Time Sharing in Child Custody Cases?
Many parents understand that time-sharing with their child’s other parent will be a reality after separation and divorce. Most Alabama divorce decrees include joint legal custody and joint physical custody. While one parent has primary physical custody, the laws generally support regular visitation with the other parent. This is “time-sharing,” although this phrase is not common in Alabama family courtrooms.
To learn more about custody norms in Alabama or to discuss what you can expect from your divorce, you can enlist an Alabama divorce lawyer’s help today. Most provide confidential, no-obligation evaluations for those considering a divorce or custody case.
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What Is Custody?
The concept many people refer to as “custody” refers to several different parts of a plan that details how two parents share guardianship of a child. The court may develop a separate custody plan for each of your children, but most families have one that applies to all children the parents share. This plan details the child’s day-to-day care, health insurance, childcare decisions, religious upbringing, holidays, and school breaks.
A parenting plan, whether issued as a court order or a mutual agreement between the parents, generally addresses four parts: Legal custody, primary physical custody, time-sharing, and child support.
Legal custody refers to the decision-making powers guardians have. A legal custodian generally has the authority to make decisions about the child’s education, childcare, activities, medical care, religious upbringing, and other significant factors of how to raise the child from birth to the age of majority, 19 in Alabama.
Alabama recognizes joint and sole legal custody.
Primary Physical Custody
Alabama recognizes both joint and sole physical custody. Courts generally assign one parent with primary physical custody and the other with shared physical custody through regular visitation. The primary physical custodian lives with the child most often. This parent receives child support, ensures the child has health insurance, and meets other necessities daily.
The parents split time with their children, often known as visitation. How often the child visits their other parent and when depends on many factors. The parents set this schedule by mutual agreement, or the judge schedules it by court order. In many cases, it may be very close to 50/50 time with each parent.
Depending on the circumstances, grandparents may also be able to share time with the child(ren).
The parenting plan will dictate how much child support the parents will receive and pay.
Joint Legal and Physical Custody Are Most Common
Alabama law requires the courts to consider joint custody. Unless there is a significant reason why both parents should not share legal and physical custody, Alabama law makes joint decision-making and regular quality time with both parents the go-to option for custody.
Courts typically don’t order sole legal or physical custody in Alabama. Even if a judge awards sole decision-making powers, the other parent may still have time with their child weekly. Cases where a parent receives sole legal and physical custody generally involve documented abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or situations when the other parent cannot actively participate, such as if they are incarcerated for a serious crime.
If you and your partner can negotiate an agreement for legal custody and how you want to share time, this is the best option for most families. Your attorney may propose an agreement or offer trade-offs to settle your case.
The judge generally approves this type of agreement when:
- It considers the child’s best interests
- Both parents have a lawyer and agree to the terms
- They structure it similarly to how the courts might
The judge will not approve a one-sided agreement or allow one parent to take advantage of the other. Your attorney will know how to develop a parenting plan that the judge will likely approve. This gives you much more control over the outcome of your case than taking the issue to court, presenting evidence, and trusting the judge to weigh the determining factors and develop a plan for your family.
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Factors the Courts Consider When Determining Custody in Alabama
Alabama law outlines the numerous factors judges must consider when determining custody in Alabama. This requires the court to examine many aspects of each parent’s life, their relationship with their children, and other related topics.
Often, parents approach the court with a settlement agreement that outlines some or all parts of a parenting plan. When this happens, the judge could approve it, alter it, or order a different plan entirely. However, they often accept agreements parents negotiate.
Judges may consider a parents’ agreement or determine how they structure a custody order in a contested case by weighing factors that include:
The Parent’s Relationship With the Child
The courts consider the established relationship the child has with the parent one of the biggest factors in assigning primary physical custody. The parent who provides the child with their meals, cares for them each day, and helps them with homework may have an advantage.
When both parents participate actively in the child’s life, this may factor less.
The Age of the Child
A judge usually considers the child’s age and sex and other factors such as their relationship with each parent. Younger children, such as breastfeeding babies and those who stay home with a parent because they are too young for school, may be more likely to live with that parent. This is often the mother, but some fathers stay home with young children instead.
Older children are more likely to have an opinion about where they live. The court may choose to hear their opinion.
The Child’s Sex
The sex of younger children matters very little in custody decisions. Their day-to-day care is essentially the same. As they grow up, this changes. By the time a preteen or teen enters middle school, there are significant benefits from placing them with their same-sex parent. This is only one factor, but the judge may be more likely to place a teen boy with his father than his mother.
The Child’s Current Home, School, and Community
Alabama law encourages judges to provide as much stability for the child as possible. While divorce will always be a time of change and turmoil for the entire family, the child should remain in their own community with their own friends as much as possible instead of relocation. To this end, one parent may have an advantage based on this factor.
- The parent who remains in the marital home
- The parent who lives in the child’s current school district
- The parent who attends the child’s current church
- The parent who takes the child to scouts, sports, or other activities
The Environment Each Parent Provides
Where the child will live, their environment, and who they live with while spending time with each parent matters. The judge will consider the neighborhood, sleeping arrangements, the character of other people in the household, and other factors.
If a parent lives with a romantic partner, the judge may determine that the parent’s home is not the best place for the child to live.
This does not mean the parent must live in a bigger house or nicer neighborhood. A loving home with a supportive family and community that welcomes the child is most important.
Each Parent’s Fitness to Provide the Necessary Resources
The judge considers all aspects of each parent’s health to determine who may provide the best, most stable home life for the child. These aspects include their mental, emotional, physical, and financial health and moral character.
Their financial stability and ability to provide for the child are imperative. The parents should be able to work and earn a living or have other means of providing necessities for the child. They should have a place to live where the child will not need to share a room with the parent and have their own bed, for example.
Any Professional Assessments of the Child and Situation
Some children may need to meet with professionals trained to assess their mental and emotional health, best interests, and related topics. When the child has a doctor, guidance counselor, social worker, or therapist, the judge may request or allow them to submit their assessment of the child or the circumstances. Parents may call these experts as witnesses in court, as well.
Your attorney may offer advice or additional information about these experts and their role in your child’s health or your custody case.
The Child’s Wishes
Alabama custody law does not let the child choose where to live regardless of their age. However, the judge hearing a case can opt to use it as one factor if they believe the child is mature enough to have a well-considered opinion about where to live. There is no set age under the law to determine when a judge should allow a child to testify or submit their opinion to the court. The judge overseeing the case must use their own discretion.
You must tell the judge about any documented history of abuse, neglect, or violence involving the child or in front of the child. Your attorney may help you gather the needed evidence, call witnesses, and prepare to show the judge why you believe you are the best option for custody of your child.
Child Support and Shared Physical Custody in Alabama
Your attorney may help you understand the amount of child support in your case. Whether you will receive or pay child support in Alabama depends on whether or not you are the parent with primary physical custody. Even if your time-sharing is close to even, the primary custodian usually receives child support.
Judges consider these factors when calculating child support payments in Alabama:
- The gross income of each parent
- How many children there are
- The number of days spent with each parent
- The cost of health insurance, childcare, and other necessary costs
Since the formula includes the number of days each parent has physical custody of the child, time-sharing affects how much child support the judge orders. When any parts of this formula change significantly, you may need to file a Petition to Modify with the court. This petition could allow you to change your custody order. Your attorney can navigate this process for you.
Shared Parenting Time Is Generally Best for the Child
The law assumes that children need both parents as active participants in their lives, so long as they can provide a healthy and supportive relationship.
For this reason, Alabama law prefers that the parents work out an agreement or the judge orders a parenting plan that includes:
- Joint decision-making about key topics such as education and medical care
- Frequent visitation and time spent with each parent
- Parents who actively participate in all aspects of the child’s life
When Is Sole Custody a Possibility?
Unfortunately, there are exceptions to this rule. Some parents fight for custody because they fear for their child’s safety with the other parent.
If your focus in your divorce is to protect your child, your lawyer can work on developing a strong argument and gathering evidence to document your concerns.
An Alabama Child Custody and Divorce Attorney Represents Parents
If you have concerns about getting joint custody or securing visitation with your children, you do not want to leave the outcome of your case to chance. Having an attorney well-versed in these issues in your local courts is imperative. Your lawyer will manage the entire divorce or custody dispute process, guiding you through it from start to finish.
You can get a no-obligation evaluation with a local Alabama divorce lawyer today. Learn how your legal team will fight for the best outcome for you and your children.