Grandparent visitation law in Alaska is fairly simple and straightforward. Still, it can be difficult for estranged grandparents to win the right to see their grandchildren.
Two Paths to Visitation
In Alaska, grandparents seeking visitation with a grandchild must either join a custody suit or file a separate suit. Joining an existing suit is much easier. The custody case does not have to be pending.
Grandparents can request to join a custody case that has already been decided. Certain forms must be filed asking to join the suit. Additional forms are required to ask for visitation. The forms can be filed sequentially or all at one time. Forms are available at this online self-help center maintained by the government of Alaska, so grandparents who are willing to put in some time can act as their own attorney.
Grandparents can sue for visitation if they were never part of a custody suit, or if there has never been a custody suit. This route is more complex. The necessary forms are not available online, and the government website advises grandparents to seek an attorney's help.
What the Court Will Consider
When rendering a judgment, the court will consider whether visiting with the grandparent is in the best interest of the child. In deciding best interest, the court will consider the child’s physical, emotional, mental, religious, and social needs.
If the child is old enough to express an opinion about visitation, the court will consider that opinion.
The court will also consider whether the grandparent has established ongoing contact with the child or has tried to establish ongoing contact with the child.
When determining whether to grant visitation and the terms of any visitation granted, the court is directed to consider whether there is a history of child abuse or domestic violence attributable to the grandparent's son or daughter, the parent of the grandchild.
This provision is presumably to prevent a violent parent from gaining access to a child during grandparent visitation.
Adoption terminates visitation rights unless the adoption decree specifies visitation rights for the child's natural relatives.
Important Court Cases
The grandparent visitation statutes of most states were jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Troxel v. Granville. The decision gave parents an edge in grandparent visitation disputes and cast doubt on the constitutionality of most state statutes. The validity of Alaska's statute was in doubt until the 2004 case of Evans v. McTaggart. In that case, the court upheld the constitutionality of the law but said that parental decisions about visitation must be given "special weight," which grandparents can overcome only by "clear and convincing evidence."
This principle was upheld in the 2015 case of Ross v. Bauman. The Supreme Court of Alaska overturned a lower court's decision awarding visitation to grandparents. Because the lower court had found that the parents were fit and their restrictions on visitation were not unreasonable, the grandparents had not met the "clear and convincing evidence" test in showing that visitation was in the best interest of the child.
Grandparents' Rights Among Indigenous People
Historically, Indian children have been removed from their homes at a much higher rate than children of other groups. When an Indian child is taken away from his or her parents, the grandparents often lose contact, too. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was a response to the high rate of indigenous children being taken away from their families. The act allows tribes to intervene in cases involving the placement of Indian children in foster and adoptive homes and enhances the consideration given to family members in such cases. About 15% of Alaska's people are classified as Alaskan Native or American Indian. This is the highest percentage of any of the United States.
Indigenous people are not, however, given any special consideration in Alaska's grandparent visitation statutes.
Still, most authorities believe that Alaska’s grandparent visitation law combined with the ICWA support intergenerational relationships and protect the best interests of Alaskan Native children.
See the Alaska statutes, 25.20.065.
- Learn More: Before You Sue for Visitation Rights