A parent who lacks physical custody of their child may still have visitation rights in Alabama. Sometimes, other family members, like grandparents or step-parents, can also seek and obtain visitation rights. Having this right, however, is not an automatic right where you can visit a child whenever you want simply because you are a parent or relative. You will have to explain and support your request before a family law judge, and this judge will be guided by principles according to what's in the best interest of the child.
At Dixon Law, LLC, we believe in families and know that children's lives are better when they can build relationships with all of their family members. Our family law attorney in Birmingham, Alabama can help you obtain visitation rights if that's what is best in your situation. The rules, however, vary according to the facts and circumstances. Contact us today at (205) 616-8896 to schedule a Free Consultation. We will discuss the specifics of your case and provide your best legal options moving forward.
Overview of Visitation in Alabama
Visitation allows a parent or another person to visit a child. It is also known as parenting time or access, but according to your jurisdiction, these and other similar terms can mean different things. Here, we refer to visitation as the legal right of a person to spend time with a child.
Visitation rights are not exclusive to biological parents. Grandparents, stepparents, and other individuals with a significant relationship with the child may seek visitation under certain circumstances. However, the threshold for non-parental visitation rights varies by jurisdiction.
Visitation is typically determined by a court, which tries to ensure that the child maintains a meaningful relationship with both parents and other relatives. The court decides:
- How often the visits will occur, e.g., daily, weekly, monthly, bi-weekly, semi-weekly
- How long each visit will last, e.g., an hour, an afternoon, a full day, a weekend including overnight visits, a month
- Where the visits will occur, e.g., virtual visitation, in-person visitation at a park, facility, or home
- Whether or not the visits need to be supervised
- Whether other restrictions should be imposed to address concerns or protect the child's welfare, like limiting overnight stays or prohibiting certain activities during visitation
A family law court can also deny visitation rights when it believes the parent or another person poses a risk to the child's well-being. In most cases, though, the court will encourage supervised visitation or alternative arrangements to maintain some level of contact while also addressing safety concerns.
Visitation versus Child Custody in Alabama
Visitation is separate from child custody. Though related, these two terms refer to different aspects of parental rights and involvement in a child's life. Custody can be either or both legal and physical:
- Legal Custody refers to the right of a parent to make important decisions about a child's upbringing, including matters related to education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. In a joint legal custody arrangement, both parents typically share the responsibility for making these decisions. In sole legal custody, one parent has the authority to make these decisions unilaterally.
- Physical Custody refers to where the child lives on a day-to-day basis. In a joint physical custody arrangement, the child spends significant time with both parents, often in a schedule that aims to be equitable but not necessarily equal. In sole physical custody, the child resides with one parent.
Visitation does not permit a parent the right to make major decisions about their child like legal custody does unless the person has legal custody alongside visitation rights. Further, visitation typically means the child will not live long-term with the parent or relative. When a parent is granted visitation rights, it usually means that they cannot take care of the child full-time for one reason or another.
Process to Obtain Visitation Rights in Alabama
The process to obtain visitation rights may vary somewhat from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally, it involves the following steps.
- File a petition for visitation. You must prepare and file a formal legal document, often called a "Petition for Child Visitation" or a similar title, with the relevant court. This document outlines the reasons for seeking visitation rights.
- Serve Notice to the Other Party. You must formally serve the other parent (custodial parent) with a copy of the petition according to the legal requirements of the court. Proper service is essential for the court to proceed with the case.
- Attend mediation. Some jurisdictions require or encourage mediation before going to court. Mediation allows parents to discuss and potentially resolve issues with the help of a neutral third party. If an agreement is reached, it can be submitted to the court for approval.
- Attend the court hearing. If mediation is unsuccessful or not required, a court hearing will be scheduled. Both parties present their cases, and the court will consider the evidence and arguments before deciding.
After arguments are made, the court will issue an order. The court can approve or deny visitation based on the hearing, and all parties must comply with the visitation order. Remember that the outcome of such a petition depends on the specifics of each case. Consult with our family law attorney in Alabama to receive guidance tailored to your situation.
Reasons Visitation in Alabama is Denied or Restricted
Visitation rights may be restricted or denied if it is deemed not in the child's best interests. Reasons for denied or restricted visitation include but are not limited to:
- Substance abuse or addiction issues
- Domestic violence or abuse
- Child endangerment
- Parental alienation
- Neglect or failure to provide a safe environment
The custodial parent can challenge a request or a court order for visitation based on any of the above or related reasons.
Considerations When Making a Visitation Schedule
When visitation is granted by a court, a visitation schedule is most often required. A few key considerations when drafting a schedule include:
- The child's routine and the need for consistency
- Flexibility to accommodate changing circumstances
- Geographic distance between parents or relatives
- Age and needs of the child
- Holiday and special occasion arrangements
When communication and conflict arise, mediation is often encouraged – some jurisdictions may even require it. Seeking legal representation in Alabama is crucial to understanding your rights and responsibilities throughout the visitation process.
Reasons to Modify a Visitation Order in Alabama
When a visitation order is in place, there might be times when it needs to be modified. The custodial parent, noncustodial parent, or relative with a visitation order can seek modification, but it typically requires a substantial change in circumstances. To ensure stability and consistency for the child, courts are generally cautious about modifying existing orders.
The following are common reasons that may justify seeking a modification of a visitation order:
- Relocation. If either parent plans to move to a location that significantly impacts the current visitation arrangement, such as moving out of state or to a distant location, a modification may be necessary to accommodate the new circumstances.
- Change in Work Schedule. A substantial change in a parent's work schedule that affects their ability to adhere to the existing visitation plan may be grounds for modification.
- Child's Age or Developmental Needs. As a child grows older, their needs and preferences may change. A modification may be sought to adjust the visitation schedule to better align with the child's age and developmental stage.
- Health Issues. Serious health issues affecting either the custodial or noncustodial parent may warrant a modification to accommodate the health-related needs of the parties involved.
- Allegations of Abuse or Neglect. If there are new allegations or evidence of abuse or neglect by the custodial or noncustodial parent, the court may consider modifying the visitation order to ensure the child's safety.
- Parental Relocation. If the custodial parent plans to relocate, especially if it impacts the visitation schedule, a modification may be necessary. This could involve adjustments to the parenting plan or additional travel arrangements.
- Substance Abuse Issues. If a parent develops substance abuse issues or completes a rehabilitation program, the court may consider modifying the visitation order to ensure the child's safety.
- Violation of Current Order. Repeated and willful violations of the existing visitation order by one parent may prompt the other parent to seek a modification with additional enforcement measures.
- Job Loss or Financial Changes. A significant change in a parent's financial situation, such as job loss or a substantial increase or decrease in income, may be considered as a reason to modify child visitation arrangements.
- Parental Alienation. If one parent is actively undermining the child's relationship with the other parent, known as parental alienation, it may be necessary to seek a modification to address and prevent this harmful behavior.
- Emergency or Unforeseen Circumstances. Unexpected events, such as natural disasters, accidents, or other emergencies, may necessitate a temporary modification to the visitation schedule.
The reasons to seek a modification should be significant and must directly impact the child's well-being. Courts prioritize the best interests of the child, and modifications are generally granted when it is in the child's best interest.
Process to Modify a Visitation Order in Alabama
Modifying a visitation order is similar to the process to obtain it. Some additional considerations are notable regardless of whether you are requesting or challenging a modification to an existing visitation order. You should:
- Understand the grounds for modification, and this is true whether you are the petitioner or custodial parent because you will need to have a working understanding of the same to argue your case;
- Gather sufficient evidence (e.g., documentation of changes in employment, living conditions, health, or any other significant factors affecting the child's well-being) to support your claim, which is particularly important for the petitioner; and
- Adhere to the new visitation order if one is issued by the court because both parties are obligated to comply with the new order and failure to do so can lead to legal consequences.
Like in the initial process of obtaining or challenging a visitation order, knowing the procedures, deadlines, and the law will prove critical. At Dixon Law, LLC, our family law attorney knows these processes and will guide you through them. In many cases, mediation and negotiation can also be undertaken to avoid litigation.
Visitation Rights FAQ
Visitation rights are an important step to participate in a child's life. All parties involved should take it seriously. When the question of visitation arises, however, many of our clients have lots of questions. Here are some of the more common questions we receive during the Free Consultation.
Do I have the right to see my child after a divorce?
It is a matter of public policy that courts do not presume a child is better off with a father or mother. It is also a matter of public policy that a court does not presume a specific time-sharing or parenting plan. Courts encourage both parents to develop relationships with their children.
To that end, you have a right to see your child after a divorce or separation or even if you were never married, but the extent of that right is best obtained and defined by a court – having a custody or visitation order in place protects your rights. Violating the order, however, could put your visitation rights at risk.
If never married, can a biological parent still ask for visitation rights?
Yes, the biological parents of any child can seek visitation rights or custody of their child. It is best to have a family law attorney guide you through this process to ensure your rights are secured and the best interests of the child are upheld.
Do I really need a court order for visitation rights?
Whether you need a court order for visitation rights depends on the circumstances and the legal framework in your jurisdiction. In many cases, especially when parents can agree on visitation arrangements amicably, they may create a visitation schedule as part of a parenting plan without involving the court. This informal agreement can work well for some families.
However, having a court order provides legal enforceability and can be crucial in situations where:
- Enforcement is necessary – if the custodial parent is not complying with the agreed-upon visitation schedule, having a court order allows the noncustodial parent to seek legal remedies for enforcement
- Travel or relocation – if there are concerns about one parent relocating with the child or if the parents live in different jurisdictions, a court order may be necessary to establish and regulate visitation
- Disagreements arise – if visitation disputes arise, a court order can provide a clear legal framework for resolution.
- Legal recognition – a court order provides official legal recognition of visitation rights, which may be important for accessing certain benefits, making decisions on behalf of the child, or addressing issues in schools or healthcare settings
- Third-party involvement – if a non-parent, such as a grandparent, seeks visitation rights, a court order may be required to formalize and enforce those rights
In many family law cases, courts encourage parents to reach agreements on visitation and custody through mediation or negotiation. Having the final agreement incorporated into a court order, however, adds a layer of legal protection and certainty.
What if my child refuses visitation?
When a child refuses visitation, it's hard on everyone. There may be a simple reason for it as much as there might be a serious, complicated one. A parenting plan may guide in some cases, but generally, the custodial parent must comply with the visitation order.
If the parent suspects abuse of any kind or another issue is present, you should seek the legal guidance of our family law attorney to make sure your child is protected and your custodial or visitation rights are upheld.
Can a grandparent or step-parent seek visitation rights?
Many jurisdictions allow a grandparent to seek visitation rights if it is in the best interests of the child. The same is true in many jurisdictions for step-parents. Most jurisdictions prefer a pre-existing relationship between the child and the grandparent or stepparent before granting visitation rights.
Why Choose Our Family Law Attorney in Alabama
At Dixon Law, LLC, our family law attorney plays a crucial role in assisting our clients who want to seek or challenge visitation rights. Here are several ways in which we help:
- Smart legal advice and assessment of our client's situation to determine the legal basis for seeking or challenging visitation
- Information to familiarize our client with the relevant state laws governing visitation rights explain any recent legal developments or changes that may impact the case
- Mediation in an attempt to resolve the dispute or help the parties communicate effectively to work towards a mutually acceptable visitation agreement
- Preparation of the necessary legal documents to initiate or respond to a visitation case
- Representation in court hearings to present arguments and evidence
- Evidence gathering to support our client's position
Remember that family law matters can be emotionally charged, and our family law attorney in Alabama will provide legal expertise as well as emotional support and guidance throughout the process. We maintain open communication and work collaboratively with our clients to achieve the best outcome for the child involved.
Contact our Family Law Attorney in Birmingham, Alabama Today
Navigating visitation rights in Alabama requires careful consideration of legal factors, the child's best interests, and effective communication between parents. If you are seeking visitation or facing challenges in the process, consult with our family law attorney. At Dixon Law, LLC, we will provide guidance tailored to your specific situation. Remember, the goal is to create a visitation plan that promotes the well-being of the child while fostering positive parent-child relationships. Schedule at Free Consultation by filling out the online form or calling us at (205) 616-8896 today.