Every beginning must have an end, even marital vows. Similar to the legal requirements for marriage, Alabama also has a procedure for getting divorced. However, you may find getting married is easier than getting out of it in Alabama.
Nonetheless, the difficulty of leaving should not keep you in an unhappy marriage. I have put together this guide to help you navigate the not-so-easy process of getting a divorce in Alabama and to enlighten you on what to expect throughout the journey of ending your marriage.
Divorce in Alabama Summary
Here is a brief breakdown of everything you need to know to get a divorce in Alabama.
Divorce Petition Requirements
In Alabama, you may file for divorce if any of the following situations apply to you:
- You can submit your divorce complaint whenever you’d like if you and your spouse are currently residents of Alabama.
- You can only petition for divorce if you have lived in Alabama for at least six months and the other spouse resides in a different state.
How to File A Divorce in Alabama
Getting the documents necessary for your case is the first step in the divorce process. The details of your marriage, such as whether it is a disputed or uncontested divorce or if you have small children, dictate which documents make up the original divorce paperwork.
In Alabama, the Circuit Court has authority over divorce matters, therefore you must file your divorce complaint there along with additional paperwork.
Under Alabama law, there are a few different ways to identify the right court to file divorce papers.
The next step is to serve a copy of the paperwork on your spouse when you have completed all the paperwork required to file for divorce. This entails merely informing your spouse that you are filing for divorce.
Within 120 days of filing the divorce complaint, the filing spouse in Alabama is required to serve the documents.
Your spouse has the right to react to the allegations and reasons for divorce specified in the complaint after receiving your divorce notification.
After receiving divorce papers from you, your spouse has 30 days to file a response to the complaint.
The court will set a date to hear the divorce case once the papers between the plaintiff and defendant are in order.
Before ending the processes in a contested divorce hearing, the court hears the arguments from both sides and takes other pertinent facts into account.
Following the divorce hearing, the judge will issue a final divorce decision addressing the contested issues raised in court.
In rare circumstances, if the defendant misses the divorce hearing or fails to provide a response within a 30-day window, the plaintiff may ask for a default judgment.
This completes the divorce process in Alabama.
Eligibility Requirements for Divorce in Alabama
The legal requirements for filing a divorce petition in Alabama depend on the residency status of you or your spouse, specifically which party is a bona fide resident of Alabama and how long either party has lived in the state. You qualify to begin a divorce action in Alabama if any of these scenarios apply to your situation:
- If you and your spouse currently live in Alabama, you can file your divorce complaint whenever you wish.
- If you are the filing spouse and the other spouse lives in a different state, you can only file for divorce after residing in Alabama for at least six months.
The respective cities or locations where either of you resides may also determine what court you’ll have to file your divorce petition in. Failure to meet the residency requirement means you’re ineligible to terminate your marriage in Alabama. You may consider filing in the state with the appropriate jurisdiction or make plans to meet the Alabama residency requirements.
Filing for Divorce in Alabama
As the person filing for divorce, you are the plaintiff in the case, technically “suing” for divorce, and your spouse is the defendant and has the opportunity to respond to your claims. Generally, the documents required to kickstart a divorce in Alabama largely depend on the type of divorce and other relevant factors that may apply to your situation.
I have broken down the divorce process into comprehensive steps to help you understand how it all works.
Step 1: Compiling the divorce forms
The first step of your divorce journey is obtaining the forms relevant to your circumstance. These documents form the initial divorce papers and are determined by the facts of your marriage, such as whether it is a contested or uncontested divorce or if you have minor children. Regardless of the circumstances of your marriage, you will need to file a divorce complaint form, which notifies the court of your intention to leave the marriage. Information you can expect to provide in the complaint form includes your details, your spouse’s details, the dates of marriage and separation, and confirmation that you meet the residency requirements.
In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must file a marital settlement agreement containing the divorce terms. The settlement agreement will contain mutual decisions on related issues, such as custody arrangements, alimony, child support, and marital assets. The agreement must be filed alongside the divorce complaint. If your decision to leave the marriage is likely to be contested by your spouse, this form is unnecessary.
Additional forms may also apply to parents with minor children, and the court will have to decide on issues that concern them. Alabama divorce forms are available online on the Alabama Courts website. While not all forms are available online, the clerk of the court can provide the necessary documents needed for you to complete your divorce paperwork.
Step 2: Where to file your divorce complaint
Since the Circuit Court has jurisdiction over divorce cases in Alabama, you will file your divorce complaint alongside other forms at the appropriate Circuit Court. You can identify the appropriate court to file the initial divorce papers with these jurisdictional requirements:
- If you both currently live in the state, the plaintiff must file for divorce in the Circuit Court in the county where the defendant (the other spouse) is a resident.
- If the defendant’s residence is in another state, the filing spouse will initiate the divorce action in the county where the plaintiff lives.
To terminate a marriage in Alabama, you must file your divorce paperwork at the clerk’s office in the specified Circuit Court. Alternatively, Alabama courts provide an electronic means of filing your divorce papers via AlaFile.
Step 3: Serving your spouse
Once you file all the necessary paperwork to sue for divorce, the next step is to serve your spouse a copy of the paperwork. This simply means notifying your spouse of the divorce action. Under Alabama law, the filing spouse must serve the papers within 120 days of filing the divorce complaint.
If you are the filing spouse, the court rules prohibit you from personally serving your spouse the papers. A third party with no involvement in the case who is at least 18 years old can deliver the documents to the other spouse. You may also have the divorce papers delivered to your spouse in the following ways:
- Hiring a private process server to serve your spouse on your behalf
- Using the paid service of the sheriff’s office in the county where you filed the complaint
- Use certified US mail to deliver the documents to your spouse
If you’re unaware of your spouse’s current location, you can get the court’s approval to publish a notice in print media, such as a local newspaper.
Note that the court may require you to file a specific form for certain methods of serving the divorce documents. You can check with the clerk to confirm any additional forms needed to complete this process.
Step 4: Response from your spouse
After receiving your divorce notification, your spouse has the right to respond to the claims and grounds for divorce listed in the complaint. Your spouse has 30 days from the date you served the divorce documents to respond to the complaint.
Before the deadline, the defendant must fill out the Answer to Divorce Complaint form, sign it, and deliver a copy to the plaintiff’s known address. An original copy of the documents must also be mailed or delivered to the court clerk before the 30-day period expires.
Filing an answer is the only opportunity for the defendant to respond to the complaint and avoid a default judgment. If your spouse does not respond to the complaint, the court may grant the divorce in your favor without hearing their side of the story. Through the response, the defendant can contest or agree with some or all of the information in the divorce complaint.
Step 5: The divorce hearing
Once the papers between the plaintiff and the defendant are in order, the court will fix the date to hear the divorce case. In a contested divorce hearing, the court hears the argument of both sides and considers other relevant factors before concluding the proceedings.
Hearings in a contested divorce last longer than in uncontested divorces because the court has to reconcile the claims made by both spouses before giving an order. In an uncontested divorce, the court only needs to verify that the marital dissolution agreement was made voluntarily.
You can check with the court clerk to confirm the scheduled date of your divorce hearing.
Step 6: Final divorce judgment
After the divorce hearing, the judge will give a final divorce judgment determining the disputed matters brought before the court. In some cases, the plaintiff can request a default judgment if the defendant fails to attend the divorce hearing or file a response within a 30-day deadline. The court will award the default judgment in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant may have to pay the court costs.
If you need help with your divorce . . .
If this is all too much for you to do on your own, you might consider hiring an online divorce service. Engaging such legal services will help you correctly file your papers and proceed with the divorce case. After carefully assessing their pros and cons, I have ranked the best online divorce services to assist you with the divorce process.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get a divorce in Alabama?
Under Alabama law, the earliest time a judge can issue a final divorce judgment is 30 days after filing the divorce complaint. In reality, the timeline for a divorce in Alabama will likely take more than 30 days.
Certain factors may influence the timeline for the conclusion of many divorces in Alabama. For instance, disagreements between spouses on child custody, division of marital properties, or other related matters may prolong the timeline for divorce. Likewise, a plaintiff may file for divorce on fault-based grounds, which require proof and may take longer to finalize, unlike no-fault divorces.
Generally, uncontested divorces in which the married couple has a marital settlement agreement take the least time to conclude. Since the court decides the terms in contested divorces, the spouses have little control over the timeline of their divorce case. It may range from a couple of weeks to months or over a year.
What are the different types of divorce in Alabama?
The two types of divorce in Alabama are contested and uncontested divorces.
An uncontested divorce is usually the less complicated and cheaper route. It involves the spouses settling the terms of their divorce by coming up with a marital settlement agreement and filing it alongside the divorce complaint. You can achieve this by using a third-party mediator or employing the legal services of a law firm or attorney to protect your interests.
The spouses and your attorneys must agree to all the terms before putting them in the settlement agreement. The agreement is then filed along with a divorce complaint to enable the court to give it official recognition. Once this is done, spouses cannot object to the terms of the divorce unless the agreement is not reached voluntarily.
For a contested divorce in Alabama, the court can issue a divorce decree after a trial or through a default judgment awarded to the plaintiff. A contested divorce will go to trial if the defendant files a response that disagrees with all or some of the claims in the complaint. The trial will determine child custody and who gets what concerning the marital property. A trial date will be set for both parties to present their case and evidence. However, the parties may decide to settle before the trial date. Otherwise, the case will proceed to a hearing at the Circuit Court, where a judge will decide on the contested issues.
On the other hand, the divorce case may end in a default judgment if the defendant fails to respond to the complaint within the appropriate time. The plaintiff can request for Divorce Judgment by Default, in which the judge makes decisions solely based on the claims in the divorce complaint filed by the plaintiff.
A divorce decree obtained in respect of your spouse’s default is just as valid as a decree obtained after trial. Your spouse cannot appeal the court’s decision without the court’s permission. Your spouse can only obtain such permission if they show valid reasons for not responding within the prescribed period.
Do I need an attorney to get a divorce in Alabama?
Under Alabama law, you’re not required to have an attorney before filing for divorce. Usually, an attorney’s job will be to protect your interests in the divorce case and ensure that you comply with the state’s laws during the procedure.
While hiring an attorney or law firm is not mandatory, you may consider using legal services to guide you throughout the process and help you reach favorable finalization—for instance, hiring an attorney or law firm to negotiate and draw up a settlement agreement or to prove the allegations of marital misconduct of your spouse.
If you would like to represent yourself in the entire process or cannot afford an attorney, you can check with the court clerk for free legal resources available for your situation. Alternatively, you can also use online divorce services if the attorney fees are too high.
Do I have to prove separation to get a divorce In Alabama?
No, Alabama does not require proof of separation from your spouse before granting a divorce petition. Anyone interested in terminating their marriage in the Yellowhammer State must meet the residency requirements that apply to their situation.
Legal separation in Alabama has a similar process to divorce but a different outcome. While a divorce legally ends the marital relationship between spouses, the couple will remain married at the end of the proceedings of a legal separation. If any party to a legal separation wishes to remarry (a different spouse), they will have to request the court to convert the legal separation decree into a divorce decree.
The court addresses similar issues in a divorce and legal separation, such as spousal support, visitation rights, and child support. You and your partner may consider legal separation if you wish to reconcile in the future. Statutory requirements for a legal separation in Alabama include meeting the six months residency requirement, and at least one spouse wishes to separate.
Can I get a divorce in Alabama if I was married in another state?
Absolutely! Alabama law does not restrict divorce to only people who had their marriage in the state. What matters to end your marriage in Alabama is meeting the residency provisions. Therefore, you can proceed to file for divorce if you and your spouse currently reside in Alabama or if you have lived in Alabama for six months or more.
Is spousal fault necessary for the dissolution of marriage in Alabama?
No, Alabama does not force you to prove spousal fault before dissolving your marital relationship. The state accepts both no-fault grounds and fault-based grounds to issue a divorce decree. In a no-fault divorce, the court does not need either party to prove that the divorce is a result of the marital misconduct of the opposing side.
The court will grant a no-fault divorce action after establishing either of the following:
- A complete incompatibility of temperament, meaning the spouses can no longer cohabit
- Confirmation of the irretrievable breakdown of the marital relationship and the spouses are irreconcilable
The law also recognizes fault-based grounds of divorce if you make allegations of spousal misconduct. The court will grant such a request if the allegation qualifies as grounds dictated by state law and proven by the accusing spouse.
Here are the fault-based grounds to grant an Alabama divorce:
- Addiction of a spouse to alcohol or hard drugs during the marriage
- Deliberate abandonment by a spouse for at last a year before the request to divorce
- One spouse committed a violent act that endangered the life or health of the other spouse, causing fear of imminent violent acts
- Imprisonment of a spouse in Alabama or a different state for two years, with the prison sentence being seven years or more
- Guilt of crime against nature, at any time, whether the victim is human or an animal
- Either party is proven to have a permanent physical disability that makes them unable to enter a marriage
- The husband is the filing spouse, and the grounds are that the wife became pregnant by another person without the husband’s knowledge
- If one of the spouses is housed in a mental hospital for five consecutive years and such spouse is deemed incurably and certifiably insane when the other spouse files for divorce.
- The wife is the filing party and lived separately from the husband in Alabama for two years without any kind of support
How are alimony and child support determined in Alabama?
Alimony is a common issue in divorce cases in Alabama. Also referred to as “spousal support,” it is the payment made by one spouse to the other to support the receiving spouse’s needs after the divorce. In Alabama, there are three types of alimony: periodic alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and interim alimony.
Interim alimony is only valid for the duration of the divorce proceeding, while rehabilitative alimony payments are for five years to help the receiving spouse get the necessary resources to become independent. Periodic alimony lasts the longest but may not exceed the time the marriage lasted. For instance, if your marriage lasted seven years, a periodic alimony payment will not exceed those ten years.
The court may award a party interim alimony after considering the following:
- The marriage is still valid.
- The paying spouse can afford the maintenance.
- The spouse receiving alimony needs it, and the paying spouse has no other court-ordered interim payment obligations.
After a divorce, the court may grant periodic or rehabilitative alimony to either spouse after establishing the following:
- The spouse to receive alimony lacks a personal estate, or the estate cannot maintain the living standards of the parties during the marriage.
- The spouse intended to pay alimony and can comfortably afford the payments.
- The court considers the payments equitable following the circumstances of the case.
Furthermore, the court will consider some other factors to determine if the spouse receiving alimony has an adequate estate to sustain the usual standard of living or not. The court will also determine if the paying spouse can afford to pay alimony before awarding it.
Both parents must cater to their children, but either spouse may file for child support during a divorce. In determining the child support payments, the Alabama court will consider the following:
- Gross income of both parents
- Custodial arrangements
- The child’s needs
- The living standard of the child before the divorce
- Extraordinary costs of transportation settled by one parent for visitation
- Education expenses of the child
- Child-care costs
- Other factors the court deems to be in the child’s best interest
What determines child custody in Alabama?
Alabama law is designed to preserve the relationship between parents and children. In every divorce, the court must consider joint custody but may award any form of custody (sole or joint) in the child’s best interests. In determining what constitutes the child’s best interests, the court shall consider the following:
- The agreement or otherwise of the parents on joint custody
- The ability of the parents to make decisions jointly and encourage the sharing of love, affection, and contact between the child and the other parent
- Any history of or potential for child, domestic, or spousal abuse, or kidnapping
- The geographic proximity of the parents to each other
- The safety and well-being of the child
When the parents apply for joint custody, the court considers joint custody to be in the child’s best interests.
How are marital assets shared in Alabama?
Alabama is an equitable sharing state, meaning the state court will divide or assign marital property on fair and just terms.
The state considers most assets acquired during the marriage as marital property. However, any property owned before the marital union or received as a gift or through inheritance is not marital property. Divorcing spouses who cannot reach a property settlement will have to rely on the court’s decision.
Here are the factors that influence property division by the court:
- The age and health condition of each spouse
- Living standards during the marriage
- The duration of the marital union
- Contribution of one spouse to the other’s personal development in terms of education, skills, or earning capacity
- Personal needs of each party, considering both present circumstances and the prospect of earning more or acquiring more assets
- Marital misconduct by either spouse that resulted in the divorce
- Other sources of income, including retirement accounts, insurance, or disability benefits
- How the parties acquired the property and its value
- Role of either spouse as a parent, primary income earner, or homemaker
- Tax consequences of the division
- Custodial arrangements affecting the primary residence of minor children shared
Although saying “Buh-bye!” to your marriage may cause you emotional stress, you’re better off ending an unhappy union and focusing on healing. I have put together this guide to help you understand the Alabama divorce process for an easier divorce experience, and I hope you find it useful.