Child custody refers to the legal rights that a parent is granted upon receiving custody of their child in a divorce setting or in some cases automatically. For example, a parent with legal custody over their child has the right to make important legal decisions on behalf of the child, such as invasive medical care decisions.
A parent with physical custody of the child has the right to live with the child, and make basic decisions regarding the daily care of the child, such as non-invasive medical care decisions. Generally speaking, the residence of the parent with the majority physical custody of the child would be considered the child’s primary residence.
A parent with child custody rights has many legal rights, including but not limited to:
- The legal right to make education decisions for the child, such as what type of school they go to, where the child goes to school, etc.;
- The legal right to make decisions regarding what religion to raise the child in, if any;
- The legal right to receive child support payments;
- The legal right to make decisions concerning the child’s mental health care;
- The legal right to enter into certain legal contracts on behalf of the child or make legal decisions concerning the child; and
- Make decisions regarding the child’s health care, including the child’s dental care.
How Is Child Custody Determined in Alabama?
Child custody laws can often be complex, and state laws on determining child custody can vary considerably by jurisdiction. Determining custody rights over a child or children must be done carefully, as such decisions can have profound and lasting impacts on the child.
In Alabama, when determining child custody rights, Alabama state laws place the child’s interests and background above any of the parent’s personal preferences. This standard that is used to determine child custody decisions is known as the child’s best interest standard. In Alabama, the child’s best interest standard is the main standard for child custody cases.
This means that courts in Alabama will only make child custody decisions if they benefit the child. As such, if a parent in Alabama is considering how to get custody of their child or how to become the custodial parent, they must prioritize their child’s best interests. However, it is important to note that court’s in Alabama have wide discretion in applying the child’s best interest standard.
When determining child custody in an Alabama family court setting, courts will consider a wide range of factors that might affect the child’s well being. These factors will be balanced against the child’s best interest standard, to ensure that the custody decisions do not harm or negatively affect the child in any way.
Examples of common child custody factors that are used by Alabama courts in a divorce or legal separation setting include:
- Each parent’s relationship with the child and history of their interactions with the child;
- Each parent’s home environment;
- Whether or not one parent has a history of being the primary caretaker of the child;
- The child’s background and social connections to their home, school, and neighborhood;
- Whether or not the child has significant sibling or familial connections;
- The mental and physical health of the child, as well as the mental health of the child’s parents;
- Whether or not the child has any specific health, medical, or psychological and emotional needs;
- The ability for the parent to provide for the child’s needs, including food, clothing, and shelter;
- The wishes of both of the child’s biological parents. For example, if both parents agree to a specific custody arrangement, the court will generally honor that arrangement; and
- The overall preferences of the child, especially if they are above a certain age which may vary by state.
Once again, a family court judge in Alabama will always base their child custody decision on what they feel is in the best interest of the child or children involved in the divorce or separation case. Although a judge will give heavy favor to an agreement between the child’s biological or legal parents, the child’s well-being will always be the highest priority.
Does Alabama Law Encourage Parenting Plans in Child Custody Disputes?
In short, yes Alabama law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements between themselves prior to a child custody trial. However, If the child’s biological or legal parents cannot come to an agreement as to custody, Alabama family law courts will make the custody decisions based on the child or children’s best interest.
There is a presumption in Alabama family law courts that joint custody of the child is in the child’s best interest, so long as both parents have a history of acting in the child’s best interest. As such, if the parents enter into a detailed agreed parenting plan, Alabama court’s will tend to favor such agreements.
Parenting plans are essentially written agreements that set out how divorcing or separating parents will share the legal and physical custody of their children. This means that the agreed plans will cover all of the rights of the child, such as the legal rights listed above. Agreed parenting plans will also cover whether or not one parent will be paying child or medical support and which parent is to receive such support.
Once again, if the parents can agree to a custody schedule and the legal and exclusive rights of the child or children, family law courts will typically honor such parenting plans. However, if the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, then they will submit separate, proposed plans to the court for consideration and attend a trial regarding child custody.
What if There Is a History of Family Abuse by a Parent?
In Alabama, if there is any evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse by either parent, the judge will presume that the abuser should not have custody of the child or children. However, this is a rebuttable presumption, and the alleged abuser may submit arguments or evidence as to why they should be entitled to custody, visitation, or supervised visitation.
Oftentimes when there is a history of abuse in a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be appointed by the court to advocate on the child’s behalf. The ad litem will assess both parents and the best interest factors, and submit a report to the court to help the judge assess the child’s best interests.
What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?
Once a parenting plan and divorce order has been signed by a judge, a record of that order will be filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the signed order, unless there is a modification of the order. In Alabama, a final custody order can typically only be changed if there has been a substantial change in either parent or the child’s circumstances.
There are many reasons in which a modification of a final order may be granted, such as:
- The relocation of one parent to a place further away from the other parent;
- Evidence that the child has been abused or neglected by one parent;
- A change in jobs of one parent, resulting in a change in the amount of income used to calculate child support or the amount of time the parent has with their new job to care for the child;
- Violations of one parent regarding the previously signed order; and/or
- The custodial parent passing away.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Child Custody Decisions in Alabama?
As can be seen, child custody disputes can often be both emotionally charged and complex. As such, if you are involved in a custody dispute regarding your child or children, you should consult with an experienced Alabama child custody lawyer.
An experienced child custody lawyer can ensure that your parental legal rights are protected according to your state’s specific family laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to help you advocate for custodial rights of your child or children. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed throughout the process.