Navigating a child custody dispute is never easy. But matters can be made even more difficult when one or more parents want to modify an existing child custody arrangement that is already in place.
Modifying child custody involves more than most parents understand. In cases where parents have joint legal custody and one of those parents desires to change custody, the burden of proof falls upon him or her. That proof must be presented before the court.
Under Alabama law, the grounds for custody modification are based on what is known as the McLendon standard. Keep reading to learn more about the McLendon standard and how it might impact your child custody arrangement. Then get in touch with the child custody attorneys at The Law Offices of Charlotte Christian and Associates to see how we can help you and your family move forward.
Grounds for Child Custody Modification in Alabama Under the McLendon Standard
The 1984 case of Ex Parte McLendon set the standard in Alabama for modification of child custody. Under the McLendon standard, there are certain specific grounds for child custody modification in Alabama that must be met.
The standard requires that the parent who is seeking a modification or change in custody must show proof of the following:
- That a material change in circumstances has occurred since the initial or previous judgment regarding custody in the case;
- That the child’s best interest will be promoted materially by a change in custody; and
- That the benefits of the custody change will more than balance the intrinsic disruptive effects which may result from a change in custody.
The court wishes to lessen the disruption caused by changes in custody, so the McLendon Standard is a strict standard. Alabama judges deduce that stability is innately more beneficial to a child than change. Therefore, the parent who wishes to modify custody must show that the child would be better off with a custody change AND also show that the betterment of the child’s situation will overcome the disruption that will certainly occur with a change in custody.
The Court’s Decision in Custody Modification Cases
A judge will hear the evidence regarding a modification in custody; then he or she rules with a final decision. In essence, a judge in Alabama is given significant discretion in making his or her rulings regarding custody and change in custody cases.
That judge’s decision is presumed correct under ore tenus, which documents that the judge in the matter was able to see and hear witnesses and to judge their demeanor, truthfulness, and knowledge. Therefore, presumably, the judge is held to be in the best possible position to make the rulings concerning custody and custody modifications.
To overturn a judge’s decision regarding custody, the person appealing must show that evidence supports the decision or that the trial court abused its discretion.
What Constitutes a Material Change in Circumstances?
One of the most important required grounds for a child custody modification in Alabama is the existence of a material change in circumstances since the time the original custody order was entered. As such, you might be wondering, What exactly constitutes a material change in circumstances?
Examples of a material change in circumstances that might constitute valid grounds for custody modification include a change in any of the following:
- The child’s needs,
- The location or living arrangements of one of the parents,
- One of the parent’s work schedules, or
- The physical or mental health of the child or one of the parents.
Notably, the change must be fairly significant in order for the judge to grant a modification to the prior order.
Not sure whether the change in circumstances in your scenario constitutes proper grounds for child custody modification in Alabama? Give our team a call to discuss the facts of your case in more detail.
The Best Interest of the Child: Reasons a Judge Will Change Custody in Custody Modification Cases
Ultimately, the overarching consideration in determining whether a child custody modification is appropriate is whether doing so is in the best interest of the child.
A judge in a child custody modification case will evaluate several factors in making his or her decision.
Under the Code of Alabama § 30-3-169.3, Some of the common factors in determining the best interest of the child include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The home environments offered by the parties;
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the people around them and in their lives,
- The child’s needs, age, developmental stage, and overall health;
- The parties’ ages;
- The parties’ character and stability and their mental and physical health;
- The personal relationships between the child and each parent;
- The interference by either parent with the relationship between the other parent and child;
- The willingness and ability of each respective parent to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent;
- The increase in travel time for the child, if applicable, created by the proposed change in principal residence;
- The availability and cost of alternate means of communication between the child and the non-relocating party;
- The extent to which custody and visitation rights have been permitted and exercised in the past;
- The particular reasons each parent has for seeking or opposing a change of the child’s principal residence;
- Evidence relating to any history of domestic violence or child abuse;
- The wishes of the child, if relevant and taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity level; and
- Other evidence, depending on the nature and facts of a case, may be considered by the court.
Of course, there are other factors that may be relevant to your case. Thus, be sure to speak with a qualified and experienced family law attorney who can properly advise you on how best to present your child custody modification matter moving forward.
Do I Need an Attorney for My Alabama Child Custody Modification Case?
You aren’t legally required to hire legal counsel for your child custody modification matter. That said, doing so is highly recommended.
As noted above, there are a number of factors that must be considered under the McLendon standard when determining whether modification of an existing child custody order is permissible. If you’re not familiar with the rules and requirements of child custody modification under Alabama law, what can already be a complicated legal process can feel even more confusing and emotionally overwhelming. However, having a well-trained legal professional in your corner can make all the difference.
A competent Alabama child custody attorney can help you:
- Determine what factors under the McLendon standard may apply to your particular situation,
- Gather crucial evidence to help support your claims,
- Negotiate with the opposing party and their legal counsel in an effort to reach an out-of-court settlement regarding the requested custody modification, and
- Prepare for and present your case in court when a fair and reasonable settlement is not possible.
In short, having an attorney assist with your child custody modification can save you valuable time, money, and stress so you can continue to focus on what matters most—supporting and caring for your child during this difficult time. And because of their experience, an Alabama lawyer can strategize much more effectively to help you get the result you want.
Contact an Experienced Alabama Family and Child Custody Law Firm
At The Law Offices of Charlotte Christian and Associates, we understand that your children are your top priority. Let us help you fight for the future that you and your family deserve.
Our team of family law attorneys will always strive to provide tenacious advocacy, crystal-clear guidance, and a personalized legal strategy that best meets your needs.