How to File for Divorce in Alabama
Ending a marriage is never easy, but sometimes it is necessary. If you are considering divorce in Alabama, it is important to understand the process and requirements. This guide will walk you through the steps of filing for divorce in Alabama, including grounds for divorce, residency requirements, where to file, how to initiate the process, temporary orders, property division, spousal and child support, child custody, and finalizing the divorce. Following the proper procedures and understanding your rights can help make this difficult transition go as smoothly as possible.
Grounds for Divorce in Alabama
In order to file for divorce in Alabama, you must establish legal grounds. Alabama is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning you do not need to prove fault or wrongdoing by either spouse. The most common grounds for divorce in Alabama are:
One spouse engaged in extramarital sexual acts during the marriage. This must be proven with evidence.
One spouse has voluntarily left the home for at least 1 year without the other’s consent and refused to return.
One spouse’s conduct has endangered the life, limb, or health of the other, or caused reasonable apprehension of such conduct.
The spouses are no longer able to live together due to irreconcilable differences that have led to the breakdown of the marriage.
The marriage is broken beyond repair, with no hope of reconciliation. This is demonstrated when the couple has lived apart for at least 2 years.
Establishing one of these grounds is the first step in filing for divorce in Alabama. You will indicate the grounds on your divorce petition.
To file for divorce in Alabama, one spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least 6 months prior to filing. You can file for divorce in the county where you reside, or where your spouse resides if you live in separate counties.
If neither spouse lives in Alabama, you can still file for divorce there if the marriage occurred in the state and both spouses agree. Military members stationed in Alabama can file for divorce after 90 days of residency.
Where to File for Divorce
Divorce cases are handled by the Circuit Court in the county where you or your spouse reside. The court to file in will be the Circuit Court of (Name of County) County. Some larger counties may have a designated Family Court division of the Circuit Court that hears divorce cases.
Contact the clerk of the circuit court in your county for specifics on where to file your paperwork. There are filing fees required to initiate a divorce case, but the clerk can let you know if you qualify for a fee waiver.
How to File for Divorce
Filing for divorce involves completing forms, filing them with the court, and serving your spouse. Here are the basic steps:
Fill out divorce forms
You will need to complete a Summons, Complaint/Petition for Divorce, DR-315 Child Support Obligation Income Statement/Affidavit form, and Vital Statistics form. These documents are available from the circuit clerk or court’s website. They require you to provide information on grounds, children, assets, debts, income, and your requested resolutions.
File petition with court clerk
Take your completed forms to the circuit clerk to file the petition and start the divorce case. You will need to provide copies of your marriage license and other verification documents. Pay required filing fees unless the clerk waives them.
Serve spouse with divorce papers
Your spouse must receive official notice that you have filed. A process server will deliver copies of the summons and petition. Your spouse then has 30 days to respond or contest the divorce.
Completing these steps puts the divorce process in motion. The court will set deadlines for the rest of the proceedings.
Either spouse can request temporary court orders to settle important matters while the divorce is pending. Common temporary orders address:
Sets which parent the children will primarily reside with and a visitation schedule.
Requires one parent to pay monthly support for the children’s expenses.
Requires one spouse to pay monthly support to the other.
Use of assets
Outlines who can use which marital property and assets during the divorce.
Temporary orders remain in effect until the divorce is finalized or the court changes them. They help smooth the transition during what can be a lengthy process.
The discovery process allows each spouse to obtain information needed to arrive at a fair settlement. Methods include:
Written questions the other spouse must answer under oath, within 30 days.
Oral testimony from the other spouse provided under oath, transcribed by a court reporter.
Requests for production
Requires the other spouse to produce financial records, documents, or other relevant information.
Honest participation in discovery is mandatory. You can also request records from banks, employers, and other entities.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of the divorce, the case may go to trial. This resembles a civil court trial, with opening statements, examination of witnesses, submission of evidence, and closing arguments to the judge.
In a bench trial, only the judge makes the final ruling. However, either party can request a jury trial instead. Jury trials follow the same process but the jury decides.
The goal of the trial is for the judge or jury to hear all evidence and resolve any disputes over property, support, custody, and other divorce details. Very few divorce cases actually go all the way to a trial – most end in settlement.
One major component of divorce is dividing marital property and debts equitably between spouses. Alabama is an equitable distribution state, meaning property will be divided in a fair manner, but not necessarily 50/50. The court looks at:
Marital vs separate property
Property acquired during marriage is marital and subject to division. Property brought into the marriage or received as inheritance is separate and belongs to that spouse.
Dividing assets and debts
Savings, investments, real estate, vehicles, pensions, and other assets are divided based on legal and equitable principles. The court seeks an overall fair division.
The judge will issue a final order on property distribution that is binding. Certain exceptions can be made, such as allowing one spouse to keep the marital home for the children.
Alabama allows judges to award temporary and permanent spousal support, also called alimony or maintenance, when appropriate. Types include:
Paid during the divorce process to allow the receiving spouse to maintain their prior standard of living.
Ongoing support paid after divorce to cover living expenses of an economically disadvantaged spouse. Lifetime alimony is rare – usually a set duration.
Not every divorcing couple will qualify for spousal support. The court looks at finances of both spouses, length of marriage, age, health, education, and income disparity.
Spousal support amounts and arrangements must be agreed to mutually or approved by the court. Payments end upon death of either spouse or the recipient’s remarriage.
Establishing custody arrangements for minor children is a significant divorce issue. Alabama family law prioritizes the child’s best interests. Custody involves:
Which parent the child primarily lives with and who makes day-to-day decisions.
Which parent is authorized to make major decisions about health, education, religion, etc.
The parenting schedule outlining when the other parent spends time with the child.
Courts prefer joint custody with both parents sharing physical and legal custody. If you cannot agree, custody may be determined after a hearing or at trial. Modifications are possible later if circumstances change.
The parent who does not have primary physical custody typically pays child support to the other parent. Alabama uses the income shares model to calculate support amounts based on:
- The incomes of both parents
- Health insurance and childcare costs
- Number of children
- Overnights with each parent
- Other factors
Child support continues until the child turns 19 or graduates high school. The court can order modifications if financial circumstances change substantially.
Finalizing the Divorce
After all matters have been decided (property, support, custody), the judge will enter a Final Decree of Divorce. This legally terminates the marriage. However, you must follow these additional steps:
- If ordered, obtain a new Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to divide retirement accounts.
- Update your will, insurance policies, beneficiaries, and other accounts.
- If changing your name, get a new driver’s license and Social Security card.
- Follow court orders regarding refinancing, transferring titles, and other obligations involving joint assets.
Completing these details fully concludes the divorce process. The clerk can provide certified copies of the final decree.
Changing Name After Divorce
In Alabama, a spouse must specifically request to resume a former last name in the divorce documents for the court to grant a legal name change. This can be done as part of the initial petition.
Otherwise, either spouse can pursue a name change independently after divorce by filing a separate petition with the probate court in their county of residence.
What is the waiting period before I can get divorced in Alabama?
For no-fault divorces using the grounds of incompatibility, you must have lived in separate residences for at least two years before filing for divorce. However, there is no waiting period if using the fault-based grounds of adultery, abandonment, physical abuse, etc. Those can be filed immediately.
Can I represent myself in my divorce?
Yes, but getting advice from a divorce lawyer can help avoid mistakes and ensure your rights are protected. Use lawyers to prepare documents and follow procedures but represent yourself in court if cost is an issue. Get legal advice before agreeing to settlement terms.
What about taxes when dividing marital property in divorce?
There may be tax impacts from dividing certain accounts and assets. Seek guidance from your attorney and accountant. For example, transferring retirement accounts to a spouse may have different IRS consequences than splitting other joint investments.
How much detail do I need to provide in divorce discovery?
You must fully and honestly disclose all relevant information about finances, assets, debts, income sources, expenses, property, etc. This allows for an equitable settlement. If you fail to provide required documentation or lie during discovery, the court can penalize you.
How can child custody be modified later if both parents agreed to it originally?
Custody orders can be modified if there are significant changes affecting the child’s best interests, such as if one parent relocates far away or an unsafe living situation arises. The parent seeking modification must convince the court that alteration of the existing custody arrangement is justified.
Divorce can be a challenging experience both logistically and emotionally. Understanding the laws and procedures in Alabama empowers you to get through it as smoothly as possible. Seeking legal advice shows wisdom. While the process seems daunting, taking it step-by-step allows you to gain control over the outcome. Millions have navigated these waters and come through stronger on the other side. With patience and perseverance, you will get to a new normal. You’ve got this!