is best for the children. To qualify for a legal separation the couple must demonstrate:

  • there is an incompatibility of temperament between the spouses, and
  • the continuation of the legal marriage status preserves or protects significant legal, financial, social, or religious interests.

Although the result is different (divorce ends the marriage while a legal separation does not), it’s important to understand that before a court will grant a legal separation, the couple must agree on all the same legal issues as divorce. If at any time, the couple disagrees, either spouse can file for divorce.

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