Creating parenting arrangements that support the welfare of minor children is an important part of the divorce process in Alabama. By law, judges must make custody decisions based on the child's best interest, which can impact the type of custody awarded and the ability of a parent to change a child's residence.
Alabama has enacted laws dealing with jurisdictional issues related to child custody that adhere to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which it has adopted. The state restricts the location where parents can request an initial custody order and obtain modifications to existing orders. Under the UCCJEA, Alabama may rule on an initial custody request only if the child either currently resides in the state or did so for the previous six months and one parent continues to live in the state. Once an initial order has been issued, Alabama retains jurisdiction and the order may only be modified in another state if an Alabama court either declines jurisdiction or it has been established that neither parent nor child continues to live in the state. This procedure is designed to prevent conflicting custody orders from different states and discourage parents from choosing a court simply to get a favorable ruling, known as forum shopping.
Types of Custody Arrangements
Alabama recognizes two types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the ability to make important decisions regarding the welfare of the child, such as education, religious affiliation and medical treatment. Physical custody refers to where the child sleeps. Alabama law prefers that physical custody be shared by both parents, but not necessarily equally. In making all custody determinations, the best interest of the child is the overriding concern of the state and judges must consider several factors, including the age of the child, home environment of both parents, ability of each parent to meet the child's specific needs, and the relationship of each parent to both the child and each other.
If a court in Alabama decides that awarding sole custody to one parent is in the child's best interest, the other parent is typically granted visitation rights, known as access in Alabama. In cases of domestic violence, a judge may still grant supervised access if steps can be taken to ensure the safety of the child and other parent. Once an access order is in place, the custodial parent must comply with its terms. If denied access, a non-custodial parent may request the court hold the other parent in contempt.
Alabama has specific laws regarding when a parent can move with a child after divorce. First, the custodial parent must provide at least 45 days notice to the court and the other parent regarding her plans to move. If the other parent objects, the relocating parent must convince the court that the move is in the child's best interest. By law, there is a presumption that a move does not benefit the child, so the moving parent must provide sufficient evidence to overcome this presumption. The court will look at several factors, including the distance of the move and its effect on the relationship between the child and non-relocating parent, as well as whether the move will benefit the specific needs of the child, such as education or access to quality health care.