A fight over child custody is often immensely stressful for both parents and children. Alabama recognizes two types of custody -- legal and physical. Legal custody refers to which parent has decision-making responsibilities for the child, while physical custody refers to where the child lives. In the state of Alabama, in an effort to foster ongoing contact between parent and child, there is a presumption in favor of joint legal and physical custody. Joint custody does not, however, necessarily mean that both parents have the same amount of time with the child. Before seeking full custody of your child, think about whether this is truly in your child's best interests.
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Custody Arrangements Overview
Full custody -- legally referred to as sole custody -- does not necessarily mean that your ex never sees your child. Sole legal custody is an arrangement in which one parent has sole authority to make decisions about the child, even though the parents may still share joint physical custody. Sole physical custody occurs when one parent is the primary custodian for the child. In most cases, the noncustodial parent is still granted visitation time. Alabama law recognizes that children need to have both parents in their lives. If, however, one parent poses a danger to the child, she may be prohibited from seeing the child or may only receive supervised visitation.
Best Interests Standard
To gain sole custody, you will need to argue that it is in your child's best interests for you to be the sole decision-maker, custodian or both. Alabama considers factors such as the relative financial and mental stability of each parent, each parent's ability to parent the child, the attachment the child feels to each parent and any history of abuse. In Alabama, there is a rebuttable presumption that parents with a history of abuse should not have custody of their children.
To begin custody proceedings, file a petition for custody in the circuit court of the county where you reside. If you have previously been involved in legal custody disputes, you must provide information about these disputes to the court. Provide information about why you think you should be granted custody -- focusing on why it's in the best interests of your child -- in the narrative section of the petition. Then file the petition with the clerk and pay the filing fee. You must also provide a stamped copy of the petition to the other parent. Because family law can be highly complex, it's wise to hire an attorney to represent you in your custody proceedings.
What to Expect
A judge will schedule a preliminary hearing in your case. At this time, you may be ordered to attend mediation or parenting seminars. Each party will have a brief chance to present their case, but the judge will not make a decision at this hearing. The judge may also appoint a guardian ad litem -- an independent person empowered by the court to investigate the case and advocate for the child -- to file a report indicating what is in the best interests of the child. This report will help the judge make a final custody decision. If you and your ex are unable to agree about custody as the case moves forward, it will be scheduled for trial. You can call witnesses to testify on your behalf and submit evidence that it is in your child's best interests to live with you.
References & Resources
- Alabama Legislature: Chapter 30
- Family Law: The Essentials; William P. Statsky
- The Art and Science of Child Custody Evaluations; Jonathan W. Gould et al.