How Does Alabama Define Child “Custody” In a Divorce?

In an Alabama divorce, the legal term “custody” essentially has two different distinctions: ” legal ” and “physical” custody. Legal custody of the child (or children) refers to the parent making critical decisions about the child’s upbringing. For example, education, religious beliefs, medical care, and more decisions. Physical custody refers to where your child will live (all or most of the time).

The legalities define legal and physical custody into two distinct and very different rulings: “sole” and “joint.”

If the Alabama court sees fit to award one parent sole legal custody, it translates as that parent (and only that parent) will have all of the decision-making authority for the child. Alternatively, joint legal custody allows both parents to decide on all major (and possibly minor) decisions in their child’s life.

If one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the child will reside with only that parent, although the other parent may have court-defined visitation rights. If you and your ex-spouse are awarded joint physical custody, then your child resides with either parent for planned out periods. These periods could range from a few days, weeks to months or more.

In most cases, if you and your ex-spouse have joint physical custody, many factors can come into play that decide how long your child will live with either parent, such as employment, age of the parent, geographical location, and more.

You must note that the difference between joint and sole custody is often a point that is severely contested in some divorces. However, the Alabama courts and custody laws favor joint legal custody as the preferred solution in most cases. The court will always attempt to do what’s best for the child and use information on both parents to ensure the standard is upheld.

Unless other unfavorable circumstances exist, the court has found that children do best when they have frequent, continued, and positive contact with both of their parents.

What Is Considered When Determining What’s In The “Best Interests” Of Your Child?

Alabama courts use this concept of the “best interests of the child” as a critical and determining factor when considering initial custody of your child; divorce court judges take this standard very seriously.

However, there are many factors that the judge will analyze and assess when determining what’s in the child’s best interest, just some of these factors are:

  • The degree of agreement or disagreement between both parents.
  • The present age and the sex of your child (or children).
  • Your child’s basic needs, such as emotional, material, medical, and educational, and which parent can most meet these needs.
  • The home environment that either parent can provide for the child.
  • Both parent’s age, overall stability, and mental and physical well-being.
  • Does the child have a reasonable and positive relationship with both parents or just one?
  • The child’s relationship with their brothers or sisters.
  • The judge may secure expert reports and recommendations from child psychologists, physicians, and more.

Custody (sole or joint) can be complex but exceptionally critical to the Alabama courts. It is outlined and amended by the Alabama State Legislature, Alabama Code/Sections 30-3-150, 30-3-151, 30-3-152, and 30-3-153.

Therefore, no matter what type of custody you seek, the professional knowledge, advice, and guidance of a well-versed Birmingham child custody lawyer is mandatory.

In Alabama, Is Joint Legal Custody Always Allowed By the Courts?

Although it’s true that in most divorce cases, Alabama prefers 50/50 child custody, if there is a sound, convincing, and provable reason one parent may not be fit for custody, the court may alter or deny custody of the child to one parent.

If the court finds that co-parenting is working, then it’s rare that issues arise. However, when even the most basic decisions become stressful and consistently result in massive conflicts, the court may demand that joint custody be revised. So, although awarding joint legal custody may be a go-to decision for the Alabama courts, it has its limitations and pitfalls.

What Are Some Reasons You (and the Court) May Not Grant Joint Legal Custody?

You must note that if your child is over 12, the judge may consider their testimony and wishes. However, the judge has the power and will always make the final custody decision based on your child’s best interests, regardless of your child’s preference or the parents.

If a substantial and provable reason is that joint legal custody may harm your child’s best interest, the judge may mandate sole custody or another workable solution. The judge’s decision will almost always be based on how severe these unfavorable circumstances are.

For example, one parent may be “unfit” if they:

  • Have a provable history of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Have an incident or history of domestic violence.
  • They say or demonstrate that they are not interested in caring for the child.

Some life situations could contribute to the judge moving away from joint legal custody, such as:

  • One of the parents is, and has been, the primary caretaker for the child.
  • One parent is chronically ill or usually unavailable.

Remember that each divorce case is unique and must be discussed in detail with your experienced, knowledgeable, thorough, and empathetic Birmingham child custody lawyer. This is always the best path to follow, especially if you have a sound reason to prohibit joint custody of your child.

My Spouse and I Have Child Custody Conflict; What Can I Do?

First, custody of your child is always a serious and possibly ongoing issue in Alabama. But it’s a decision that will affect you and your child for years.

You must never attempt to navigate Alabama’s custody laws alone, so its important to seek the the guidance and professional advice of a Birmingham child custody law firm who is exceptionally well-versed in child custody law.

The Birmingham-based Rose Law Firm is one of only a handful in the state with a certified family law and custody specialist.
Call them today at (205) 858-9224 and gain the peace of mind that your child custody law firm is passionate about the outcome and will always fight for you and your child’s best interests.