Know the Laws: Alabama
UPDATED July 23, 2013
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When deciding about child custody, a judge will try to make a decision that s/he thinks is in the best interest of the child. The judge will look at many factors to decide what is in the best interest of the child, including:
If you are filing for custody, is may be a good idea to prepare yourself with as much information as possible about the other parent and yourself. This includes information on behavioral patterns and financial information. You may want to collect any additional information you think can show the judge that the custody arrangement you want is in the child's best interest.
While judges are to consider the option of joint custody in every case, there is no presumption in favor of it unless the parents agree to it. When deciding whether joint custody is in the best interest of the child, a judge will look at:
* Ex parte Christopher P. Devine, 398 So. 2d 686 (Supreme Court of Alabama 1981)
** Alabama Code § 30-3-152
While you have a right to file for custody without an attorney, it may be difficult for you to file a proper petition without the help of a lawyer.
Child custody cases are often very complicated. The laws that control custody cases, the procedures involved, and the specific relevant facts can become very confusing to parents. An experienced lawyer could be very helpful to you in your case.
Be aware that court officials in some counties may tell you that you cannot file without hiring an attorney and some judges may be harder to work with if you do not have one. Also, if the other parent has a lawyer, this may make it more difficult for you. To find a lawyer or legal aid program in your area, please visit the AL Finding a Lawyer page. If you and your children are victims of domestic violence, you might want to ask the attorney you are considering about his or her experience with child custody cases and with issues of domestic violence.
You can usually only file for custody in Alabama if Alabama is your child’s “home state.” However, there are exceptions to the “home state” rule, which are explained in the next section, Are there exceptions to the home state rule?
Alabama usually qualifies as your child’s “home state” if:
Leaving Alabama for a short period of time, such as going on vacation, usually does not change its status as a child’s home state.
If your child recently moved from Alabama to another state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until your child has lived there for at least 6 months. Until then, you or the other parent can start a custody action in Alabama, as long as your child has most recently lived there for at least 6 months. There are some exceptions. Please see Are there exceptions to the home state rule? for more information.
If you and your child recently moved to Alabama from another state, generally you cannot file for custody in Alabama until you have lived there for at least six months. Until then, you or the other parent can start a custody action in the state you moved from, as long as your child has most recently lived there for at least six months. There are some exceptions. See Are there exceptions to the home state rule?
* Alabama Code § 30-3B, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
Yes. There are exceptions to the "home state rule."
In some cases, you can file for custody in a state where the children and at least one parent have "significant connections." Usually, however, you can only do this if there is no home state or if the home state has agreed to let another state have jurisdiction (control) over the case. This can be complicated, and if you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer in both states about this. To find a lawyer or legal aid program in your area, please visit the AL Finding a Lawyer page.
You can also file for temporary emergency custody in a state other than the home state if the child is present in the state AND the child has been abandoned, OR it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because threats with mistreatment or abuse.*
* Alabama Code § 30-3B
It depends on the details of your situation. To find out what the process will be like for you, please consult a lawyer in your area. Please visit our AL Finding a Lawyer page to find legal help in your area.
Generally, if the parents are married and are going through a divorce, one or both of the parents usually files for custody as part of a divorce action.
If the parents are already divorced, a petition for a change in custody can be filed in the county where the divorce was issued.
If the parents were never married, either parent can file for custody in the county in which the child has been living for at least six months.
In all cases, you will have to:
Once you file your paperwork, you may have a hearing in front of a judge, or there may be other preliminary steps you must take. To find out more about how the process works in your area, please contact a lawyer. AL Finding a Lawyer.
If you have temporary custody, the judge can order the other parent to pay temporary support to both you and your children. Later, as part of the custody hearing, the judge may also order child support. The amount will follow the child support guidelines, unless the judge finds good reason to vary from the guidelines. To look at Alabama guidelines, go to the Alabama Courts website.
If the judge thinks that the guidelines would be "unjust or inappropriate," this is enough to order an amount other than what is in the guidelines if there is either:
Maybe. If you get a Protection from Abuse ("PFA") order, the judge can give you temporary custody of your children and can set up visitation for the other parent, either supervised or unsupervised.* Be sure to tell the judge that you want custody during your protective order hearing so that the judge can take your request into consideration. However, custody and visitation orders that are granted in a PFA expire when that order expires. The judge may also extend temporary orders as s/he feels is necessary.
For more information on PFAs and how to get one, go to our Protection from Abuse Orders page.
* Alabama Code § 30-5-7