Legal Separation in Alabama: FAQs
What’s the Difference Between Separation and Divorce?
A legal separation in Alabama is different from a divorce in several key ways:
- Marital status: With a legal separation, you are still legally married, while a divorce terminates the marriage.
- Property division: Separated spouses typically divide assets and liabilities through a separation agreement, while this happens through the divorce decree.
- Spousal support: Separated spouses can agree to spousal support in a separation agreement, while support orders occur in a divorce.
- Remarriage: Those who are legally separated cannot remarry, while divorcees can.
So in summary, legal separation provides distance between spouses and allows dividing property and support while remaining married. Divorce dissolves the marriage completely.
Why Do Couples Choose to Separate Rather Than Divorce?
There are a few common reasons couples might prefer legal separation over divorce:
- Religious beliefs: Some couples choose separation to align with religious prohibitions on divorce.
- Uncertainty: Others use it as a trial period when they are unsure whether they want to fully divorce.
- Marriage benefits: Separated spouses can maintain health insurance, tax benefits, and inheritance rights.
- Child-related reasons: Some parents separate to see if their marriage can be repaired before taking the step of divorce for the sake of their children.
- Financial reasons: Lower-earning spouses may want time to become financially independent before finalizing a divorce.
So legal separation allows flexibility for those who don’t want to fully dissolve their marriages right away.
What Does Separation Mean in Alabama?
In Alabama, “legal separation” refers to spouses living apart by mutual agreement without being divorced. There are two main types of separation in Alabama:
A trial separation is an informal living apart arrangement used to provide space and perspective. There are no legal agreements, and it can end at any time if couples reconcile.
This formalizes the separation with a signed document detailing spousal support, property division, and custody if children are involved. It provides legal protections and obligations while separated.
So in essence, separation in Alabama means spouses live apart full-time and may create formal agreements on support, assets, and child custody. But they remain legally married.
Should I Hire an Attorney?
It’s highly advisable to have a family law attorney assist with a legal separation agreement. An attorney can:
- Explain your options and legal rights regarding property, support, and child custody.
- Ensure your interests and assets are protected in the separation agreement.
- Help negotiate fair compromises on any disputes that arise.
- Make sure all separation agreement terms follow Alabama laws.
- Modify the agreement later on if needed.
Trying to DIY your separation agreement can lead to ambiguity, conflicts, violations of laws, or unfairness down the road. A lawyer provides guidance and legal expertise.
What Should My Separation Agreement Cover?
A separation agreement should cover:
- Child custody, visitation, and child support arrangements if you have kids.
- Division of marital property and debts.
- Spousal support for one spouse, if applicable.
- Health, life, and auto insurance obligations.
- Tax filing status.
- Beneficiaries on wills, trusts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies.
Having all major issues spelled out legally provides protection and enforceability. Be sure to work with counsel to include all important provisions in your Alabama separation agreement.
Legal separation in Alabama provides important legal protections and obligations for couples living apart who are not ready to fully divorce. Separation agreements formalize child custody, spousal support, property division, and other critical issues while remaining married. Consulting with an attorney helps ensure your rights are protected. With a thoughtful agreement in place, legal separation can give spouses time and distance to possibly repair their marriage or transition to an eventual divorce.
What is the residency requirement for legal separation in Alabama?
Either spouse must have been a resident of Alabama for at least 6 months before filing for legal separation.
Can I get divorced after a legal separation?
Yes, you can pursue a divorce after being legally separated, as long as you meet Alabama’s residency requirements. The separation agreement will be incorporated into the divorce.
Do I have to go to court for a legal separation?
No, if you and your spouse agree on the separation terms, you can have attorneys draft the agreement without going through the courts.
What happens to property acquired after separation?
Any earnings or property acquired after separation is considered separate property belonging to the spouse who acquired it.
Can I modify the separation agreement later? Yes, separation agreements can be modified by mutual consent or by going through the courts if you can’t agree on proposed changes.