If you or your co-parent plans to seek a modification of child custody in Alabama, you should consult with an experienced Birmingham, Alabama child custody lawyer to determine what you need to do to protect yourself and your child. Like other states, there are specific grounds for child custody modification in Alabama.
How Child Custody Modification Works in Alabama
After an initial child custody order, either parent may petition the court to seek a modification of custody if certain conditions are met.
Whether you are the non-custodial parent seeking joint or partial custody or you have joint custody with a co-parent who is derelict in their parenting, you have the right to seek a modification so long as changing the custody order is in the best interests of the child.
Grounds for Custody Modification
In Alabama, child custody modification is governed by two Alabama court cases: Ex parte McLendon and Ex parte Couch.
Under what is known as the McLendon standard, a parent who seeks to modify child custody must demonstrate that:
- There has been a material or substantial change in circumstances that affect child custody;
- It is in the best interest of the child to modify the previous custody order; and
- The benefits of changing the previous custody order would offset the disruptive effect of the change in custody.
To successfully modify an Alabama child custody order under McLendon, you must establish all three conditions. This is a relatively high standard to meet.
Under the Couch standard, the court considers only whether custody modification is in the best interest of the child.
Which standard applies? That depends on the facts of your case. If the current custody order provides joint custody, the court will apply the Couch standard to a request to modify.
Conversely, if one parent has primary custody and the non-custodial parent files to modify the current custody order, the court will apply the McLendon standard.
Factors That Influence Child Custody Modification
No matter which standard the court applies, it will need to consider the child’s best interests to determine whether to modify custody. The factors a court considers include:
- The child’s needs, age, and health;
- The wishes of the child, if applicable based on age and maturity;
- The nature of the relationship between each parent and the child;
- Any interference by either parent with the relationship between the other parent and child;
- The parents’ ages;
- The nature of the relationship between the parents;
- The nature of the relationship between the parents and other people in their lives;
- Each parent’s home environment; and
- The character, stability, and mental and physical health of the parents.
The court will take into account the testimony and evidence submitted related to any of the above factors.
If the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child to do so, it will issue a custody modification order.
Process to Modify Child Custody
If you or your co-parent seeks to modify the current child custody order in place, you are probably curious about what the modification process looks like.
If custody was initially determined during divorce proceedings, a modification will typically be filed in the same court.
If custody is determined outside the context of a marriage, a claim for modification will be heard by a court in the jurisdiction where the child has lived for at least six months prior to the filing of the complaint.
To seek modification, a parent must first file a complaint in the correct jurisdiction. This complaint will outline the reasons custody should or can be modified. After the other parent is served with the complaint, they have typically 30 days to respond.
Once the complaint and response are filed with the court, the parties will participate in discovery, including potentially sitting for depositions. After discovery, some judges require the parties to complete mediation.
Mediation is the process by which parties attempt to resolve the dispute outside of court. If successful, mediation saves the parties both the added time and cost of litigation.
Although mediation is ideal, child custody cases rarely resolve outside of court. Custody modification tends to be a contentious issue and rarely allows for compromise.
In such cases, the parties will argue their respective views and present supporting evidence in court. It is then up to the judge to determine whether modification is allowed under Alabama law.
How an Alabama Child Custody Lawyer Can Help
Child custody cases can be complicated, both factually and emotionally. It is important to understand the Alabama laws governing child custody, particularly the grounds for custody modification.
Hiring an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the domestic court system and explain the grounds for child custody modification in Alabama is a good first step to fighting for your child’s best interests.
Contact the Dagney Johnson Law Group
The Dagney Johnson Law Group has been representing individuals in Alabama for almost 40 years.
We understand that child custody cases can be complicated and gut wrenching.
We can help you prepare evidence to establish grounds for child custody modification or to argue against it.
We will be there to represent you and your family in court, and we will do our best to ensure that you get the best outcome for your case.
Contact us today for a free consultation. One of our attorneys will speak with you about your case and determine whether we can represent you.