Requirements for an Alabama divorce
Alabama allows you to file for a no-fault divorce
If your divorce is uncontested, you or your spouse needs to have lived in Alabama for at least six months prior to filing
If your divorce is contested, you or your spouse must have lived in the county where you file for divorce for at least six months prior to filing
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.
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
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
The wife was carrying another man’s child when married without husband’s knowledge
Living separately for at least two years
Step 1: Initiate the divorce process
To file for divorce in Alabama you need to 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.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: Contested or uncontested?
Contested divorce – more expensive
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 – cheaper
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.
Step 4: DIY or hire an attorney?
DIY – cheapest
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.
There are two routes that you can go, find the divorce papers by visiting your states website or local court, or use an online divorce service. A simple google search of your states website and divorce laws should be enough to help you get the process started in finding the right forms. The major issue is that you don’t have any help and you’ll have to figure out things as you go. This DIY process can take you a couple of weeks before you feel comfortable to file your paperwork. This route is only recommended if you and your spouse are filing an uncontested divorce.
Using an Divorce Service
You will save a lot of money and frustration by completing the paperwork yourself with the help of a online service. These services make filing a breeze by having you answer questions about your divorce and situation, and based on your response, your divorce papers will be filled out and reviewed for you. MyDivorcePapers.com offers a great service for $159 and provides guidance and the forms necessary to complete your divorce paperwork with minimal cost and effort.
Mediation – not free, but helpful
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.
Attorney – most expensive
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.
Step 5: Resolving the three big topics
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
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
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
Step 6: 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. It takes at least 30 days following the filing of the Complaint about Divorce before the divorce can be finalized.
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.