One of the most precious assets in a marriage is your children. Knowing that you and your spouse may be headed towards a divorce or separation often raises the question, “what about the kids?”
Alabama courts make custody determinations using “best interest of the child” standard. It is important to realize that going through a divorce with children is not a “one-size-fits-all” process. What is best for your neighbor’s family is not manageable for your own. So, keep in mind as you go through the divorce process- from the first steps to the last- that your family is unique; don’t manage your own expectations by what happened in your sister’s neighbor’s dentist’s divorce.
When it comes to child custody, there are two custody considerations in Alabama: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is decision-making: medical, academic, extracurricular, cultural, religious, and civic decisions. When your daughter has difficulty looking at the blackboard at school, what optometrist should she go to? When your son decides he wants to participate in an extracurricular activity, what happens?
Typically, parties share joint legal custody of their children, meaning each party has an active and participating role in helping make the decisions that impact the child’s health and welfare. However, when the parties disagree (as divorced couples do!), how should this be handled? These are the questions that make it so important to have an experienced family law attorney navigate you through this process.
Physical custody is the days and times that the child or children will spend with each parent. Parties can either share joint physical custody, where they each have approximately equal time with the child or children, or one party may have primary custody of the child, where the child spends a majority of the time with the primary custodian and the other party has visitation.
Unless the parties are able to agree to a schedule, the Court will determine which physical custody designation is in the best interests of your child or children. Both parties start on even footing when the Court makes a custody determination, and the Court will typically consider joint custody in each case. The Court will then review factors such as the age and gender of the child, the ability of each party to co-parent with the other, and any factors which the Court believes to be relevant to a custody determination. After hearing testimony and reviewing evidence, the Court will then enter an Order making a custody determination that will apply to the family.
Other considerations when creating a physical custody schedule are specific to each family: special needs of a child, one parent’s work schedule, or the distance between parties. Having an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney to guide you through the divorce process when children are involved is one of the first steps towards protecting you- and your