The issue of child custody is usually of great concern to parents who are divorcing, or unmarried parents who are dissolving their household. The question of custody is actually two separate considerations: legal custody, or who makes major life decisions for the child, and physical custody, or who has the right to have the child live in their home. One parent may have sole legal and/or primary physical custody. However, it is common for parents to have joint legal custody and/or joint physical custody.
One of the most stressful parts of divorce for children is the knowledge that their parents are fighting over them, so it's ideal for parents to agree on custody and parenting time without a protracted court battle. If parents can agree upon a parenting plan that addresses custody, and it appears to be in the children’s best interests, a court will usually honor it.
One way parents can work together to reach a resolution that puts their children first is through the collaborative process. This is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which parents have the freedom to craft a parenting plan that is custom-made for their family's needs. In collaborative practice, parents have the flexibility to come up with more creative solutions than a judge would; because the parents themselves arrive at the terms of the agreement rather than having an order imposed upon them, they are much more likely to honor those terms. The process, geared as it is toward identifying and meeting the needs of all parties, reduces stress on both parents and children. Reaching agreement through the collaborative process also keeps decision-making power in the hands of the parents, and avoids what many parents consider the intrusion of the court system.
If parents choose to litigate the issue instead of reaching agreement, the court will determine who should have legal and physical custody based on the best interests of the child. These interests are determined by an examination of several factors set forth in Alaska Statutes 25.24.150.
These include such things as the physical, emotional, mental, religious, and social needs of the child; the capability and desire of each parent to meet these needs; and the child's preference if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form a preference. The existence of domestic violence in the home is also strongly considered. In addition to the factors listed in the statute, the court may consider any information it considers relevant in making a custody determination.
The court often relies on child custody investigations to help it make custody decisions in difficult cases. The investigation may be done by the court system without charge if the parents are income-eligible, or by a private investigator paid for by the parents. The court may also make use of tools like parenting coordinators, or co-parenting facilitators, to help the parents learn how to operate as parents after divorce or separation.
In order to modify child custody, there must have been a substantial change of circumstances such that the original order is no longer in the child’s best interests. A change of circumstances might include a situation in which the original order was for an infant, but the child is now of school age, or in which one parent has been incarcerated or moved out of state.
Mendel Colbert & Associates, Inc. represents both mothers and fathers in custody determinations in divorces and dissolutions of unmarried households, including same-sex couples. We have successfully handled numerous original custody determinations and modifications. Like our clients, our primary focus is on the well-being of their children during and after the custody determination, and we strive to help families through this process with a minimum of conflict.
Mendel Colbert & Associates, Inc. serves clients throughout Alaska, from Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley to remote villages. We invite you to contact Mendel Colbert & Associates, Inc. online or at (907) 279-5001 to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help you with your Alaska child custody matter.