Child custody arrangements are one of the most important components of any divorce involving children. Your children’s ongoing health, happiness, and well-being are obviously your first concern. If you are facing a divorce or have a post-divorce custody concern, work closely with an experienced Huntsville child custody attorney. You and your children’s rights and future are far too important to leave to chance.
Child Custody Basics
In Alabama – as in every state – child custody is based on what is in the best interest of the children involved. The courts presume that – absent any extenuating circumstances – the children’s best interests are served by continuing to have a close relationship with both parents and to spend a meaningful amount of time with both parents – further deepening their relationships. As such, parents are typically awarded joint physical custody. Nevertheless, one parent generally has primary physical custody – the children live primarily with him or her – and the other parent has a visitation schedule.
It’s important to distinguish between physical custody and legal custody. Legal custody refers to parents’ rights and responsibilities regarding making important decisions on behalf of their children. These decisions include:
- Decisions related to education
- Decisions related to non-emergency health care
- Decisions related to religious upbringing
- Decisions related to extracurricular activities
In the vast majority of cases, both parents share legal custody and make these important decisions together.
Determination of Child Custody
As mentioned, the courts make child custody determinations based on the best interests of the children. The court goes about this process by analyzing a wide variety of factors that help it make its best-informed decision. These factors include:
- The health, safety, and well-being of the children
- The age and sex of each child
- Each parent’s level of cooperation and agreement with the proposed parenting plan
- Each parent’s capacity to provide and interest in providing for the children’s material, educational, emotional, social, and moral needs
- Each parent’s age, personal character, emotional and financial stability, physical and mental health, and any other pertinent characteristics
- The quality of the interpersonal relationships between each child and each parent
- Each child’s personal preferences (if the child is of sufficient age to maturely address this issue)
- The home environment that each parent is able to provide
- The geographic proximity of each parent to the other
- The reports and recommendations made by any expert witnesses or other independent investigators
- The probable effects of disrupting or proceeding with the present custodial status
- Any other information the court deems relevant
Determining custody arrangements when the children’s parents can not reach an agreement is obviously an important undertaking that the court takes very seriously.
Negotiating Child Custody Arrangements
The fact is that it’s in you and your children’s best interests if you and your divorcing spouse can decide on the child custody arrangements between yourselves. Obviously, you both know your children and their individual needs and concerns better than the court ever could. Divorce, however, is an especially trying transition that can leave even the most measured person stressed beyond recognition. In other words, it can be difficult to reach a workable compromise with the person you’re divorcing. The fact is, however, that you don’t have to do it alone.
You and your children’s other parent both might have your children’s best interests at heart, and if you can focus on this fact alone, you may be able to negotiate child custody arrangements that you can both live with. If this simply isn’t going to happen, your respective child custody attorneys can negotiate on your behalf to help you find common ground. If you still find yourself at a standstill, there are mediation options to try.
Mediation amounts to going before a neutral third party who is experienced at helping divorcing couples successfully negotiate important outcomes with one another, including outcomes related to child custody arrangements. The mediator will help both of you examine your biggest concerns, pinpoint your priorities, and identify those areas where there is potential for compromise within this framework. If you and your spouse are too far apart on the issues and/or your divorce is so acrimonious that you are unable to move forward, the court will likely need to step in and determine your child custody arrangements for you.
Child support is an important financial concern that goes hand-in-hand with child custody issues. Generally, the parent with the visitation schedule provides the primary custodial parent with child support payments. Both parents are responsible for providing for their children’s financial needs related to their room and board, education, healthcare, and more. The custodial parent is deemed to already be fulfilling this responsibility by providing the children with a home and taking care of their daily needs. The other parent makes child support payments to cover his or her portion of this important responsibility to the children.
Child support is determined in accordance with the state’s calculation process (based on the children’s best interests) that takes a wide variety of variables into consideration, including:
- The lifestyle that the children would likely have experienced had their parents not divorced
- Each parent’s financial resources (and the children’s financial resources if applicable)
- Each parent’s age and relative health status
- Each parent’s current and potential earning capacity
- Each parent’s demonstrated willingness to allow visitation with the other parent
- The financial consequences of the non-custodial parent helping to maintain a second household
- The children’s educational needs, including the prospect of college
- The age and health status of each child
Consult with an Experienced Huntsville Child Custody Attorney Today
Child custody concerns are the most difficult aspect of divorce, and the effects of the resulting child custody arrangements will reverberate throughout your children’s futures. The dedicated child custody attorneys at Cloud, Ryan & Rouse in Huntsville have the compassion, commitment, and experience to skillfully advocate for child custody terms that work for you and your children. We’re on your side, so please don’t hesitate to contact us online or call us at 256-801-1000 for a free consultation today.