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How Custody Works For Unmarried Parents In Alabama


Child custody issues pertain to children regardless of the legal status of the relationship shared by their parents. Determining custody for children of unmarried parents is not a process that differs very much legally from determining custody in a divorce. The main difference is that a divorce has many other issues that need to be resolved as well. Alabama family law strives to ensure that children have access to and nurturing relationships with both of their parents, regardless of their marital status. For this reason, Alabama courts have a tendency to award joint custody whenever it is in the best interest of the child.

The Best Interest of the Child Standard

Alabama courts use the “best interest of the child” to try and drive their decision-making on all custody matters. Although Alabama courts have a preference for joint custody, this does not often translate to a 50-50 split. The court will look at the totality of the circumstances in order to determine an arrangement that best serves the child’s interests. The court will be more likely to award more physical custody of the child to the parent who provides most of the child’s caretaking, has a strong family or community support that the child is connected to, and/or lives in the child’s current school district. These are just a small number of factors that are considered in determining which parent-placement would allow for the greatest amount of consistency and the least disruption to the child’s life.

Sole vs. Joint Custody for Unmarried Parents

As noted above, Alabama courts tend to assume that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. However, this assumption can be challenged. Presenting evidence of prior abuse, violent behavior, drug use, criminal history, an unstable living environment, or an inability to care for a child by one spouse, can all serve to successfully rebut the assumption that joint custody is best for the child. In these cases, and based on other factors as well, the judge can elect to award sole custody to one parent.

In awarding sole custody, the judge can consider a number of factors in addition to those cited above, including the child’s age and gender, safety, and wellbeing. The judge may also consider  any physical, emotional, material, and educational needs of the child and each parents’ ability to meet them. This can be particularly relevant when many parents are still having to manage their children’s remote learning from home full-time due to Covid-19. The court can also consider the characteristics (including age and mental health) of both parents in determining the best placement for their child. The court can consider the relationship the child has with each parent and, if the child is old enough, the court can also weigh the child’s desired outcome.

In the event that sole custody is awarded to one parent, the judge may award visitation to the non-custodial parents.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are an unmarried parent in Alabama in need of a custody and/or visitation agreement, the experienced Birmingham family lawyers at Peeples Law are here to help. Call today for a personalized consultation.

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