Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody in Alabama

Child custody is an important part of any divorce proceedings that involve minor children, and Alabama recognizes two types of custody: physical and legal.

What is the Difference Between Physical Custody and Legal Custody?

Physical custody relates to how a child spends their time between parents, including their primary place of residence and their visitation schedule with the non-custodial parent. Legal custody relates to major decision-making rights and responsibilities that affect the child’s life.

Court orders can differ between physical and legal custody. Each type of child custody can be joint or sole depending on the family’s specific situation.

What Does Physical Custody Mean in Alabama?

In joint physical custody, parents share physical custody which allows the child to have frequent and substantial contact with each parent. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean equal physical custody, but it is generally close to an equal division of time between parents.

In sole physical custody, the child resides with one parent who has physical custody. The other parent usually has visitation rights according to the terms of a court order.

What Does Legal Custody Mean in Alabama?

In joint legal custody, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions regarding the child. The parties can agree, or the court can designate, one parent to have sole authority over certain decisions and the other parent to have sole power over other decisions. Even if a parent has sole custody of a specific matter, they should still communicate with their former spouse.

Major decision-making areas include:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Religion
  • Civic, cultural, and athletic activities

In sole legal custody, one parent has the sole right and responsibility to make all major decisions concerning the child. The court order usually includes an obligation to notify and communicate with the other parent regarding the minor child, but ultimately the authority to make the major decisions regarding the child belongs to the parent with sole legal custody.

Alabama Family Law Protects a Child’s Best Interests

Under the state’s family law, a judge prioritizes the child’s best interests when determining physical and legal custody. Alabama’s policy strives to allow children to have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown an ability to act in the best interest of their children. A judge encourages parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their children after separation or divorce.

The state law requires the court in every custody case to consider joint custody, but the court may award any form of custody they determine serves the best interest of the child. In cases where there is a history of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or criminal activity, a judge may grant sole physical and/or legal custody to support the child’s well-being.

Benefits of Hiring a Reputable Child Custody Attorney

Working with an experienced child custody attorney can make a positive difference during either your divorce proceedings or if you consider petitioning for modifications to a court order post-divorce. A family law attorney can help ensure the legal process protect your individual and parental rights. If you have questions regarding custody or are involved in litigation regarding the custody of a child, you should seek advice from a licensed attorney in your state.

Are you looking for a compassionate child custody attorney in Huntsville or its surrounding areas? Contact Rebekah L. Graham & Associates today at (256) 792-6075 to schedule a consultation.


This blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the attorneys at Rebekah L. Graham & Associates. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.

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