Common Questions About Divorce and Dissolution
What is the difference between a divorce and a dissolution?
Both divorce and dissolution are legal ways of ending your marriage. The only difference is how much involvement is needed from the Court system before you get there.
A dissolution is where both spouses agree on how to end their marraige. This means that there is no dispute about how to divide any property or debt, and that custody of any children is completely agreed upon. In this case, both spouses will simply need to joinlty fill out, sign, and file dissolution papers with the Court.
A short hearing will be scheduled, allowing the judge to go over all the particulars and make sure everything is in order before issuing a final decree of divorce.
A divorce is necessary when both spouses are not in agreement on everything. In this case, one spouse files a divorce complaint with the Court, saying that their marriage is over, and explaining how they would like property and debt to be divided, and how they want custody of any minor children to be handled. The other spouse is then able to file an answer describing what they want to happen.
The Court will then schedule a trial, providing both spouses with a chance to argue their case, before making a final decision.
Whether you and your spouse choose to pursude a divorce or dissolution, your marriage will ultimately be dissolved, and a divorce decree entered.
Can I get a divorce if my spouse lives in another state? What if I don't know where he/she is?
If you are an Alaskan resident, you can file for divorce here. However, it is important to keep in mind that your spouse can also file for divorce in any state they are a resident of.
If there are children at issue in the divorce, you will need to file in whatever state the children have lived in for at least the last 6 months. Alaska will only have the authority to make rulings on custody and visitation if the children have lived in Alaska for at least the last 6 months. This is called "jurisdiction."
- If the child at issue is a baby that is under 6 months old, you will need to file for custody in the state where the baby lives.
- There are some exceptions to the 6 month rule, particularly if the children have not recently lived anywhere for 6 months. You will need to speak to an attorney if there is a jurisdictional question about where you should be filing for divorce.
Sometimes it can be difficult to locate your spouse in order to serve them with divorce papers. The Alaska Court System provides tips on how to locate your spouse. If you are still not able to find them, you can request permission from the court to use an alternative form of service, such as publishing a notice of your intent to seek a divorce. You must receive permission from the Court before attempting alternative service.
How can I get a divorce if my spouse won't sign the papers?
You only need your spouse to "sign the papers" if you are requesting a dissolution. Your spouse cannot provent you from legally ending your marriage.
- If you are not able to agree on all terms, you will simply have to file for divorce.
- If your spouse attempts to avoid service of the papers, you may ask the court for permission to serve by other means. Service is traditionally done via process server or by restricted mail. If your spouse is avoiding mail, and managing to hide from process servers, the Court will, upon request, allow you to serve by posting notice of your intent to divorce.
- If your spouse refuses to respond to your divorce complaint, you may ask the Court to enter a default judgment against your spouse.
- If your spouse fails to come to the final divorce trial, the Court will allow you to present you evidence, and then make a final ruling on how to divide your property, debt, and custody of children (if any).
Alaska is a "no fault" divorce state, which allows for divorce on the basis of an "incompatibility of temperment." This means that even if your spouse is entirely opposed to ending your marriage, you can still request, and receive, a divorce from the Court.
What if I want to modify my divorce or custody order?
To request modification of a final divorce or custody order, you must file a Motion to Modify. The Court will only consider your request to modify the original terms of your divorce and/or custody decree if you can show there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the original order. There is no guarantee the Court will grant your request, even if the Judge is willing to consider it.
The Family Law Self-Help Center provides forms and instructions on how to file a Motion to Modify - or respond to one requested by your former spouse.
How do I get my marriage annulled?
Alaska does not have any Court action for an annulment. There are, however, a very limited set of circumstances in which Alaska will consider a marriage void. This means that a judicial decree will be entered stating that the marriage never happened. A marriage can only be voided if:
- One party is already married to someone else;
- The parties are more closely related thatn third cousins;
- One party is a minor, and the parents did not consent;
- One party was coerced or forced into consenting to the marraige;
- Either party did not have the capacity to consent to the marriage; or
- Failure to have sexual relations.
It is important to keep in mind that even if you believe there is a basis to have the marriage declared void, your "spouse" may disagree and provide evidence to invalidate your claims.
Religious annullments are not recognized by the State of Alaska. Even if your church has declared your marriage annulled, you will still need to file a request to have your marriage voided, or seek a divorce, in State Court in order to legally marry at any time in the future.
What if I can't get to the Court for my dissolution hearing or divorce trial?
Alaska allows parties to appear telephonically, at the Judge's discretion, if they are not able to make it to the Court in person. If you are not able to come in person to a hearing, it is important that you file a Motion to Appear By Phone as soon as possible.
The Court is not required to allow you to call in for hearings, You must make the request in writing and provide the Judge with a reason. Courts will commonly allow you to appear telephonically when:
- You live more than 50 miles away from the courthouse and/or are not on the road system to get to the courthouse; or
- The hearing is a minor matter, such as a pre-trial scheduling conference, during which no evidence will be taken or tetimony given.
Judges are not likely to allow you to appear by phone simply because you do not want to be in the same room as your spouse.
If the Court grants your request to appear by phone, they will provide you with a call-in number. It is your responsibility to call in for your hearing at the correct time. Failure to do so could result in rulings being made in your absence. If is also your responsibility to ensure you have access to a working phone. The Court is doing you a favor by allowing you to call in to the hearing. They will not reschedule because your phone was not charged or had a weak signal.