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Alabama Child Custody
Child Custody in Alabama

Alabama child custody law, Section 30-3-150 requires that "minor children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of their children and encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage [but] joint custody does not necessarily mean equal physical custody."

The court may grant any type of custody that is in the best interest of the child. A parent's mental, emotional, and geographical proximity are considered in selecting the child's guardian. In Alabama, joint custody has two forms: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Joint legal custody happens when both parents share equal rights in making major decisions concerning the child, such as health care, and education. Both parents maintain equal rights and responsibilities, but the court may appoint one parent to have a sole capacity to make certain decisions for the best interest of the child. Joint physical custody means that each parent has scheduled contact with the child but not necessarily for equal amounts of time. In deciding this, the court considers:

  • the child's age and gender
  • safety and well-being, and wishes
  • the parents' moral character, and
  • any history of domestic violence.

By comparison, sole legal custody is when one parent has exclusive rights and responsibilities to make major decisions concerning the child. Sole physical custody is when one parent has exclusive physical custody while the other parent is given visitation.

Under child custody laws in Alabama, the court has the final decision in child custody cases and may award joint custody as deemed to be appropriate.

Mandatory Parenting Class

Alabama courts have the right to require divorcing parents with minor children to complete a parenting class before granting a divorce. It is the Judge's discretion, so he or she may require you to take a parenting class. Whether or not you are required to do so, we highly recommend taking the Children In Between parenting class for the benefit of your child(ren).

Preferential Treatment Towards Mothers

Child custody laws in Alabama are in place to ensure the best possible living conditions for children of divorce. While preference previously was given to mothers, Alabama custody laws now give fathers an equal chance of receiving custody if it is in the best interest of the child. In the case of Ex Parte Devine, the Alabama courts attempted to put an end to the preferential treatment toward mothers in custody cases. Rather than immediately assuming that a child is best suited to live with his mother, the courts now determine the best possible circumstances for the child, regardless of the gender of the parent. In determining custody, the courts take into consideration the sex, age and emotional needs of the child, educational considerations, the child's parental preference, and any court testimony from witnesses.

Joint Custody Preference

Alabama law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as practically possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case because the court believes both parents should be permitted the ability to develop and maintain a meaningful relationship with their child despite the end of the marriage.

Third Party Custody

In some cases, a third party, or someone other than a child's biological parents, tries to gain custody of a child. In these cases, the third party must prove that one or both parents are unfit to raise the child. Examples of unfit parenting include drug or alcohol abuse, instances of child abuse or neglect, or situations in which the child is subjected to dangerous circumstances. If a third party already has custody of a child, the natural parent must prove that a change in custody, particularly custody given to the parent, would benefit the child's physical and emotional well being.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child. Domestic violence, cruelty to your spouse, mental illness that does not respond to treatment, religious affiliation or activity that might have adversely affected the child, and homosexuality are all examples of parental conduct that will carefully be examined by the courts. Infidelity is not automatically grounds for improper conduct, but if the behavior had a significant and negative impact on the child, the courts might take this into consideration as well.

Visitation

The Alabama courts have discretion when determining visitation between children and parents. The courts can establish visitation between one or more parent, even if both parents agreed upon a no-visitation policy. In cases where children do not want to visit with one of their parents based on reservations that are not proven and factual, the courts can order custody, regardless of the child's wishes. Parents who go against the visitation orders of the court might be required to sign a bond stating that they no longer will interfere with the court's visitation order.

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