Appealing an Alabama family court divorce decree awarding child custody often presents difficult legal challenges for the appellant who believes the custody order was incorrect. However, an important basis for challenging custody orders has developed in recent years in situations involving half-siblings in blended families. This is an issue that can change the outcome of a custody trial, yet many divorce lawyers seem to overlook arguing the evidence to establish it.
In an initial award of child custody in a divorce, the trial court must decide custody using the “best interests of the child” standard. Ex parte Couch, 521 So. 2d 987 (Ala. 1988). A general principle of custody determinations is that a custody judgment separating siblings is disfavored, absent a showing of compelling reasons for the separation. See Mardis v. Mardis, 660 So.2d 597, 599 (Ala.Civ.App.1995). However, making this custody determination has developed an additional complication when half-siblings from a prior marriage are also in the home. In these blended family situations, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has held that “When resolving a custody dispute, particularly in these days of blended families, a trial court should not perfunctorily separate half siblings without giving sufficient consideration to the best interests of the children at issue.” AB v. JB, 40 So. 3d 723 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009).
A parent in a custody dispute in a divorce trial who also has children living in the home from a prior relationship may have an advantage over the other party when the court attempts to determine what is in the best interests of the child if those half-siblings have a close relationship. In a situation where the parents would otherwise be on equal footing in terms of deciding who should have custody, a court may decide it is in the best interests of the minor child to remain in the same home as his or her half-siblings. This is a powerful legal argument, yet many divorce trial attorneys fail to properly lay a foundation with the trial courts to show how close the children have become in these blended families. If you are going through a divorce involving a custody dispute in a blended family, make sure to discuss with your attorney how he or she will develop this issue during the trial. And if your custody dispute is moving up to the appellate courts, feel free to Contact our office for information on the appellate court process for arguing this issue.
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