It's not just a catchy song: breaking up is always hard to do. Finalizing the end of a union is painful, from the emotional rift to the property division. While you are on your own for healing your heart, state laws generally play a large role in regulating the settlement of a couple's finances. In Alaska, the court divides the marital assets and debt "in a fair and equitable way," an ambiguous standard that is often the most controversial issue in the divorce.
Filing for Divorce in Alaska
If you are an Alaska resident -- or, if your spouse is an Alaska resident, you can file for divorce in Alaska. Generally, you are a resident if you live in the state and plan to stay there. Military service men and women are considered Alaska residents for divorce purposes after they are stationed in Alaska for at least 30 days. Either spouse can opt to end the marriage; you can file for and obtain a divorce, even if your spouse is opposed. You begin the case by filling out the divorce forms, then arranging to have a third party hand them to your spouse. No advantage accrues to the filing spouse; Alaska law gives both spouses an opportunity to be heard before ruling on the debt and property settlement.
In Alaska, dividing property in a divorce starts with determining which property is marital property, belonging to the couple. Generally, the laws define marital property as that property acquired during the marriage for the benefit of the marriage, but the spouse's intent controls. Property one spouse owned before the marriage will be considered marital property if the couple treated it as marital property by commingling assets. For example, a wife who transfers money she earned before marriage into the couple's general fund without keeping records may have lost the right to claim the money as her own separate property. The court's job in a divorce is to divide the marital property between the divorcing spouses in a fair and equitable manner.
Factors in Dividing Property
In making the important determination of property division, Alaska courts must consider a list of factors set out in the Alaska laws at AS 25.24.160(4), starting with the length of the marriage. The list includes such basic elements as the spouses' ages, health, earning capacity and financial condition. The conduct of the parties is also a factor, as well as the desirability of giving the family home to the spouse awarded custody of the children.
Fair and Equitable
The court must determine a fair and equitable property settlement on a case-by-case basis, after examining all information. If the marriage in question was a long one, the court may find it fair to divide all marital property and debt in equal halves. In other cases, however, the factors may cause the court to award one spouse less or more than half of the marital property. If the marriage was brief, an Alaska court may simply return each spouse to the economic position she enjoyed before the marriage, awarding to each only what she had at the beginning of the marriage.
Amicable Divorce Agreement
If both spouses agree on how to divide their property, they can enter into a written, out-of-court agreement. This agreement must be submitted to the divorce court judge for approval before it becomes final. Alaska courts approve settlements if the spouses are in voluntary agreement and the property division is reasonable, fair and equitable. If minor children are involved, the court also reviews the agreement to be certain that the agreement is in the children's best interests.