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Child Custody

A Brief Guide to Alabama Child Custody Laws

Whether you are looking to file for divorce or break off a non-marital relationship, things can get complicated and emotional when there are kids involved. In Alabama, family courts will do their best to keep both parents as involved in their kid’s lives as possible, but the ultimate deciding factor is what is best for the child. Before you begin the legal process, it is a good idea to have an idea of how a judge can divide custody and parental rights, and what factors they consider before issuing a child custody order. In Alabama, Joint Custody is Preferred As stated above, Alabama courts primarily prefer that both parents share the rights and responsibilities of raising their child and approach each custody situation with that in mind. State policy encourages that children have frequent and meaningful contact with both parents, especially when the children are still younger. As long as each parent shows that they are able to handle parental responsibilities, this is the preferred approach to a legal custody arrangement. Of course, one parent may be granted all custody rights under necessary circumstances. Physical Custody v. Legal Custody Parental rights are divided into two basic groups: the right to physical custody of the child, and legal custody. With the first category, it is important to note that joint physical custody does not mean 50/50 possession. School and work schedules, holidays, and geographic distance often makes equal custody unfeasible, so one parent will receive primary physical custody.  Legal custody refers to the set of rights and responsibilities that come with parenthood such as educational, medical, religious, and moral decisions. If joint custody granted, each parent possesses equal rights in legal custody decisions. Factors That Courts Consider When Making Custody Decisions Physical possession is rarely (if ever) divided 50/50 by a family court in Alabama. Instead, the judge takes a number of factors into account to determine what schedule would be in the best interest of the child. These factors include: Gender and age of each child. Alabama is one of the few states that still considers gender an important consideration, most others no longer do this. The particular characteristics and needs of the child, including emotional, social, moral, material, and educational needs. Each parent’s capacity of and interest in providing for those needs. The home environment of each parent. Current living arrangements and whether a change would be unnecessarily disruptive to the child. The age, living stability, character, physical health, and mental health of each parent. The interpersonal relationship between each parent and each child. The child’s preference, if they are mature enough to express one. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Contentious custody battles may require reports or recommendations from expert witnesses, such as social workers or child psychologists. If one parent has a criminal record, a history of domestic violence, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, a court may be more inclined to severely limit one parent’s custody. For example, they may award one parent sole physical custody and the other visitation rights. All of the relevant facts in the case are weighed holistically with the best interest of the child as the ultimate goal. Can I Change a Custody Order? Yes. Custody modification can happen, if there is a change in one or both parent’s circumstances. Essentially, the parent looking to modify an order needs to be able to show a material change in circumstances regarding the child, and must also be able to show that modifying custody would promote the child’s best interests. Custody Orders and Relocation One of the most common modification situations is when the parents with primary physical custody wants to relocate. If the move is not geographically significant, this is usually not a problem as long as proper notice is given. But if the relocation is more than 60 miles, the relocating parent must provide notice to the other at least 45 days ahead of time, with the non-relocating parent then having 30 days to file an objection with the court. For those moving to Alabama, the state has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (often shortened to UCCJEA). It dictates that each state must honor and enforce child custody determinations made by courts in other states. For example, a valid custody order issued by a Texas court can be enforced by an Alabama family judge with no need to obtain an entirely new custody agreement. Do I Need an Attorney When Facing a Child Custody Issue? Child custody cases can be stressful and emotional legal matters that have an impact on families for years to come. Seeking the services of an Alabama family law attorney is the best way to ensure that your rights are represented, whether you are looking to establish a custody agreement or modify a current custody order. At Dagney Johnson Law Group, we are a small family firm that has represented Alabamians for over 40 years. Located in Birmingham, we want our clients to feel comfortable and cared for throughout the legal process. Call us at (205) 937-6564, or fill out our online contact form to set up a consultation.  The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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Child Custody

Alabama Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

When a couple decides to end their relationship, they have to deal with very personal issues on a legal level. If they have children, the important decisions concern custody, visitation, and financial support. These issues apply to unmarried couples as much as they do to divorcing couples, and the decision making process is much the same. So how does the state of Alabama award custody to unmarried parents, and what guidelines do they use? The Basics of Alabama Custody Law When awarding custody to unmarried parents, the legal standard that drives decision making is what is in the “best interest of the child.” Alabama family law puts emphasis on allowing both parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising their children and maintain a nurturing relationship, no matter what their marital status is. This means that courts are more likely to award joint custody. However, this doesn’t always mean that each parent gets equal physical custody of the children. School schedules and other circumstances often mean that one parent is the primary caretaker and will be awarded a larger percentage of physical custody. Custody Considerations and Factors In Alabama, child custody may either be granted to unmarried parents jointly, or to one parent solely.  Because Alabama law assumes that joint custody is in the best interests of the children, a judge will consider joint custody in every case. In rarer cases, circumstances may dictate that only one parent should have the custody, based on a number of factors. These include: The gender and age of the child The safety and well-being of the child The child’s emotional, moral, material, and educational needs, and each parent’s ability to meet those needs Parental characteristics including age, stability, and mental/physical health The relationship between each parent and the child, and the level of cooperation between the parents If the child is of sufficient age and maturity, their stated custody preference This is by no means an exhaustive list, but are amongst the most commonly considered factors a family court looks at when deciding the custody situation between unmarried parents. Can a Court Order Sole Custody? Under the right circumstances, yes. Sole legal custody is when one parent has exclusive rights and responsibilities to make major decisions concerning the child, and sole physical custody is when a child lives exclusively with one parent. A judge may award visitation rights to the other parent. If one parent has a history of substance abuse, trouble with the law, domestic violence, or an unstable living situation, a judge is far more likely to award sole custody. Do I Need an Attorney if I’m an Unmarried Parent Dealing with a Custody Issue? Child custody matters can be stressful, and unmarried parents may face extra complications. Seeking the services of an Alabama family law attorney is the best way to ensure that your rights are represented, whether you are looking to establish a custody agreement or modify a current custody order. At Dagney Johnson Law Group, we are a small firm family that has represented Alabamans for over 40 years. Located in Birmingham,  we want our clients to feel comfortable and cared for throughout the legal process. Call our firm at (205) 937-6564, or contact us online to set up a consultation.  The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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Child Custody

What Is an Uncontested Divorce in Alabama?

If you are in the process of planning for a divorce, it is important to know what types of divorce exist.  Depending on what type of divorce yours is, the process will be different. A divorce can be either contested or uncontested. A “contested” divorce, as the name suggests, means that the spouses contest the terms of the divorce. But what are “uncontested” divorces in Alabama? This article will provide a brief overview of uncontested divorce in Alabama, giving you a better idea of what to expect. If you have questions, contact an Alabama divorce attorney to discuss your options and determine how you should move forward. Uncontested Divorce in Alabama: An Overview An uncontested divorce in Alabama is also called a simple divorce. Whereas a contested divorce can be complicated and contentious, an uncontested divorce is often a more simplified process. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree on all issues required to terminate the marriage. Ultimately, this makes the divorce faster and cheaper than a contested divorce. Requirements for an Uncontested Divorce in Alabama In an uncontested divorce, both parties must agree on all aspects of the divorce. This means that not only do the parties need to agree to the termination of the marriage itself, but they must also agree on items such as: Division of property and assets, Division of debt, Child custody arrangements, and Alimony. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on these issues without court intervention, then you cannot proceed with an uncontested divorce. There are a few additional requirements for uncontested divorces in Alabama that you should be aware of. First, at least one party to the divorce must have been a resident of Alabama for at least six months prior to filing. Additionally, you must file your divorce in the correct county. In Alabama, you must file for divorce in the county in which: Your spouse lives; You both lived when the separation occurred; or You live, if your spouse is not a resident of Alabama. Even if your divorce is uncontested, failure to file in the appropriate county can complicate the process moving forward. Alabama Uncontested Divorce Forms The first step to filing for uncontested divorce in Alabama is completing your formal court complaint. While this can seem intimidating, the State of Alabama fortunately provides “do it yourself” forms on its website. One of these includes a divorce complaint. While you can complete this form on your own, it is always beneficial to have an attorney review it and ensure that you don’t miss anything important.  Contact a Divorce Attorney Today If you have questions about how to file your uncontested divorce complaint, or if you have any other questions about uncontested divorce in Alabama, contact an attorney today. An experienced Alabama divorce attorney can help to make a stressful and emotional process feel more manageable. The legal team at Dagney Johnson Law Group has been helping clients in Alabama through the most difficult times in their lives for over 40 years. We hope to have the opportunity to help you too. Contact us online or by phone at (205) 937-6564 for a free case review to see what we can do for you.

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