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.
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.