How Do Alabama Courts Make Child Custody Decisions?
When parents split up, one of the most contentious issues is often who will get custody of the children. Often, both parents believe they know what is best for their children, but they may not agree with one another on the matter. When parents cannot reach an arrangement for themselves, the court steps in and decides for them. Parents in Alabama should be aware of the types of custody arrangements available in the state and how courts reach custody decisions.Types of Child Custody in Alabama
There are two types of custody arrangements in Alabama:
- Sole legal custody: When the court awards sole legal custody to one parent, known as a "custodian," that parent has total authority to make all the decisions about the child's upbringing, such as those regarding education, religious training and health care. The child lives with the custodian, as well. The other parent is called the "non-custodial parent" in this situation.
- Joint physical custody: When parents have joint physical custody, they both have the right to be involved in making decisions about raising the child. Parents also share physical custody of the child, although the time the child spends with each parent may not be equal. This arrangement is also called "shared parenting."
Alabama courts make custody determinations based on the best interests of the children involved in the case. The court will consider joint custody in every case, as there is a presumption that it is in a child's best interest to maintain relationships with both parents. However, a parent may present evidence to the court that shared parenting would be harmful to the child.
Some of the factors the court considers when assessing the best interest of the child include:
- The safety and well-being of the child
- The age and gender of the child
- The parents' ability to cooperate and the agreements they have reached in the proposed parenting plan
- Each parent's ability to provide for the child's physical, social, emotional and educational needs
- The relationship between each parent and the child
- Each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
- Each parent's mental and physical health
- The proximity of each parent's residence to one another
- The child's preference, if he or she is old enough to express one
- Reports from expert witnesses
- The effects on the child of modifying the current custodial arrangement
- Any other information the court finds relevant
Custody matters can be emotionally charged affairs, and parents should not try to handle them alone. If you have questions about child custody in Alabama, speak with an experienced child custody attorney who can discuss your situation and advise you of your options.