If you and your spouse have no hope of reconciling your differences, divorce might be your only option. Before filing for divorce in Alabama at least one spouse must live in Alabama for six months.
Grounds for Divorce
The filing spouse must also select a reason (ground) for the divorce. Alabama permits both no-fault and fault-based divorce.
If you want to file a no-fault divorce, you can choose one of three grounds:
- The marriage is "irretrievably broken"
- Your spouse voluntarily abandoned you for at least one year, and you weren't intimate during that time
Alternatively, Alabama's fault-based grounds include:
- One spouse's mental or physical incapacity at the time of the marriage
- Imprisonment for at least two years with a sentence of at least seven years
- A "crime against nature," which can occur before or after the marriage
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Confinement to a mental institution for at least five years
- Wife's pregnancy at time of marriage without husband's knowledge where the child belongs to another
- Domestic violence
- Separation for at least two years during which wife has received no financial support from husband
How to Begin
Filing for divorce in Alabama requires a number of steps. Depending on your individual county, you might have to file additional forms. If you have assets for the court to divide or minor children, you must hire a lawyer. To start a divorce in Alabama you must:
- File a divorce Complaint and Plaintiff's Testimony at the appropriate county circuit court. On these forms you will have to certify that you have no minor children and that you and your spouse have agreed on how you'll divide your assets.
- The plaintiff must then serve the Complaint on the defendant (non-filing) spouse. Usually, the sheriff or constable in the county you live in will serve the defendant. You may also hire a private process server to serve the Complaint on your spouse.
- The defendant spouse has 30 days to reply to the Complaint for divorce. This document is called the Answer. It is the defendant spouse's chance to tell his or her side of the story and request whatever property division or support he or she desires.
- If the defendant fails to respond to the Complaint, the plaintiff can ask the court to issue a default judgment, which gives the filing spouse everything requested in the Complaint. At this point, the court does not consider any objections from the responding spouse. Instead, the judge bases his decision solely on the evidence and testimony presented by the filing spouse.
- There is a waiting period of 30 days. After the waiting period, once the judge reaches a decision, he signs the final decree of divorce, which formally ends the marriage and the divorce proceedings.
Dividing the Property
- The ability to of each spouse to earn after the divorce
- The contribution each spouse made monetarily to the marriage
- Whether one spouse stayed at home as a homemaker (to care for children, etc.)
- Whether one spouse was found to waste money during the marriage
- If on party has to continue to care for children
- If one spouse cheated on the other or was abusive
- Age, health and ability of the spouses to provide for themselves independently
The courts will also factor how long the marriage lasted. Generally, the longer you were married, the more likely it is that the property will be distributed 50/50.
In Alabama, either spouse can request alimony. The court might award alimony while the divorce is pending, but will only consider alimony, or an 'allowance of support', if one spouse has need and the other has the ability to pay. To determine whether spousal support is fair, and how long it should last, Alabama courts use similar factors that they do when they decide on property division, including but not limited to:
- How long the couple was married
- The education level and earning capacity of the spouse that makes less money
- The difference of income between the two spouses
- Any misconduct or fault in the marriage that resulted in divorce
- The lifestyle that was maintained during the marriage
In addition, the court may consider awarding one spouse part of the other spouse's retirement benefits, if the couple was married for more than ten years.
Taking Care of the Children
In any divorce, it is important for the court to carefully consider the best interests of any children.
Alabama courts prefer to award both parents joint custody, with both parents taking an active role in raising the children. In determining whether joint custody is appropriate, the courts consider a number of factors, including:
- Whether each parent agrees to joint custody
- Any history of child abuse, or any potential for abuse, neglect or kidnapping
- How close the parents live to each other
- The parents' ability to cooperate with each other in sharing custody
Under Alabama law, each parent also has an obligation to provide financial support for his or her minor children.
Moving forward with a divorce is a big decision. Depending on your situation, you might have accumulated significant assets that must be valued and divided. If you have kids, you might be concerned about uprooting them from the family home. Learning about the divorce process in Alabama can give you much needed peace of mind as you prepare to end your marriage and restructure your life. If your case involves more complicated issues, you should seek the help of an attorney.