Alabama Divorce Laws

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You might hear stories from friends or family about how they navigated their own polite, uncontested divorce in Alabama without a divorce attorney. Maybe you found this page hoping to educate yourself on Alabama divorce laws in order to guide you through your own separation or divorce. Or maybe you foresee some trouble on the horizon, perhaps because of infidelity or adultery by your spouse, and you want to learn about family and divorce law in Alabama to get yourself ready for what might be coming.

Even under the best circumstances, or when it’s clear that a divorce is truly the best decision for those involved, rigid legal requirements and processes can make for a complex split. We will never leave our clients high-and-dry. When we accept a case, we are in it for the long-haul, and we devote our time, experience and skill to seeing the case through to a favorable conclusion.

We also firmly believe it’s in a client’s best interest to educate themselves on laws that govern divorce in Alabama and the way the process is likely to unfold.

Residency Requirements

One of the first criteria a divorcing couple in Alabama has to meet is the state residency requirement.

Per Ala. Code 30-2-5, if the defendant (the person against whom the divorce action is sought) is not a resident of Alabama, than the plaintiff (the person filing for the divorce) must have been a bona fide resident of this state for at least six months prior to filing.

Although some states require at least one spouse to be “domiciled” there in order to file for divorce, Alabama does not have such a requirement. This is good news because proving “domicile” is much more difficult than “residency.”

The residency requirement is important because while a divorce granted in one state is recognized in every other, state laws can vary significantly on certain residual matters, such as child custody or spousal support. One state could grant divorce, but it may not have authority over all aspects of the case when spouses reside in different jurisdictions.

For example, if a wife leaves her husband with his child and moves from Alabama to Ohio, the husband may file for divorce in Alabama. However, child custody matters might need to be determined by an Ohio court. Because of the complex nature of these situations, it’s best to confer with a Birmingham divorce lawyer early on to determine the best way to proceed.

Keep in mind spouses can move to other states or countries to legally obtain a divorce on more favorable terms (with more forgiving state laws). If you have an inkling this may be your spouse’s plan, you may want to consider filing for divorce in Alabama first, before they meet the necessary residency requirements in their new state.

Jurisdiction in Alabama Divorce

Alabama divorce cases are civil cases filed within one of the state’s circuit courts.

There are 21 separate judicial circuits in Alabama. The one in which you file will depend on your residency and other factors.

Cases are only taken to the next level (civil appeals or the Alabama Supreme Court) if there is an appeal filed and review is accepted. However, most cases are resolved with finality within one of the state’s circuit courts.

It’s important to choose the correct jurisdiction in which to file because otherwise, the case could end up getting dragged out longer than it should. Jurisdiction is fairly simple if both parties reside in the same Alabama circuit, but it can get complicated when parties live farther apart. This is another reason it’s good to consult with an attorney at the outset.

Legal Separation

Alabama spouses who don’t want to reside together anymore but aren’t necessarily rushing divorce, may consider petitioning the court for a legal separation, per Ala. Code 30-2-40.

State law does not mandate couples undergo a period of separation before they get divorced. However, in some cases, judges have been known to issue temporary separation orders before he or she will grant a divorce.

Although two people can freely alter their living arrangements at any time, simply living in separate locations does not count as a legal separation. A legal separation is in many ways similar to an actual divorce insofar as the court is asked to decide terms of child custody, child visitation, property division, debt allocation and spousal support for the duration of the separation.

Also, before the court will approve a legal separation, plaintiff will need to show:

  • Marriage is irretrievably broken
  • You and/or your spouse no longer want to live together
  • You and your spouse are incompatible to live together
  • You have resided in the state at least six months prior to filing

A decree of separation, as given by the court, is in many ways like a divorce decree, except that it does not end the marriage. The terms of the agreement are legally binding.

One of the primary reasons some individuals seek legal separation while they are deciding whether to stay together is that whatever assets or debts are acquired by one spouse during this period are not subject to equitable division, should the couple later decide to divorce.

Waiting Period for Alabama Divorce

The waiting period to obtain a divorce in Alabama is very short – just 30 days.

Of course, the vast majority of divorce cases are not resolved in this time because there are often complicated issues or disputes that need settled, and that often means the process will take longer.

However, assuming the divorce is uncontested and there are few issues to resolve, one month is the fastest timeline one can expect for these proceedings to be finished. Even then, there are some procedural elements that are likely to take at least a few extra weeks or months.

For example, your spouse has 30 days from the time he or she is “served” or given notice of the divorce proceedings in which to respond. And even if the divorce is uncontested, a judge will review the case to make sure terms are reasonable.

If you wish to remarry (anyone except each other), you must wait until at least 60 days after the judgment of divorce is entered.

If you have questions regarding the general requirements for divorce in Alabama, our family lawyers are here to help.

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