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Know the Laws: Alabama

UPDATED July 28, 2016

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Below you will find information about custody in Alabama.  Please consider getting help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action.  To find an organization, please go to the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.


back to topWhat is legal custody?

The term “legal custody” refers to which parent has the primary responsibility and authority to make major decisions about the child’s life including, but not limited to, eduction, health care and religion.  There are two types of legal custody:

  • "Sole legal custody" refers to when one parent has these rights.  
  • "Joint legal custody” is when both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for these major decisions concerning the child.*

Joint legal custody involves the parents communicating with each other and compromising on decisions about the child. Therefore, this is usually not a good solution for victims of domestic violence since the abuser usually has power and control over the victim and it might not be safe for the victim to disagree with the abuser. If the victim cannot have equal input and power in the relationship, the decisions about the child that are supposed to be made jointly are often made by the abuser alone.  Similarly, shared or joint physical custody could also be dangerous where there is domestic violence.

 * Alabama Code § 30-3-151

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back to topWhat is physical custody?

The term “physical custody” refers to the parent who actually has primary physical responsibility and control of the child. Normally the parent who has physical custody is the parent with whom the child lives most of the time.  When one parent has "sole physical custody," the other parent usually gets visitation with the child.  The parent who has sole physical custody receives child support from the other parent.  "Joint physical custody" refers to when physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way that the child has frequent and substantial contact with each parent.  Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean the child spends equal amounts of time with each parent.  Parents may have joint physical custody while one or the other has sole legal custody.

* Alabama Code § 30-3-151

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back to topWhat is visitation?

Visitation is the right to spend time with the child.  Except where a judge finds that it would be unsafe or otherwise harmful to the child (or the custodial parent), judges will usually grant some form of visitation rights to parents who do not have physical custody of their children.

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