Aside from traditional child custody cases between two biological parents, there are some situations where custody needs to be determined for an estranged child. Under Alabama law, custody may be divided into legal custody, which is related to the decision making process for a child’s upbringing, and physical custody, which is defined as where the child actually stays.
The Mobile County Court System has a family court division that can hear these types of cases and decide issues related to both typical custody matters and estrangement.
How does a child become estranged?
An estranged child is defined as one who is no longer in the custody of their biological parents for any number of reasons. The parents may have voluntarily given the child up for adoption or kicked them out of their home due to problems with behavior or substance abuse. This can be a traumatic experience for a child and cause various mental health and emotional problems. Many children become estranged because they already have serious issues that have gone untreated or undiagnosed. Some parents also make big mistakes such as getting involved in crime and drug use, which can cause a court to remove the child from the home of the biological parents in extreme cases.
How is custody determined once a child is estranged?
Some children end up in the custody of the state or a foster care system if their biological parents are found to be unfit due to criminal behavior or other serious problems. There is usually a hearing where the state can terminate the parents’ custody rights if necessary. If a parent’s rights to maintain custody have been terminated, there usually needs to be a significant change in circumstances for them to ever regain custody in the future.
As a general rule, Alabama uses the “best interests of the child” for custody determinations. These best interests are related to education, healthcare, the home environment, stability, and other factors. However, Alabama law also assumes that joint custody of the child by both biological parents is a preferred outcome, and this option is favored when possible. In rare cases, other extended family members may also petition for custody if the biological parents are unavailable. While there is no exact way to know how a judge will decide the child’s best interests according to this standard, a lawyer who is experienced in the local courts will know how to help you prepare for any kind of custody hearing. The parent or relative seeking custody should be presented in a favorable way that will persuade the judge to rule in their favor.
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