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A trial court must base custody determinations upon the child's best interests, using the factors listed in Alaska Stat. § 25.24.150(c). The court may consider other factors not listed in the statute if those additional considerations are relevant to the child's best interests. Although the trial court must consider each of the factors, it need only discuss relevant factors when explaining its decision.
Michael Schmitz and Christina Schmitz married in Juneau in January 1999. The couple's child, Johnathon, was born in March 1999. While Christina and Michael were married, Christina was Johnathon's primary caregiver. Michael filed a complaint for divorce in October 2001. After trial, the superior court awarded Michael and Christina joint legal custody of Johnathon, with Christina to have primary physical custody. The court further ordered that this arrangement would change to equally shared physical custody upon Johnathon's fifth birthday. On appeal, Christina argued that the trial court erred by awarding shared custody of the parties' child when he turned five.
Did the trial court err in awarding shared custody of the parties’ child when the latter turned five?
The Court held that the trial court did not err in ordering a change in custody from Christina’s primary physical custody of Johnathon to a 50/50 shared custody arrangement to occur automatically when Johnathon turned five. According to the Court, because parenting plan was intended to be a dynamic instrument, it may allow for changes under certain circumstances. The Court noted that the trial court considered the factors set out in AS 25.24.150(c) in making its custody determination. The Court found that Johnathon has no special needs, that he has loving relationships with both parents, and that both Michael and Christina contributed to Johnathon's custody and care. The Court noted that while Christina was in many ways more involved with Johnathon than Michael, Michael showed a strong desire to provide for the child and a willingness to change his life to accommodate the needs of the boy. The Court concluded that in the near future, Christina was better able to provide for Johnathon's needs, but that the longer term required additional contact, care and custody of Johnathon by his father. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court’s custody determination.