Child Custody in Alabama: The Best Interests of the Child

What are the determining factors Alabama courts consider to award child custody? Learn how it works.

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In Alabama, the change of principal residence of a minor child may be ordered in a temporary order or final judgment in a divorce.  Alabama courts will consider any and all factors affecting a child’s well-being prior to ordering a change of principal residence. 

Impact on Child’s Relationship with Non-Relocating Person(s)

Changing from one residence to another will likely affect a child’s relationship with the non-custodial person.  However, non-custodial persons are not the only individuals affected by this change.  A child may be separated from siblings, cousins, friends, and others involved in the child’s life.  Courts consider the following factors that may impact a child’s relationship with non-relocating persons:

  • Nature of the child’s relationship with the person seeking relocation.
  • Impact on child’s relationship with the non-relocating person, siblings, and other individuals involved in the child’s life.
  • Required travel time to allow non-relocating person to comply with visitation arrangements.
  • Availability and cost of communication between the child and the non-relocating person.
  • Ability to make arrangements that will not interrupt the child’s relationship with the non-relocating person or create an inconvenience or financial burden for either person.

Child’s Needs

During a child’s lifetime, he/she developments certain habits and becomes accustomed to certain surroundings.  Relocating to a different residence will likely have a negative impact of the child while he/she adjusts.  For that reason, courts want to ensure a child’s needs are met.  Courts consider the following:  

  • Impact a change of residence will have on the child physically and emotionally.
  • Affect on the child’s educational development.
  • Child’s preference to reside with the relocating or non-relocating person; however, the child’s age and level of maturity determine if relocation is granted based on preference.
  • Affect of uprooting the child from the principal residence and relocating to a new residence. 

Find out more information about Child Support in Alabama.

Encouragement of Child’s Relationship

Divorces are difficult for everyone affected by a couple’s separation.  However, children are most affected because they go from seeing both persons regularly to seeing them at scheduled times.  Adhering to visitation schedules and promoting a child’s relationship with the other person is essential to the emotional changes a child endures during a divorce.  To ensure the custodial and non-relocating person will promote the child’s relationship with the other person, courts closely examine: 

  • Past compliance with custody and visitation rights.
  • Ability of each person to encourage a healthy relationship between the child and the other person.
  • Likelihood that custodial person will comply with joint visitation arrangements and promote joint parenting arrangements if the child is moved to another jurisdiction.
  • Probability that relocation will provide financial, emotional, and/or educational benefits for both the child and custodial person. 

Proposed New Residence 

A custodial person may meet all of a court’s requirements individually; however, the proposed new residence is vital to a child’s emotional development and adjustment to new surroundings.  Courts may not award a change of custody if the new residence: 

  • Is in a foreign country that does not enforce visitation rights, lacking an adequate legal system, and presents risk of harm to the child. 
  • Lacks a support system to ensure the child will be cared for if an unexpected emergency arises or the custodial person unexpectedly becomes disabled.   

Other Factors

Other material factors vital to granting a change of principal residence include, but are not limited to the:

  • Stability of the family unit.
  • Reason both persons feel the child should reside with him/her.
  • Existence of recent or past domestic violence or child abuse in the current or proposed residence.

A detailed listing of Alabama's Change of Custody statute can be found here.

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