The Differences Between Legal and Physical Custody in Alabama

As divorcing parents start the separation process, they need to prioritize the well-being of their children. Alabama judges have broad discretion in granting custodial rights to parents, allowing them to award legal and physical custody to one or both parents. These custody orders can be temporary or permanent, depending on the situation. Learn about the differences between legal and physical custody in Alabama so that you know how they can affect you and your child.

What Is Legal Custody?

The Alabama courts can grant legal custody to one or both parents, meaning they have the right to make certain decisions about their child’s welfare. These decisions can center on a child’s:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Athletic activities

Alabama courts award these custodial rights to one (sole) or both (joint) parents. When a parent has sole custody, they can make all legal decisions about the child without consulting the other parent.

In the case of joint custody, the parents must work together in the decision-making process. While that may sound like both parents have equal legal custody, the Alabama courts can specify that one parent has the final decision in all these matters. With that, minor disputes are often settled before entering into family court.

How Does Physical Custody Differ?

While legal custody may seem the same as physical custody, that is not the case. Physical custody refers to the actual physical control and possession of the child at any given moment. When the courts award physical custody of the child to a parent, that individual is responsible for the daily care of the child, which includes providing:

  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Transportation

Like legal custody, there are two types of physical custody: sole and joint. With sole custody, one parent has physical custody, while the other may have visitation rights based on a set schedule. Generally, the child will live with one parent over 50% of the time under sole physical custody orders.

Regarding joint physical custody agreements, these orders allow both parents to have shared and frequent custody of the child. Despite this agreement, it does not always mean a 50/50 split of time. However, the courts try to be fair in determining the appropriate amount of time the child spends with the parents.

Does Alabama Family Law Protect a Child’s Best Interests?

The child’s best interests are always prioritized, whether determining legal or physical custody in Alabama. While the goal of the courts is to grant joint custody, there may be times when that is not possible. If the parent has a history of abuse, domestic violence, criminal activity, or neglect, the courts will award sole legal and physical custody to one parent to protect the child’s well-being.

Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney in Alabama

Whether you have to petition for a custody arrangement modification or want help obtaining legal custody of your children, you need an experienced family law attorney. A skilled family law lawyer will ensure that your parental rights remain protected, along with answering any questions regarding legal and physical custody in Alabama.

With over 55 years of combined experience offering comprehensive family law services, the Hankey Law Firm can assist you with your family law needs. We provide client-centric, personalized representation to the residents of Cullman County, Blount County, Winston County, Madison County, Morgan County, and everywhere else across the great state of Alabama.

Contact us or call us at (256)-736-8744 to schedule your confidential consultation today.