There are few types of court cases as emotionally-charged as those involving children.
Parents want what is best for their kids, and often have very specific ideas of what that means.
Whether it's determining where the child will live, where they should spend holidays and who should contribute to their care, the courts are always going to look at this bottom line: What is in the best interest of the child.
It is going to be up to you and your family law attorney to convince the judge that your home and/or plans are best.
Neither party should conclude that the mother will automatically win custody or that the father will automatically be the one paying support. There was a time when that was true. That time has passed and each party has an equal shot in these cases.
The preferred arrangement is almost always going to be joint custody. This means that both parents have equal legal and physical custody of the child. It doesn't necessarily mean the child will spend his or her time 50/50 with both parents. But the arrangement is meant to be equitable so that there is a means of shared decision-making on important matters and so that both parents have equal opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with their kids.
Sole custody, on the other hand, means that only one parent has legal and physical custody of the child. The other parent may be awarded visitation and probably will still have to pay some form of child support. However, the child will live solely with one parent who will be responsible for full-time care and making important decisions regarding their health, education, religion and overall well-being.
Generally, in order to obtain sole custody, one parent has to show that the other one has done something and is likely to continue doing something that harms the child or sets a very poor example.
Substance abuse might come into play, as would other addictions, such as gambling or pornography. Adultery could be considered, though the court is really going to look at what effect this had on the child, rather than what impact it had on you. If there are figures in the other parent's life that are unsavory or a danger to the child, this could definitely be weighed. Also, the court will likely take into account the strength of the relationship the child has forged with both parents, as well as the child's age, gender, and in some cases, preference.
In terms of child support, Alabama family courts tend to take the view that financial support from both parents is a right of all children, regardless of the parent's actual involvement in the child's life. However, the extent to which the court orders support is going to depend on a number of factors.
For the most part, the judge makes a standard calculation based on both parents' gross income, the cost of health insurance per child and who is the primary custodian of the children. While the standard calculation is going to be the basis for the ultimate decision, the judge has a fair amount of discretion if you can make a strong argument for why payments should be higher or lower.
Once payments are set, they are not set in stone. At any point, either parent can request a modification of support payments. In making a determination, the judge is going to weigh whether there have been any significant changes in income for either party or if there has been a remarriage or special costs associated with child-rearing (such as the development of a severe medical condition) or if the child has aged out of the support system.