How to File for a Divorce In Alabama
REQUIREMENTS NECESSARY TO FILE FOR DIVORCE
- Alabama allows you to file for divorce without a fault attributed to either spouse.
- If you and your spouse agree on all issues involved in the dissolution of the marriage, you may produce a marital settlement agreement that will speed the divorce process.
- You must submit the Complaint for Divorce to Clerk’s Office of the local district court along with the appropriate filing fee.
- The residency requirement for filing a divorce in Alabama stipulates that you or your spouse has resided in the county where you filed for divorce for at least six months if the divorce is contested. In an uncontested divorce, you may file in any Alabama county as long as you or your spouse has resided in the state for at least six months.
Grounds for Divorce in Alabama
- Like most other states, Alabama may grant a no-fault divorce based on the grounds:
- the marriage is irretrievably broken
- spousal incompatibility
- voluntary abandonment
- If you would like to file for divorce based on a fault by your spouse, the following are legally acceptable:
- imprisonment for a minimum of two years, with a minimum sentence of seven years
- deviant sexual behavior
- habitual drunkenness or drug use
- marital incompatibility prohibiting living together
- interment in a mental hospital for a minimum of five years due to incurable insanity
- the wife was carrying another man’s child when married without husband’s knowledge
- domestic violence
- living separately for at least two years
- You or your spouse must have resided in the state of Alabama for at least six months.
- Filing for divorce in Alabama can be difficult without expert assistance. Using an online divorce service can make the process easier by helping you complete your paperwork within an hour. Most only divorce services start at only $159 and can save you thousands in legal fees (Read about our top online divorce service providers).
- If you have any additional questions or concerns regarding the divorce procedure in Alabama, you can find low cost legal assistance at JustAnswer.com.
- It takes at least 30 days following the filing of the Complaint about Divorce before the divorce can be finalized.
- You must include an affirmation that you or your spouse fulfills the residency requirement. In some cases, the court may require evidence to support this allegation.
INITIATING THE DIVORCE PROCESS
To file for divorce in Alabama you must file a Complaint for Divorce and a Summons with the Clerk’s Office of the district court. These papers should include details regarding property division, alimony and child custody.
If you and your spouse do not have any unresolved issues, you may formulate a Divorce Settlement Agreement which should also be filed with the court. Alabama allows you to use an expedited procedure for uncontested divorces.
NOTIFY YOUR SPOUSE
Divorce is actually a lawsuit between you and your spouse, so, in order to satisfy legal requirements, you must properly notify your spouse that legal action is being taken against them. In a divorce proceeding, this is called Service of Process and involves delivering copies of the Complaint for Divorce and Summons along with supporting documents to your spouse in a timely manner.
Under Alabama law, you must complete Service of Process within 30 days of filing your complaint. You may fulfill this legal requirement in one of the following ways:
- In person—Alabama allows anyone who is 18 years of age or older and is not a party to the lawsuit to serve the divorce papers in person. In most cases, the process server is a sheriff or a professional, bonded process server. Once the papers have been delivered to the respondent’s home or person, the process server must endorse the Service of Process form and file it with the Clerk of Court.
- By mail—If your spouse does not accept the delivery of divorce papers, you may complete Service of Process by sending the papers via certified mail. You must file the return receipt with the clerk to complete this process.
- By publication—If you are unable to locate your spouse, you may ask the court to serve notice by publication. If the court approves, then you may post notice of the divorce in a local newspaper. The notice must be published at least once a week for four consecutive weeks.
Once Service of Process has been completed, your spouse will have 30 days to respond to the complaint or lose certain legal rights under Alabama law.
If your spouse does not respond to the Complaint for Divorce, then the judge may assume that the respondent is waiving their right to be heard by the court. In this case, the court will likely grant the plaintiff most or all they are seeking in the Complaint for Divorce.
If your spouse does not wish to contest the Complaint for Divorce, they may file an Answer with the court that waives certain evidence requirements like testimony in open court. This obviates the need for a trial and allows parties to submit evidence in written form. In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse only need to file a marital settlement agreement stipulating the details of property division, alimony and child custody.
If your spouse files an Answer that refutes details in the complaint, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews, and negotiations. This may be a lengthy, involved process that takes an enormous toll on you personally and financially.
CONTESTED OR UNCONTESTED DIVORCE?
Contested Divorce (High Cost)
If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on the issues related to the divorce, you will have to endure a long and costly legal process that will include a jury or bench trial. Because your spouse will probably hire an attorney to represent them and protect their interests, you will likely have to do likewise.
- Attorneys possess legal expertise that will make the entire divorce proceed more smoothly. Their prior knowledge of court procedures will also help prevent you from making a misstep that could jeopardize your position.
- Although an attorney may help you meet certain legal deadlines, there is no guarantee that their involvement will shorten the process. They may engage in a protracted process of investigation to support or undermine claims made by you and your spouse, or participate in negotiations with your spouse’s legal team that could drag on for weeks or months.
- If you have a lot of property to divide, or complicated issues to resolve, an attorney may provide reliable strategies on how best to proceed.
- Because most divorce lawyers charge by the hour in a contested divorce you may expect to pay quite a bit more if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement.
Uncontested Divorce (Low Cost)
In Alabama, if you and your spouse agree on certain issues, you may proceed through the uncontested divorce process.
- You and your spouse must agree on property division, a division of debt and child custody to use this expedited process.
- There is no need for a trial, but the judge may order you to appear at a hearing.
- Because you and your spouse are not in conflict, there may be no need for legal representation. In many cases, you can complete the entire process on your own, saving you time and money.
- In certain circumstances, you may be able to complete an uncontested divorce in as little as 30 days.
DO IT YOURSELF OR HIRE AN ATTORNEY?
Self-Representation (Lowest Cost)
By far, the easiest and most cost-effective way to complete the divorce process is if you and your spouse are in full agreement about major issues and you represent yourself. That is why you should make every effort to come to an agreement with your spouse prior to starting the divorce procedure. You will save a lot of money and trouble by completing the paperwork yourself and fulfilling the court’s requests. MyDivorcePapers.com offers a valuable service for $159 and provides guidance and the forms necessary to complete your divorce paperwork with minimal cost and effort.
Mediation (Medium Cost)
Alabama courts will often order couples seeking a divorce into mediation even if neither party requests it. Mediators are conflict resolution experts, often with legal training, who attempt to help couples come to an agreement on ongoing issues. Mediation is not legally binding, but it may help shorten the divorce process or make it unnecessary.
Divorce Trial (Highest Cost)
In cases where you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on major issues, the judge will schedule a bench or jury trial that will require you and your spouse to present arguments supporting your respective positions. In the vast majority of trials, it is the attorneys with trial experience who are representing the spouses that do most of the arguing and present evidence. In addition to the legal fees paid for the services of attorneys, there are usually many court costs involved in a trial.
RESOLVING THE BIG THREE ISSUES
Most divorcing couples that are incapable of reaching an agreement find themselves disputing issues of property division, alimony or child custody. If you plan on filing for divorce in Alabama, you should be aware of how courts usually decide these issues.
One of the most divisive issues of any divorce is property distribution. Alabama courts abide by the principle of equitable distribution which means that assets should be allocated fairly. This does not necessarily entail a 50/50 split and is governed by many factors including:
- the length of the marriage
- any prior marriages
- the age, health, income, employability, liabilities, and needs of each party
- the contribution by one spouse to the increased earning power of the other
- future income
- sources of income, including retirement, insurance or other benefits
- a spouse’s role as a parent, wage earner or homemaker
- the value of allocated assets
- the standard of living during the marriage
- tax consequences of the distribution
- custody of the children
As in most states, Alabama determines child custody based on the best interests of the child. Alabama courts prefer to award joint custody, but will take into consideration the following criteria before making a determination:
- Each parent’s feelings on joint custody
- Any history of child abuse, spousal abuse, or kidnapping
- Parent’s geographical proximity to the other
- Each parent’s ability to encourage a strong emotional bond between the child and the other parent
- Each parent’s ability to cooperate and communicate with the other parent
In Alabama, alimony or spousal maintenance may be ordered if the dependent spouse is incapable of maintaining their standard of living. In most cases, alimony is only temporary and will be terminated when the dependent spouse is financially able to sustain themselves. The court will consider the following when awarding alimony:
- Both spouse’s age and health
- the standard of living during the marriage
- the dependent earner’s contribution to the increased earning power of the other
- past services as a parent or homemaker
- both spouse’s future income and assets
- needs of any dependent children
- any misconduct that contributed to the breakup of the marital bond
FINALIZING YOUR ALABAMA DIVORCE
If you and your spouse are in agreement on the terms of the divorce, then you will probably not need to attend a court hearing before the judge issues the final divorce decree. If you are engaged in an uncontested divorce and have minor children, the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody.
If you and your spouse disagree on key issues, the judge may schedule a trial, typically months after the initial filing. Following the trial, the judge will consider all of the evidence presented before issuing the decision which governs unresolved issues. After the judgment is issued, you should receive your final decree of divorce.
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