Child Custody Lawyer in Opelika
When both parents are emotionally healthy enough to raise their children, the state of Alabama typically prefers a joint custody arrangement upon separation of the parents. However, there may be compelling reasons why this isn’t in the best interests of the children or why it wouldn’t work well for the parents. If you’re currently in the process of divorce and are facing a dispute over child custody, we recommend retaining an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. It’s also important to understand the language around the various categories of custody arrangements.
Definitions of Child Custody in Alabama
When you and your spouse first split up, the parent with whom the children live most of the time has temporary custody. However, this is not a legal determination of custody as that will be determined when you formally go through divorce proceedings.
Sole custody means that your children live mostly with you or mostly with the other parent. The parent with sole custody has the legal right to decide on issues such as healthcare, education, and religious instruction for the children. This parent has legal custody of the children as well.
Things get a bit more complicated in a split custody situation. This means that a couple has at least two children together and some of the children live primarily with one parent and some live with the other parent. Split custody tends to come up most often in cases involving older teenagers who can offer input into where they prefer to live.
Alabama recognizes two types of joint custody of minor children. These include joint legal custody and shared physical custody. In the first scenario, the couple’s children live primarily with either the mother or the father, but both retain the right to make decisions that impact the children. In shared physical custody, the children split their time as equally as possible between the homes of their mother and father.
Courts overseeing family law cases in Alabama prefer that children of a couple who are no longer together retain access to both parents and that they receive encouragement to build a strong relationship with each. Judges will put this need, which they typically view as in the best interest of the children, above the preferences or disagreements of the parents. If the parents can’t come to a consensus on custody or one feels that the state-preferred joint custody arrangement would be harmful to the children, a judge will consider numerous factors in making a ruling. The most common ones include:
- Income differences: If one parents earns significantly more than the other, can he or she provide the children with greater resources such as sports, lessons, camps, and similar enrichment activities the other parent may be unable to afford?
- Willingness to help facilitate a strong bond with extended family members: Relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members can be extremely beneficial for children. Is one parent more willing than the other to ensure these continue on both sides of the family?
- Child characteristics: Children of a certain age or gender may do better with one parent over the other. Additionally, one parent may have more experience caring for a child with special needs and very young children would experience the least disturbance remaining with the parent who has usually provided his or her primary care.
- Physical and emotional well-being: Does one parent appear to have greater stamina for child-rearing than the other? If either spousal or child abuse has ever taken place, the judge will consider this factor carefully.
- Children’s preferences: It’s possible that an employee from the family court could interview children over age six away from both parents to try to get a sense of their living preferences. The court may assign a guardian ad litem to children in highly contentious cases to ensure their needs are considered equally.
- Physical proximity of the parents: A joint custody arrangement can be difficult if the parents live a long distance from one another. The judge deciding on custody also considers how close the children can remain to school, church, friends, their regular doctor, and extended family members.
- Current living situation: If the parents have been apart for a while, the children may have adjusted nicely to their current living situation. A judge always weighs how much disruption a change in living conditions would impose on the kids.
- Religion: The judge considers whether one or both parents has religious practices considered extreme enough to negatively affect the children as well as how likely it is the parents will agree on religious training.
Determining Visitation for the Non-Custodial Parent
When either the mother or father assumes primary custody, the non-custodial parent typically has the right of frequent visitation with the children. A judge will intervene if the parents can’t come up with a visitation schedule they both agree to abide by.
Family courts in Alabama will do whatever is necessary for children to retain access and maintain a relationship with both of their parents. This is true even when abuse has occurred, although that may prevent the offending parent from receiving primary custody. In extreme cases, the parent who has committed past abuse is only eligible for supervised visitation of the children. A person appointed by the court who is not related to either party would be present during these visits.
Request a Free Consultation with a Family Law Attorney at Alsobrook Jackson
At Alsobrook Jackson, Attorneys at Law, we understand that this is a challenging time for your entire family. It’s our goal to help minimize the disruption to your children by working closely with you and the attorney for the other parent to arrive at the best possible decision regarding custody. If you expect disputed custody in your divorce or separation case, we encourage you to retain a family law attorney as early in the process as possible. Please contact us at our office in Opelika, Alabama at 334-737-3718 to request your free consultation today.
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