In Alabama, court rulings pertaining to child custody can be altered, but only when there is evidence of a material change in circumstance.
The standard by which child custody modifications are reviewed in Alabama is called the McLendon standard, after a 1984 Alabama Supreme Court case of the same name. Basically, if the original order wasn't for joint custody and the non-custodial parent wants to modify the order, he she has to establish that whatever inherent, disruptive effect is caused by uprooting the child will be offset by the positive good that will be done through modification.
The parent who wants a change also needs to establish not only that he or she is a fit parent, but that the alteration in the custody agreement is going to be in the best interest of the child's welfare.
- Material changes in circumstance could include (but are not limited to):
- Custodial parent loses his or her job, cannot properly care for the child and won't seek further employment;
- Custodial parent develops a serious drug problem, to which the child is exposed and/or endangered;
- Home environment is neglectful or dangerous;
- Custodial parents fails to provide a stable home for child.
In the recent case of Clayton v. Langley, the Alabama Court of Appeals was asked to determine whether the child custody modification was appropriately weighed by the McLendon standard. Justices ruled it was not, reversed the trial court and remanded for further consideration under the proper standard.
In the Clayton case, parties had twin sons in 2006 and divorced five years later. They each remarried other people. Two years after the divorce, mother filed a petition seeking modification of child custody. Although the couple had originally been granted joint custody, that order was modified to allow father primary placement when the mother moved out of the school district her sons attended. She was paying father child support.
She indicated she planned to purchase a property in the school district, and requested that she receive primary placement custody, with the father getting secondary placement and ordered to pay her child support. Additionally, she said there was a dispute regarding which parent could claim the children on their taxes. She also sought an order specifying who had primary decision-making authority in certain matters.
Father requested that he retain primary placement.
A number of motions were filed. Father sought an increase in child support and an alteration of her visitation schedule. Mother sought temporary custody of the children because, she alleged, father intended to move out of the school district in the middle of the school year. (Father contended he had listed his current home and intended to move, but would not do so in the middle of the school year.)
Following a hearing, court awarded joint custody and shared placement to both parties, saying it was in the best interest of the children. Court also awarded mother decision-making authority on issues of school, religion and health, while father was allowed final say on issues of athletics and cultural and civil affairs. Each were required to attend co-parenting counseling, and each could claim one child as dependent on taxes.
However, father appealed arguing the court erred in failing to require mother to meet the custody modification standard set forth in McLendon.
Appeals court agreed and reversed, requiring further consideration under that standard.
Clayton v. Langley, March 6, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals