One of the most difficult parts of a divorce is the determination of child custody. In most divorces there is not a clear difference between the parents as far as whether one would be a better parent than the other. However, once custody is determined and ordered by the court, it is very difficult to modify custody unless all parties agree to the change. This is why it is so important to get it right the first time.
In this post, I am going to discuss some of the different types of child custody arrangements and how they work. First, it is important to know about the two different categories of custody: Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Legal Custody involves the decision-making aspect of custody. The Legal Custodian has the right to make decisions about where the child will attend school, what doctor will the child see, what church will the child attend, etc. Physical Custody involves where the child physically will reside.
Divorces often take several months to come to a resolution and sometimes longer if they go to trial. However, the question of child custody is not one that can remain in limbo for that long. Therefore, when custody is an issue, the court will usually hold a Pendente Lite Hearing to decide temporary arrangements for custody during the litigation.
Joint Custody (True Joint Custody)
True Joint Custody means that each parent has equal Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Each parent has the right to make decisions regarding the child such as what school to attend, what doctor to see, etc. This can be a potential problem if the two parents are not able to agree on everything. Joint Custody also means that the child will reside with each parent half of the time. When the child is old enough to attend school, it is very difficult to have true joint physical custody unless the parties live close to each other. If the parties are able to work together well for the benefit of their children, True Joint Custody allows both parents to be a big part of the child's life.
Child support in a True Joint Custody arrangement is often a surprise to the parties, especially the one who has to pay it. If the parties have relatively equal incomes, there may be no support due. However, if the incomes of the parties are disproportional, one parent may be ordered to pay the other in order to equalize the households. This scenario is also one that sometimes allows the parties to stipulate to no child support payments even if the guidelines say some would be due.
Joint Custody with Primary Physical Custodian
This type of arrangement is probably the most common one in Divorce cases in Alabama. Basically, this means that the parties share Legal Custody equally while one party is named the child (or children's) Primary Physical Custodian. Each party would have a say in the decision making aspect of the child's life but the child would reside with only one party. The other parent, or non-custodial parent, would have visitation with the child on a specified schedule. Normally, the non-custodial parent would have scheduled visitation on at least every other weekend and holidays on every other year. If the parties are unable to agree on any decisions to be made on behalf of the child, the custodial parent would be able to make a decision over the other party's objection. This is why this type of custody arrangement is practically Full Custody rather than a True Joint Custody scenario.
In most normal situations, there would be some child support due from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in this type of custody arrangement. Child support is calculated in Alabama through a worksheet that accounts for each parent's income and the monthly expenses for health care insurance and daycare that each parent accrues. There is a set of guidelines that are mandated by the state and the parties can only deviate from those guidelines if they have good reason to do so.
It is unusual to see the term "Full Custody" in Alabama. In my experience, most courts hesitate to use such language because it tends to alienate the non-custodial parent from the child. Full Custody simply means that one party has complete control over the child both in Legal Custody and Physical Custody. The non-custodial parent would normally still have visitation rights and would most certainly be required to pay some type of child support. However, the most common reason for Full Custody to be awarded would be that there was some danger in the child being with the non-custodial parent without supervision. Therefore, under these circumstances, the non-custodial parent may only have visitation when there is a supervisor present.
If you are contemplating divorce and Child Custody is an issue that you are going to be facing, or if you are in some other situation where your rights as a parent are in jeopardy, you need an experienced Family Law Attorney on your side. Contact me online or call me today to set up an appointment for a free case evaluation.