Do you have to pay child support if you have joint custody in Alabama?

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Alabama, Child Support, Children, Custody, Divorce, Uncategorized

Wondering do you have to pay child support if you have joint custody in Alabama?

First, let’s talk about what joint custody is exactly because joint custody means a lot of things to a lot of people. When it comes to custody laws in Alabama, it is the state policy in Alabama, whether parents are divorced or have never been married, that it is in the best interests of children to have frequent and meaningful contact with both parents, as long as they are fit parents; however, joint custody does not necessarily mean equal physical custody.

Joint Legal Custody

Joint Legal Custody means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including, but not limited to, the education of the child, health care, and religious training. The court may designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for other decisions.  Ala. Code 30-3-151 Definitions (Code Of Alabama (2023 Edition)).

Joint Physical Custody

Joint Physical Custody means physical custody is shared by the parents in a way that assures the child frequent and substantial contact with each parent. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean physical custody of equal durations of time. Ala. Code 30-3-151 Definitions (Code Of Alabama (2023 Edition)). 

Although equal durations of time are not required under the law, the most common form of joint physical custody is alternating weeks, so as to promote stability for children after a divorce or after their never-married parents’ relationship is over.

In the past, there has been no set rule for how to calculate child support in a joint physical custody scenario. Joint physical custody was always considered to be a reason to deviate from what the state of Alabama guidelines call for in child support.

New Amendment in Alabama and Joint Custody

The Alabama Supreme Court has passed an amendment under the rules of Judicial Administration (ARJA Rule 32), which specifically sets out how an Alabama child support payment is to be calculated in a joint custody situation.  You can find the entire text of these amendments here:

Under the amended rules, there are specific forms and guidelines that must be followed to calculate child support in a joint physical custody arrangement.  There is a key difference between the requirements under this rule and the state statute regarding joint physical custody. 

The child support rules use the term shared physical custody, which refers to a court-ordered physical custody arrangement whereby each parent retains physical custody of a child 50% (or approximately 50%) of the time.  A scenario where parents alternate custody on a week-on, week-off basis would meet this definition.

This new rule means that there are child support guidelines that must be followed and complied with in a shared physical custody arrangement.  Although every case is different, it is likely that if one parent earns significantly more money than the other, there will be child support; whereas, if the parents make the same amount of money, there may not be child support or there may be minimal child support. 

Again, every case is different and your attorney will have to calculate child support based on the facts of your particular case.

There is also a very significant except to this new rule regarding child support and shared physical custody – if a parent wilfully fails to exercise their parenting time for more than 14 days in a 12-month period, the court may consider that failure to exercise physical custody as a material change of circumstances sufficient to support a modification of child support. 

In other words, the Court does not have to calculate child support based on shared custody if one of the parents fails to exercise their shared custody according to their court order.

If you are considering divorce, a modification of custody or support, or you are a never-married parent seeking a custody order for the first time, these new rules and regulations about joint or shared physical custody and child support are very timely because these new rules went into effect on June 1, 2023.

If you think the new rules about joint custody or shared custody and child support may apply to your situation, contact our office for a consultation.


Author: Alison Herlihy

Family law attorney Alison Herlihy is a native of Mobile, Alabama. Alison has engaged in the private practice of family law since 2005, focusing primarily on domestic relations, divorce and child support, child custody law, adoption law, juvenile, probate practice, and wills.

Alison Baxter Herlihy earned the prestigious AV Preeminent peer review rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which recognizes attorneys for the highest levels of legal ability and professional ethical standards. Alison is a certified Guardian Ad Litem. In 2015, Alison became a Registered Mediator on the Alabama State Court Mediator Roster, in both general and domestic relations mediation.