When you have children and things end with a divorce or breakup, it is often left to a court to figure out where to go next. One approach commonly taken by judges in Alabama is joint custody. In fact, Alabama law says that joint custody is the official policy of the state. But what does joint custody mean?
Joint custody is supposed to mean that the parents equally share the responsibility of making decisions for (“legal custody”) and taking care of (“physical custody”) of the child. In reality, equal joint custody is not used often. Instead the courts often give more responsibility to one parent or the other.
In Green v. Green, a Birmingham area case looked at whether child support should be paid when a parent goes from having limited custody to joint custody. The parents in this case were divorced in 2009. The mother was awarded “care, custody, and control” of the child and the father was given visitation rights only. The father was not required to pay child support. Instead, the court ordered the father to pay for a number of the child’s expenses directly.
One feature of the divorce agreement in this case was the part saying that neither parent could have overnight guests of the opposite sex when they had the child with them. This type of rule in divorce agreements is relatively common. In this case, it played an important role.
In October 2016, the court ordered the father to begin paying child support. In response, the father filed a modification action accusing the mother of moving in with another man. The father also asked for the court to give him custody of the child.
A divorce agreement is a court order, so if the mother was disobeying it she could be held in contempt of court. The court found her in contempt for living with the man and ordered joint custody, with the mother having the child most of the time, and with a visitation schedule for the father. No child support was ordered.
The mother appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court should have ordered child support. Courts usually have a wide range of judgment on child support decisions but do have guidelines they are supposed to follow. In this case, where the child lived with the mother most of the time, the court was supposed to award child support and gave no good reason for not doing so.
This case gives people who are dealing with child custody issues a better idea of what to expect with joint custody. Just because the court awards joint custody does not mean there will not be an award of child support. However, having an attorney experienced in family law to help with your case can go a long way towards getting the custody arrangement that is best for you. If you are involved in a child custody case, call INGRAM LAW LLC at 205-335-2640 for an attorney with the experience and knowledge that can make a difference in your case.