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Filing for Child Custody by Unmarried Parents


A history of domestic violence between you and the other parent can affect the custody or visitation arrangement for your children. The law presumes that the parent who committed the domestic violence might not get custody and visitation unless he or she meets certain requirements. These may include completing a batterer’s intervention or substance abuse treatment program. To find domestic violence, the law does not require the existence of a protective order or criminal charges. The divorce or custody judge may ask about domestic violence. If there has been domestic violence, you should talk with a lawyer about how this law will impact your case.

What is a custody case?

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A custody case is filed by unmarried parents to figure out a parenting plan that includes legal custody, physical custody and child support. A custody order is based on what arrangement is in the children’s best interests.

You can read about how to make a parenting plan.

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Can a custody case deal with property?

A custody case only deals with legal custody, physical custody and child support. It will not deal with property and debt issues from the relationship of the unmarried couple, such as who gets the house or how to divide bank accounts. And unmarried couples can’t file for a divorce or dissolution because you must be married to start those cases.

Unmarried couples need to file a separate civil case to deal with dividing their property and debt. There are no court forms for filing a complaint to divide property of unmarried couples who split up. There are different legal theories that may apply depending on the specific situation in the relationship. You should talk to an attorney about how to draft up the papers to start the case, to understand your legal rights and obligations, and to consider what legal arguments to make in your case.

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Do the children need to be in Alaska to file for custody?

In order for the Alaska court to have jurisdiction or authority to decide about child custody, a child normally must have been a resident of the state for at least 6 months before filing the custody case. Otherwise, the court may not have jurisdiction to decide custody issues. Sometimes there can be exceptions to the six month residency requirement for children like if the child is less than six months old or there is an emergency reason for the Alaska court to decide custody.

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What if the children haven’t been in Alaska for 6 months?

If you file the custody case and the court finds that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the case because the children haven’t been in Alaska for six months, the case may be dismissed.

If you are deciding whether to file a custody case, there are a few options depending on the situation. You can file for custody in the state where the children last lived if they were there for six months. You can wait until your children have been in Alaska for at least six months to file in Alaska. Sometimes there are exceptions to the six month rule. Figuring out where to file your custody case can be very complicated and you should talk to an attorney to figure out where is the best place to file your case.

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What forms do I need to file for custody?

To start a case in court, you must file a document called either a complaint or a petition, and required attachments. The kind of complaint or petition you file will depend on your situation.

The first question is whether or not you and the other parent agree about all issues in the case (legal custody, physical custody and child support). Please click on the appropriate link below for the forms:

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What if we agree on all issues before filing?

If you agree, both parties can file uncontested paperwork together which will make the case go much faster. Please read the Uncontested Matters, Agreements and Settlements section for forms and information.

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How much does it cost to open a case?

Please see our fee information page.

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Does the person filing the complaint have an advantage over the person filing the answer?

No, there is no advantage to being the person who starts the case. Both parties have the opportunity to file papers which state their viewpoint in the case. The judge will consider what each party says and apply the appropriate legal factors to decide the issues.

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Are there classes that can help me fill out the forms?

Yes, there are classes in many communities. However, the forms are fairly straightforward, so do not be afraid to try it on your own. If you get stuck, you can always call the Family Law Helpline or consult with an attorney.

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After I have filled out all of the forms, what do I do?

You are now ready to file in court and get the defendant served:

  1. Make two copies of everything (one for you and one for the defendant). Bring the original to your local court with both copies of the summons.
  2. File the original documents at your local court.
  3. Pay the required fee or submit the Request for Exemption from Payment of Fees, TF-920 PDF.
  4. Get two copies of the standing order back from the clerk (one copy is for you and one for the defendant).
  5. Courts handle the summons form differently:
  6. Put together the defendant's packet, which is a copy of everything you filed plus the completed summons and standing order. Serve the defendant either by certified mail/return receipt/restricted delivery OR process server. Please read the information about serving the opposing party. If you have an unusual situation, please see more on this page for more information about serving people. You may also find How to Serve a Summons in a Civil Lawsuit, CIV-106 PDF helpful.
  7. Keep your copies in a folder.

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Can I file by mail?

Yes, you can mail your papers to the court for filing using 1st class US mail. You need to include 3 things:

  1. all of the required forms that you have filled out, signed and had notarized where indicated.
  2. the filing fee, unless you are asking for a fee waiver.
  3. a self-addressed stamped envelope so the court can mail you the completed summons (the clerk will fill out the bottom half and send you a completed copy) and the domestic relations procedural order after your case is opened.

Make 2 copies of all papers before you mail the originals to the court. Keep 1 copy for your records. You will need 1 copy to serve the defendant later after you get the completed summons and domestic relations procedural order.

Serve the opposing party with:

There are special requirements to serve a complaint and summons.

View video: Mailing Documents Play Mailing Documents Video

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After I have properly served the defendant, what do I do?

You wait. When you receive the proof of service, put it in a safe place. The defendant has 20 days from the date of being served to respond to the complaint. If nothing is filed, you may ask for a default. If the defendant answers, your case will move forward as a contested case and be set for trial.

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Am I required to go to any parenting classes or to see a video?

It depends. Many courts require that you view the Listen to the Children video, and some courts also require a special class or workshop. Please check with your local court to confirm what is currently required.

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What if I am not the parent, i.e. a grandparent or other relative?

If a court case between the parents does not already exist, you can contact the Family Law Self-Help Center to discuss the paperwork to start a custody case, or call an attorney. There is a preference for parents to have custody of their own child so it is a difficult for non-parents to gain custody. When a non-parent files for custody, he or she must show that the parents are unfit and it is in the child’s best interests to be in the non-parent’s custody.

If a custody case already exists, you may file a motion to join the case and then a motion asking for whatever it is that you want. Please read our grandparents rights information to understand the process and forms to ask for visitation. There are different legal standards that apply to non-parents generally, as well as to grandparents. Understanding how the law works in these areas can be complicated; you are strongly urged to seek the advice of an attorney before taking legal action.

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Where can I learn more about custody and parenting plans?

Please read the information in the Parenting and Custody section.

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Where can I learn more about child support?

Please read the information in the Child Support section.

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After I file, what other information can help me to do the rest of the case?

This website has forms and information for all of the stages of the case, including post-judgment modifications of custody or child support orders. You can also find information about specific topics such as child support, parenting and custody, and paternity.

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If something changes, can I modify the custody order?

You can file a request to modify a custody order if there is a change in circumstances. A change in circumstances means something has happened so that the old parenting plan is no longer in the child(ren)'s best interests. Examples include:

To modify child support, there needs to be:

The Alaska Supreme Court has issued many decisions about what types of circumstances amount to a change of circumstances allowing a modification.

Learn more about modifications.

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Rev. 7 September 2016
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