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When parents separate or divorce, the term "custody" often serves as shorthand for "who gets the children" under the divorce decree or judgment. In Alaska, custody is split into two types: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the responsibility of taking care of the children, while legal custody involves making decisions that affect their interests (such as medical, educational and religious decisions).

The custody and visitation law has changed in family cases with any domestic violence between the parents. House Bill 385 (2004) went into effect of July 1, 2004 and applies to divorce, dissolution, and custody cases. Under the new law, the parent who committed the domestic violence may not get custody or visitation. However, the parent may get some custody or visitation if he or she meets specific legal requirements.

If there is any history of domestic violence in your relationship, you should talk with a lawyer about how this law will impact your case As is the case with any new law, there are likely to be aspects that are open to interpretation.

In order to file a custody case:

You and the defendant are the biological mother and father of the children. (Both parents must be listed on the children's birth certificates). If there is a question or disagreement about who is the father of the children, that question will need to be resolved before the court decides the custody case.
You are not married to the other parent of the children.
The children are living with one or both parents.
Both parents are 18 years of age or older (or are legally emancipated).
There is no custody order currently in effect (other than in a Domestic Violence case).
The courts of Alaska have the authority (jurisdiction) to decide custody of the children. For Alaska courts to have jurisdiction, the children usually must have lived in Alaska for the last six months. (Other ways for the courts to get jurisdiction are described in Alaska Statute 25.30.300.)
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