Once upon a time, Sole Physical Custody over children was the go-to arrangement sought by parents when getting a divorce. People used to believe that when parents divorce, the kids have to go live with their mother. In more recent times, this belief has steadily shifted, leading to more parents choosing to have Joint Physical Custody, along with Joint Legal Custody or also known as shared parenting. 

When going into the topic of custody in Alabama, it is important to note the age of the majority. Unlike other states where a minor child is one that is less than 18 years of age, in Alabama, it’s one that is less than 19 years old. 

Physical Vs. Legal Custody

Physical Custody refers to when a parent has actual physical responsibility and control over a child. In cases where there is Sole Physical Custody, the non-custodial parent gets visitation rights. In most cases, the custodial parent receives support from the other parent to augment the budget for the child’s daily expenses. 

Joint Physical Custody is when both parents get to spend substantial and constant contact with the child. 

Legal custody refers to when a parent has the authority to make major decisions concerning the child. These decisions include matters such as education, religion, health care, and other important life issues. 

A parent with Sole Legal Custody has the full responsibility for making these decisions and the other parent has absolutely no say. In Joint Legal Custody, both parents share the responsibility of exercising authority over the minor child’s welfare. 

What Do The Courts Say?

In Alabama, custody laws are partial towards Joint Legal Custody. This arrangement gives both parents more or less equal responsibilities and rights in terms of child-rearing. It requires constant communication and lots of compromise between both parents. That is one reason why it is not ideal for high-conflict cases like between parents with a history of domestic abuse. 

Courts are also more inclined towards Joint Physical Custody where both parents get the chance to have regular contact with their children. This is because it gives children the chance to spend more time and be in continuing contact with both parents. The exception is when this type of arrangement is not beneficial for various reasons. There are certain situations wherein Joint Physical Custody may prove difficult or impossible to maintain. These reasons include:

  • Abuse – a parent with a history of abuse on the child can’t be entrusted with the child’s safety in an unsupervised environment. 
  • Neglect – the above reason also goes for a parent known to have neglected the child.
  • Impractical distance – it would cause more strain on the child and both parents to have the child go back and forth if the parents live four to five hours from each other. 
  • Unfit parent – involved in drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and so on. 

Even in Sole Physical Custody situations, the court provides the other parent with time to spend with the child as visitation or parenting time. Even parents who have committed domestic violence may be given visitation rights. The court ensures that these visitations will be conducted in a way that the child and the non-abusive parent are kept safe. Any violence committed against other people is also considered by the court when deciding on visitation privileges. 

In cases where domestic violence is an issue, the court has numerous contingencies to ensure the safety of the vulnerable parties. These measures include giving an order to keep the abused parent’s address confidential. It could also order that pick-up and drop-off of the child be done at a safe place. Other things can also be arranged like:

  • Supervised visitation
  • The abusive parent pays for supervision by a third party during visitation
  • Postage of bond in court, which will be used to locate the child in case he is not returned.
  • Requiring that the abuser refrains from alcohol intake at least 24 hours before visitation. 
  • And other things that the court sees fit for protecting the best interests of the child. 

What Do Child Experts Say?

Various research studies have confirmed that children under Joint Physical Custody end up performing better in various life aspects. They are emotionally and mentally healthier compared to many children in Sole Physical Custody. Joint Custody children have been found to be less likely to experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. These children are likely to be better-adjusted compared to children in Sole Physical Custody agreements. 

Other benefits include physical health, including the fact that they are less likely to experience the ill effects of stress. They also tend to have more academic achievements, be better at processing step-parent relationships and have better odds at overcoming behavioral issues.

Does It Work For High Conflict Cases?

Joint Custody arrangements have been found to be less likely to return to court for amendments. Parents in high-conflict cases confirm that they opt for Joint Custody because their children’s welfare is more important than their personal conflicts. 

In high-conflict situations, the time spent with both parents in Joint Custody affirms the parents’ love for their children and the latter feel this. They come to the conclusion that even if their Mom and Dad are fighting, both still love them and are willing to overcome their differences just so the kids can have both parents. This creates a sense of security in these children which is difficult to achieve in Sole Custody situations where they feel that they are made to choose. Of course, as already mentioned, these high-conflict situations can’t include ones where the safety of the child and one of the parents are at risk. 

Disadvantages Of Joint Custody

Of course, nothing is ever perfect and Joint Custody, whether legal or physical, has its disadvantages as well. One major consideration for Joint Physical Custody is the distance between both parents’ residences. The further apart they live, the more stressful it is for the kids to shuttle back and forth regularly. Many parents choose to live closer to each other just to make this arrangement work. 

Process For Custody Proceedings

On paper, a custody proceeding seems pretty straightforward. One parent files for custody in court where the documentation includes a proposed custody arrangement. They pay the fees, wait for a court date and appear at several hearings. Of course, the actual thing is never that simple, unless both parents are on amicable terms and have already discussed and agreed to the terms beforehand. 

Factors That Affect Child Custody Orders

Deciding custody is a major responsibility on the part of the court and the parents as well. “The child’s best interest” is probably the most battered phrase in child custody cases. This is because everything that the court and the parents decide will rely on that one main consideration.

Sole Custody

How is the child’s best interest decided though? As minors, especially the younger ones, they can’t be fully relied upon to express what is best for them. Comes now the court’s responsibility. The judge needs to consider several factors when it comes to determining custody. These factors include but are not limited to the following:

  • Child’s age and gender
  • Living conditions available with both parents
  • Child’s basic material needs
  • Emotional and psychological support for the child
  • The child’s educational needs
  • Circumstances affect the parents or adults seeking custody. These include various criteria including physical, emotional, mental, social, and financial wellbeing. 
  • Each parent’s commitment to the child’s wellbeing and to providing all needs mentioned above.
  • The child’s relationship with each parent and with other children that each parent may have.
  • The possible consequences of changing the existing custody agreement, if there is one.
  • The child’s preference is considered as well, especially for older kids. 
  • Professional opinions of expert witnesses like child psychologists, social workers, and others possibly involved in the case. 
  • Any other important issues as supported by the evidence presented in court.

Under Alabama laws, whenever there is domestic violence involved the court has the assumption that granting custody to the abuser is not in the child’s best interest. However, this does not preclude the abuser from making his or her case to the judge.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is the priority option but it is also subject to court evaluation based on various factors. These include but are not limited to issues like:

  • Whether or not both parents are amenable to shared parenting.
  • The ability of both parents to agree on decisions involving the child.
  • The parent’s capacity to provide a loving and nurturing environment.
  • Each parent’s background and whether or not they were ever involved in domestic violence incidents, kidnapping, or child abuse.
  • The parents’ residences and whether or not they are willing to make any adjustments to accommodate a joint custody arrangement.

The availability of information resources on modern-day parenting both online and in various advocacy groups has changed the dynamics in child custody cases. What used to be seen as a battle between bitter rivals is now considered a chance to amicably come to an agreement that will serve the child’s best interest. However, even when both parents want to do shared parenting, filing for custody and acquiring an actual custody order from the court gives an agreement between parents the color of legality. It helps protect all parties involved in the event that any issues arise in the future. 

Getting Legal Assistance

Child custody in Alabama is complicated and can get very stressful to deal with. If you are planning to file for custody or find yourself in the middle of a custody case without legal assistance, it’s time to find help. Alabama family law practitioners like Charlotte Christian Law focus on family law issues like child custody. They are experienced and knowledgeable in dealing with these matters and it is best to have a team of professionals on your side to ensure that everything is done properly. Your child’s best interest is at stake and it is something that should not be taken for granted. 

In the end, your custody arrangement will be dependent on your family’s unique situation. Consult a family law attorney to explore and discuss your best options. 

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    About The Author

    Charlotte Christian, Esq. is a family and divorce lawyer and founder of Charlotte Christian Law. Born and raised in the Yellowhammer State she still calls home, Charlotte is committed to helping those who experienced loss overcome their hardships and build a new life, stronger and more resilient than they were before. No stranger to trauma herself, including enduring the sudden losses of her father while a young child and husband after 10 years of marriage, Charlotte knows what it means practically and legally to put the pieces in place to create a future filled with security, hope, and opportunity, and find happiness once again. An avid sports fan, you can find Charlotte supporting SEC Athletics.

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