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Legal Information: Alabama

Custody

Laws current as of September 1, 2023

Who can get custody? Can a non-parent get custody?

There is an assumption that it is in the best interest of the child to be with one or both of his/her natural parents. For a non-parent to get custody, the parents have to either give up their rights, be deceased, or the non-parent seeking custody has to prove that the parent is guilty of such bad misconduct or neglect that the parent is unfit and an improper person to be entrusted with the care and upbringing of the child.1

1Ex parte Jonathan M. Terry; 494 So. 2d 628, Supreme Court of Alabama (1986); see Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49 (2000)

Can a parent who committed violence get custody?

A judge is supposed to look at any history of domestic or family abuse when considering who gets custody. If the judge determines that there has been domestic abuse, the judge is supposed to assume that it is not in the child’s best interest for the abuser to get sole or joint custody.1 The judge should assume that it is in the best interest of the child to live with the non-abusive parent.2 However, the abuser can still try to show the judge that it would be in the child’s best interests to give him/her custody. If the judge is convinced, s/he may give the abuser sole and/or joint custody of the child.

The judge must also take into account:

  • what impact, if any, the domestic violence had on the child;1
  • the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family or domestic violence; and
  • the abuser’s history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or causing reasonable fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, to another person.3

Also, the law states that if a parent is absent or relocates because of an act of domestic or family violence by the other parent, the judge cannot use this against the parent in making a decision as to custody or visitation.4

Note: The judge can refer an adult victim of family or domestic violence to attend counseling relating to the victim’s status or behavior as a victim, individually or with the abuser. However, the judge cannot order the victim to attend as a condition of receiving custody or visitation.5

1 Alabama Code § 30-3-131
2 Alabama Code § 30-3-133
3 Alabama Code § 30-3-132(a)
4 Alabama Code § 30-3-132(b)
5 Alabama Code § 30-3-135(d)

Can a parent who committed violence get visitation?

A judge could grant visitation to a parent who committed violence only if the judge believes that proper measures can be taken to ensure the safety of both you and your child. The judge must also take into account the abuser’s history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or causing reasonable fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, to another person.1

When creating a visitation order, the judge can include protections, such as:

  • ordering that your address be kept confidential;
  • ordering the child to be picked up and dropped off in a protected place;
  • prohibiting overnight visits;
  • ordering supervised visits;
  • ordering the abuser to pay for supervised visitation;
  • ordering the abuser to pay (post) a bond, which usually means the abuser would have to deposit money with the court that could be used to locate the child if the abusive parent doesn’t return the child;
  • ordering the abuser to attend a batterer’s treatment program; and
  • ordering the abuser to not use alcohol or drugs during the visitation and for 24 hours before the visitation.2

    Also, the law states that if a parent is absent or relocates because of an act of domestic or family violence by the other parent, the absence or relocation is not a factor that the judge can use against the parent in making a decision as to custody or visitation.3

    Note: The judge can refer, but cannot order, an adult who is a victim of family or domestic violence to attend counseling relating to the victim’s status or behavior as a victim, individually or with the abuser. However, even though the judge cannot “order” the victim to attend, the law says that attending this counseling could be a condition of receiving custody or visitation.2

    1 Alabama Code § 30-3-132(a)
    2 Alabama Code § 30-3-135
    3 Alabama Code § 30-3-132(b)

    Can the abuser's parental rights be terminated if s/he is convicted of a sex crime?

    If a parent is convicted of any of the following crimes, the judge will make a determination that the parent is unable to properly care for a child and will terminate his/her parental rights:

    1. rape in the first degree;
    2. sodomy in the first degree; or
    3. incest.1

    The other parent may have to file a petition in court requesting termination after the abuser is convicted of one of these crimes.

    1 Alabama Code § 12-15-319(b)

    Aside from a conviction for a sex crime, are there other circumstances when parental rights can be terminated?

    Aside from being convicted of a sex crime, a parent’s parental rights can be terminated if the judge finds that s/he is unable or unwilling to carry out parental responsibilities for the child, or if the parent’s conduct or condition makes him/her unable to properly care for the child. As in all custody cases, this decision must be made considering the child’s best interests.1

    If the other parent has abandoned the child for four months, there is what’s called a “rebuttable presumption” that s/he is unable or unwilling to act as the child’s parent.2 This means that the judge will assume that this is true but the parent being accused of abandoning the child will have the chance to present evidence to change the judge’s mind at a court hearing.2

    During a termination hearing, the judge will consider the following factors:

    1. whether the parent abandoned the child;
    2. any emotional illness, mental illness, mental deficiency, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs that makes the parent unable to care for the child;
    3. whether the parent has committed or attempted to commit any of the following, or if the child is in clear and present danger of suffering from any of the following:
      1. torture;
      2. abuse;
      3. being cruelly beaten; or
      4. being otherwise maltreated;
    4. whether the parent has been convicted of, and imprisoned for, a felony;
    5. whether the parent has committed any of the following:
      1. the murder or manslaughter of another child;
      2. aiding, abetting, conspiring, or soliciting the murder or manslaughter of another child; or
      3. felony assault or abuse that results in serious bodily injury to another child;
    6. whether the child has suffered serious physical injury in circumstances that indicate that the injury resulted from the parent’s intentional actions or willful neglect;
    7. whether there have been reasonable efforts by the Department of Human Resources or a child care agency to rehabilitate the parent;
    8. whether the parent’s parental rights to the child’s sibling have been involuntarily terminated;
    9. whether the parent has failed to provide for the child’s material needs, or to pay a reasonable portion of child support;
    10. whether the parent has failed to maintain regular visits with the child under a plan created by the Department of Human Resources or a child care agency;
    11. whether the parent has maintained consistent contact or communications with the child;
    12. whether the parent has tried to adjust his/her circumstances to meet the needs of the child according to an agreement made with the Department of Human resources or a child care agency; and
    13. whether the child has developed significant emotional ties to current foster parents, including:
      1. how long the child has lived in a stable and satisfactory environment;
      2. whether cutting the child’s ties with current foster parents goes against the child’s best interests; and
      3. whether the judge has found at least one other reason for terminating the abuser’s parental rights.1

    1 Alabama Code § 12-15-319(a)
    2 Alabama Code § 12-15-319(d)

    I am the child's grandparent. Can I file for visitation?

    A grandparent can only file a petition for visitation if any of the following circumstances exist:

    • an action for a divorce or legal separation of the parents has been filed or finalized;
    • the parents’ marriage ended when one parent died;
    • the child was born out of wedlock and the petitioner is the mother’s parent (maternal grandparent of the child); 
    • the child was born out of wedlock and the petitioner is the father’s parent (paternal grandparent of the child) and the father’s paternity has been legally established; or
    • an action to terminate the parental rights of one or both parents has been filed or the parental rights of a parent have already been terminated by court order. However, if the Department of Human Resources was the petitioner in the petition to terminate the parental rights, the grandparents related to the parent whose rights were terminated cannot get visitation rights.1

    The petition would be filed in the circuit court in the county where:

    • the grandchild lives; or
    • there’s already a pending custody, divorce, or other court proceeding related to the grandchild.1

    If the child is adopted, an eligible grandparent may still be able to seek visitation only if the adoptive parent is the child’s step-parent, grandparent, sibling, half-sibling, aunt, or uncle. If the child is part of an adoption proceeding, the visitation petition is filed in probate court, not circuit court.2

    Any grandparent can petition for visitation only once during any two-year period unless the grandparent can prove there is a “good cause” to file more than once during that period.3

    Note: If the judge does grant visitation rights to a grandparent, the child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian, can file a petition in court to end (revoke) or amend the visitation rights only if there has been a material change in circumstances since the grandparent visitation order was made.3 For information on how a judge will make the decision about whether or not to give visitation to a grandparent, go to What factors will a judge consider when deciding if a grandparent can get visitation?

    1 Alabama Code § 30-3-4.2(b), (i)(3)
    2 Alabama Code §§ 30-3-4.2(b), (i)(1); 26-10A-30
    3 Alabama Code § 30-3-4.2(g)

    What factors will a judge consider when deciding if a grandparent can get visitation?

    If a parent decides to limit or deny visitation to a grandparent, the judge must assume that the parent is acting in the child’s best interest. In order to convince the judge to go against the parent’s wishes and grant visitation, the grandparent must prove that:

    1. s/he has established a significant and sustainable (viable) relationship with the child by proving:
      • the loss of the relationship between the grandparent and the child is likely to harm the child; or
      • within the past three years before filing the petition, any of the following are true:
        • the child lived with the grandparent for at least six consecutive months, with or without a parent present;
        • the grandparent was the caregiver to the child on a regular basis for at least six consecutive months; or
        • the grandparent had frequent or regular contact with the child for at least 12 consecutive months, which resulted in a strong and meaningful relationship with the child;1and
    2. visitation is in the best interest of the child by proving all of the following:
      • the grandparent has the ability to give the child love, affection, and guidance;
      • the loss of an opportunity to maintain a significant and sustainable (viable) relationship with the grandparent has caused or is reasonably likely to cause harm to the child; and
      • the grandparent is willing to cooperate with the parent(s) if visitation with the child is allowed.2

    1 Alabama Code § 30-3-4.2(c), (d)
    2 Alabama Code § 30-3-4.2(c), (e)