Child custody agreements tend to be one of the most stressful and emotional aspects of any Alabama divorce. This is entirely understandable given what is at stake.
No one wants to lose their children. Custody disputes sometimes continue long after the divorce has been finalized. Perhaps one parent isn’t honoring the agreement, or you need to make post-judgment modifications due to unforeseen circumstances.
Whatever the reason, do not proceed without the help of experienced child custody lawyers in Birmingham, Alabama. Contact our firm to schedule a consultation.
Overview of Child Custody in Alabama
Decisions regarding parental rights in Alabama are not taken lightly by the family courts. The judge considers all evidence presented and will also speak with all parties. They will ask what each parent wants with respect to custody. If your child is old enough, the court may ask them what they want and where they may feel most comfortable.
Parents need to remember that custody decisions are not about what’s best for you and your schedule. The court looks at what is in the best interests of your child—despite what you’ve heard or what may have happened in courts years ago. Today, Alabama family courts are not going to automatically award full custody to a child’s mother without a compelling reason. Alabama child custody law says that courts must always consider joint custody when it makes sense. The law prefers that both parents remain a part of their children’s lives.
Alabama Child Custody Law for Unmarried Parents
Alabama child custody law looks at what is best for a child, whether you were married to the other parent or not. Not being married to each other doesn’t necessarily take away your rights and responsibilities. However, you’ll find some differences in how parental rights are established if you were never married.
When a married couple has a child, there is a presumption that both people are the child’s legal and biological parents. The issue of paternity is rare. It is only usually a concern when one parent brings it up. However, with couples who were never married, the father’s name might not be on the child’s birth certificate.
If the father’s name is not on the birth certificate, then paternity has to be established before the court can decide on custody. The same rule applies to child support. You cannot force your ex to pay child support without establishing paternity first.
The easiest way to establish paternity is if both parents voluntarily sign an acknowledgment of paternity form. If paternity is disputed, you may need to seek a DNA test. Once the results come back, you will need to file a court action that establishes paternity and adds the biological father’s name to the child’s birth certificate.
Child Custody for Same-Sex Couples
Same-sex couples have some unique issues when they are splitting up and there is a child involved. In a situation where the child was adopted, are both parents listed as the adoptive parents? If the answer is no, that can present additional challenges to the non-adoptive parent.
If one parent conceived the child, the court may need to consider the status of the other biological parent and whether there was a termination of parental rights under Alabama law. And even if the biological parent’s rights were terminated, a non-biological parent may face hurdles in establishing custody rights if they never legally adopted the child.
Because there are additional challenges to overcome with custody when one person is not the biological or adoptive parent, it’s imperative to speak with an experienced Birmingham child custody lawyer.
At Dagney Johnson Law Group, we understand the unique challenges that come with a same-sex custody dispute. We can help you work through everything that needs to be done to establish your legal rights as a parent.
Termination of Parental Rights in Alabama
Parental rights are entitled to great protection under both the United States and the Alabama Constitutions. Nevertheless, there are some circumstances where it becomes necessary to terminate a parent’s rights.
A parent’s rights may be terminated if they are unable to provide proper care for their child and the circumstances that prevent them from doing so are unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
Specific grounds for termination include things like:
- Abuse or maltreatment of the child;
- A parent’s drug or alcohol abuse;
- Failing to provide for the child’s material needs or to reasonably pay child support;
- Serious abuse of a sibling or termination of parental rights as to a sibling;
- Abandonment or failure to maintain consistent contact with the child;
- A parent’s mental illness that prevents them from caring for the child; and
- A parent’s conviction for a felony and imprisonment.
If grounds for termination are proven, the court must next consider whether termination is in the child’s best interests and whether there are viable alternatives to termination that would serve those interests.
If you are wondering whether termination of another parent’s rights might be an option in your case or if you need to protect your own rights against termination, it is important that you talk with a child custody lawyer as soon as possible.
Types of Child Custody in Alabama
Alabama child custody law divides child custody into two parts: physical and legal. When the court determines who should have each type of custody, it can opt to award either joint custody to both parents or sole custody to one parent.
Physical vs. Legal Custody
Physical custody refers to where your child will spend the majority of their time. Your child may be spending equal time with both of you, or the court may grant physical custody primarily to one parent.
Legal custody refers to which parent has the right to make important decisions on your children’s behalf. These decisions can include what school the child will attend, what religion they will be brought up in, and what medical treatments are to be administered.
Sole vs. Joint Custody
Courts can decide to award sole or joint custody to parents, but the law favors joint custody arrangements where possible. The court makes this decision separately with regard to legal and physical custody. This means that, depending on the circumstances, the court may award a combination of both joint and sole custody.
For example, the court might award joint legal custody to both parents but sole physical custody to only one parent. This arrangement would mean that you would both have the right to make important decisions on your child’s behalf, but the child will spend the majority of their time at one parent’s home.
Temporary vs. Permanent Custody
While your custody dispute is going on, the court can decide on the best temporary solution until a long-term arrangement has been decided. Temporary custody arrangements are common during an Alabama divorce or when unmarried parents give birth to a child.
The duration of temporary custody orders will vary. Some orders may be effective for several weeks, while others may last for a few months depending on when you reach an agreement or go to trial on permanent child custody.
In most cases, when one parent has sole custody, the non-custodial parent still has the right to see their children regularly. This is known as visitation. If you cannot reach an agreement on a visitation schedule, the court will set up an agreement that outlines when the non-custodial parent can spend time with their children. The agreement may also include information on whether the visits are to be supervised.
How a Child Custody Lawyer Can Help
Depending on your situation and current legal needs, there are numerous ways child custody lawyers in Birmingham, Alabama, can help you. Custody lawyers do more than help couples decide on physical or legal custody matters.
Our firm can also assist with:
- Establishing parental rights in Alabama;
- Parental relocation;
- Parenting agreement revisions;
- Visitation schedule revisions;
- Child custody modifications;
- Grandparent rights; and
- Child support orders and modifications.
At Dagney Johnson Law Group, we understand how important family is to you. Don’t leave some of the most important decisions of your life to chance. Let our skilled Birmingham child custody lawyers help.
Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation.