Is Joint Custody Always the Best Option?

In a recent article, we discussed joint custody. Joint custody means that the parents share the responsibility for making decisions for and taking care of the children. This can take several forms, but generally the decision-making responsibility is referred to as “legal” custody and taking care of the children as “physical” custody. Alabama law is supposed to make joint custody official state policy.

There are many situations in which joint custody might be a good idea. If both the mother and father are stable financially, have a safe and loving home, and live reasonably close to each other, there is no reason that joint custody could not work. However, if one of those factors, especially the “safe and loving” aspect, is missing, then that can make joint custody a lot harder for the children.

In a recent case in Mobile, the court had to look at whether temporary custody granted during the divorce trial should be changed to joint custody when the divorce was finalized. In this case, the mother and father had two young children and had been separated since 2012. While the divorce case was ongoing, the father was awarded physical custody of the children (“pendente lite” custody).

When the case came to trial in 2016, the judge was not entirely convinced that giving the father full physical custody was the best idea. The father wanted to give the mother visitation every other week, but instead the judge decided the best option was joint physical custody: one week with one parent, one with the other. Unsurprisingly, the father was unhappy with the decision, and he appealed.

The appeals court examined the evidence from the trial, and there was dirt flung on both sides. The father said that the mother had abused cocaine, alcohol, and prescription drugs. He also said that she had previously left their infant daughter alone in the house. The mother claimed that their former home was unsafe and unsanitary, and that the father went to bars often. Depending on which side you believed, either of them, or neither of them, were entitled to custody.

The court of appeals agreed with the trial court’s decision. There was evidence of some sort on both sides to support either of them having custody. Since the evidence supported it, the appeals court could not overrule the trial court. Even so, the evidence was enough for them to agree that the trial court handled the case appropriately.

What I see as the biggest lesson here is that joint custody is always an option for the courts. Even when the children have been with just one parent for years, nothing is stopping the court from giving custody to the other parent or splitting it up entirely. Whatever your situation, having an experienced and knowledgeable child custody lawyer on your team can make all the difference. If you are involved in a child custody dispute, get in touch with INGRAM LAW LLC at 205-335-2640.

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