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.
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.