LAW OFFICES OF JENNIFER L. HOLLAND

DIVORCE AND DISSOLUTION

Alaska will have jurisdiction over your divorce (the authority to decide it) as
long as you and your spouse have lived together for six consecutive months
within the six previous years before the divorce is filed.  Alaska has
jurisdiction to decide custody only when the children have lived in Alaska for
the six consecutive months before the case is filed (or since birth if they are
less than six months old).  

Dissolution  A divorce and a dissolution have the same legal effect:  ending
the marriage.  The difference between them is that in a dissolution you must
agree to all aspects of the divorce, including but not limited to, custody,
child support, property division, and alimony.  If you are able to reach a full
agreement, you can file a joint petition with the court, usually with a packet
that is available at the Clerk's Office.  The court will schedule a hearing that
you will both typically need to attend.  Before the hearing there is a 30 day
"cooling off period" when either one of you can change your mind and
withdraw the petition.  Dissolutions usually work best with shorter marriages
where you do not own a lot of property or debts.  Because you are making
important decisions about your future, it is still a good idea to have an
attorney look over your paperwork before you file and advise you of your
rights.  An attorney can only consult with one party unless both parties sign
a waiver, but since both parties have differing interests it rarely makes
sense for both parties to speak with the same attorney.  Sometimes there is
additional paperwork to file to transfer assets, such as houses and
retirements.  These are critical documents and if you are not sure how to
complete them, you should have an attorney handle that for you.

Divorce  Filing a divorce is necessary when you can't agree on all aspects of
your split.  It begins with the filing of a complaint.  After the complaint is
filed, the other party will need to file an answer to the complaint.  Then
litigation begins.  If you are unable to settle your divorce case, then it will
eventually go to trial and be decided by the judge assigned to your case.  The
majority of cases do ultimately settle, but it can still take several months
before your divorce is final.  If you need immediate relief, such as some
money to pay the bills while the case is pending, then you are entitled to file
a motion to ask for help from the court.  You can also ask that the other party
pay some of your attorney's fees while the case is pending.  Most divorces
involve the division of your assets and debts, and many also involve alimony,
custody, child support, and attorney's fees.

Property Division  Alaska is an equitable distribution state.  This means that
there is a presumption that all of the assets and debts that you acquired
during the marriage should be divided 50/50.  However, if the parties don't
agree on how to divide their assets and debts, then the judge is required to
review several statutory factors (statutes are laws passed by the Alaska
legislature) to determine whether it's appropriate to vary from a 50/50 split.  
Each case is different.  Property division is a three step process.  Step 1:  
Determine what assets and debts were acquired from the date of marriage to
the date of permanent separation.  Step 2:  Value those assets and debts.  
Step 3:  Determine an equitable distribution of those assets.  It sounds
simple enough, but this can be a very complicated process.  For example, the
parties may not agree when they permanently separated.  There are also
certain situations where assets that started out as separate property became
marital property.  Experts may need to be hired to value assets such as
businesses.  You will be required to exchange certain financial documents at
the beginning of your case and will likely be required to turn over additional
documents through a process called discovery.  Your attorney is there to
advise you every step of the way.

Alimony  In some cases, an award of property is simply not enough to
support a spouse after the divorce is final.  If that's the case, then the judge
may order that one party pay the other alimony, also called spousal support.  
This can be interim alimony (paid while the divorce is pending), or ongoing
alimony after the divorce is final.  There are typically 3 types of alimony paid
after a divorce:  1) Short term alimony so that the person with less income
has time to get back on his or her feet, called reorientation alimony.  2)
Alimony for the specific purpose of going back to school in order to earn a
better income, called rehabilitative alimony.  3)  Permanent alimony, which is
very rare, but can be awarded when one spouse has no hope of ever earning
enough income to support his or herself.  The attorney will be able to advise
you if you qualify to ask for alimony or if you are at risk to pay it.

Attorney's Fees  An award of attorney's fees in a divorce case is different
than other types of litigation.  In a divorce, it is based on the relative
economic circumstances of the parties - can one party better afford the cost
of the divorce?  If there is enough money for both parties to each pay his or
her own attorney, then no attorney's fees are usually awarded.  If that's not
the case, then the judge may award some attorney's fees to put both parties
on equal footing.

LEGAL SEPARATION

Alaska allows spouses to also file for legal separation.  In a legal separation
you can still divide your assets and debts, decide alimony or attorney's fees,
and decide custody and child support.  However, you are not legally
divorced.  This is an option for people that want to remain as a dependent on
their spouse's health insurance or maintain certain rights in the event of their
spouse's death.  Both parties would need to agree to the legal separation.  
There are many potential pitfalls with the legal separation process, so it's
extremely important that you consult with a legal professional before
attempting this on your own.

CUSTODY, VISITATION, AND MODIFICATION OF CUSTODY

Where the children should live is often the most difficult part of the process,
both for the litigation and for emotional reasons.  Of course, it's always best
to reach agreement on this if possible.  An attorney can still help you with
setting holiday schedules and numerous other considerations that come up.  
When you can't agree, the court will have to decide both where the children
will live (physical custody) and who will have decision-making authority
(legal custody.)  This is based on a standard known as "best interests of the
children."  Alaska law sets out the factors that the court must look at to
determine the children's best interests.  There is a preference for shared
custody when possible.  Sometimes there are factors that just don't allow for
shared custody and the court will order visitation for one party.  Most
visitation will be unsupervised, but there are certain cases where the child is
in danger of harm and supervised visitation can be ordered.  Before you deny
the other parent visitation, it's imperative that you consult with an attorney.  
There could be significant consequences if you don't.  Your attorney will be
able to advise you of the best course of action.  

Custody orders are modifiable, but only if there has been a "significant
change in circumstance."  One example would be if a parent is moving out of
state.  There are many possible situations where a significant change in
circumstance occurs, but if you can't prove a significant change, then
modification will be denied by the judge.  If you are able to prove a
significant change in circumstance, then the judge must once again consider
the best interests of the children in deciding whether to modify the custody
order.  

In Alaska, grandparents also have rights of visitation with the children.  

CHILD SUPPORT

Child support is based on Civil Rule 90.3 and the amount is calculated under
a formula.  Depending on the custody and visitation schedule, one or both
parent's incomes will be considered.  It is not possible to waive child
support.  An experienced attorney will be able to help you determine what
child support must be paid and what supporting documents you will need.  
Child support can be modified based on a change in custody or a change in
income.

PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENTS

Many people want to know how they will divide their assets and debts in the
event of a divorce before they get married, or even after they get married (it's
possible to have an agreement even if you are already married and not
currently contemplating a divorce.)  It is the safest way to protect assets
that you own before you get married, but it is extremely important that you
discuss this with an attorney before attempting to prepare one yourself.  
These are complicated contracts and how you treat assets during the
marriage can make them unenforceable.  It is critical to get the advice of
legal counsel.

ADOPTIONS

We also handle adoptions, including adoptions that are governed by the
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  There are special rules that apply when the
child being adopted has Native blood.  Although this is rare, Alaska also
allows for the adoption of adult children.

APPEALS

When one party does not agree with the judge's decision, they have a right to
appeal the decision.  In divorce, custody, and adoption matters, those
appeals are heard by the Alaska Supreme Court.  We have handled numerous
appeals over the past 23 years, including non-family law appeals.  While you
may not agree with the judge's decision, there are limited reasons why a
decision can be overturned on appeal.  You should discuss an appeal as soon
as possible after the decision is made.  There is a limited time period to file
an appeal.  
Law Offices of Jennifer
L. Holland

606 E Street
Suite 203
Anchorage, AK  99501
(907) 279-3333 (Main)
(907) 258-4428 (Fax)