Few legal issues are as distressing and stressful as child custody. For those going through a divorce, child custody is often the most important and most contested issue. When it comes to your children, you want to make sure that their wellbeing is protected.
In Alabama, child custody can be agreed upon by the parents and approved by the court. However, if both parents are unable to come to an agreement, child custody is determined by a judge, who uses a set of factors to decide what is in the best interests of the child. These factors include the following:
- The age and sex of the child(ren)
- The needs of the child, including material, educational, emotional, social, and moral needs
- The home environment of both spouses or parties requesting custody
- The age, character, health, and stability of each party asking for custody
- The relationships between the child and each parent as well as among the children
- The effect that a change in custody would have on the wellbeing of the child
Depending on the age and maturity level of the children, their wishes concerning which parent they want to live with can also be taken into account. The court may also use any other relevant information when determining child custody, including expert testimony. In cases where domestic violence may have occurred, the court may deny custody or visitation rights to the parent that committed the violence.
Child custody includes both physical and legal custody. Physical custody determines where the child will live, while legal custody determines whether one or both parents will be allowed to make major decisions, such as medical or educational decisions, on the child’s behalf.
Sole legal custody, sole physical custody, joint legal custody, and joint physical custody are the types of custody arrangements recognized in Alabama. Sole legal custody establishes one parent as the parent who will make legal decisions for the child. Sole physical custody establishes one parent as the person with whom the child will live, while generally giving visitation rights to the other parent. These visitation rights will vary, depending on the circumstances, and may include the right to see the child on weekends, holidays, and/or during the summer. Joint legal custody allows both parents to make legal decisions for the child. Children spend substantial amounts, if not an equal amount, of time with both parents when joint physical custody is granted.
If both parents agree to joint custody, Alabama court generally presumes that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. However, the court may issue joint custody without this agreement between parents. The court looks at several factors to determine if joint custody is best for the child, including the ability of both parents to cooperate, the distance between the residences of each parent, and any potential for kidnapping or abuse in the parents. In a joint custody agreement, the parents (or the court) must plan for their child’s care, education, health, vacations, and child support. The plan must also include a parent as the primary authority regarding decision-making if both parents cannot agree.
After a divorce is granted and custody is determined, the agreement is made permanent. However, parents may need to change their custody agreement at some point if a change in circumstances occurs. To change a custody agreement, individuals must file a motion with the court, which will determine if a change in custody is best for the child.
Our Huntsville child custody attorneys have years of experience in child custody cases. We provide expert, detailed support and representation, working to further the best interests of children and their families. If you or a loved one needs help with a child support matter, contact Martinson & Beason, P.C. today.
Email us or call (256) 533-1667.