What We Cover In This Article
Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
Ending a marriage is never easy and if you’re getting a divorce in Alabama there is a lot to consider.
In addition to all of the Alabama specific laws, you need to think about hiring an attorney vs using an online divorce platform, dividing assets and debts, and much much more.
Because divorce is stressful enough on its own, we wrote this complete guide to walk you through every step of getting a divorce in Alabama.
Specific counties might have additional requirements beyond what the state asks for, so you’ll want to verify with your county clerk for details.
Types of Divorce Laws in Alabama
If you’re just starting to think about divorce, you might not know which path you’ll take. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the types of divorce in Alabama.
There are different types of divorce laws in Alabama:
- Uncontested divorce
- Contested divorce
- Divorce by default or publication
An uncontested divorce means both you and your spouse agree that divorcing is the solution to your problems and you agree on the terms of your divorce. When filing for an uncontested divorce you work together to outline the separation of assets, debts and alimony. If applicable, you also agree on custody and child support.
Uncontested divorces are usually more affordable because there’s no need to hire attorneys to fight your battle.
If you do use an attorney, they might have a flat fee rate for an amicable divorce.
You’ll also save money because you won’t have court costs beyond the initial filing fee.
However, if there aren’t any disagreements about the divorce, the case will have to go to trial.
Uncontested divorces are usually much cheaper and quicker, typically taking only a couple of months at most.
FURTHER READING: How To Get a Cheap and Quick Divorce
Uncontested Divorce Requirements in Alabama
- Both must agree that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and they cannot repair it
- Both people must agree on the division of assets
- Both must agree on the issue of spousal support
- Both must agree on custody of the children if they have any
- Both must agree on a visitation schedule for the children
- Both must agree on child support payments
Pros and Cons
If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind, it costs an average of $15,000 in attorney fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
A contested divorce means you and your spouse don’t agree on the terms of your divorce.
You might request more alimony then your spouse is willing to pay. Or worse, maybe one spouse doesn’t want to get divorced at all.
You’ll want to hire an Alabama divorce attorney for a contested divorce. Going head to head with your spouse regarding such emotional details is too hard for a person to handle. An attorney acts professionally and keeps a lot of stress off of your shoulders.
A contested divorce is much more expensive than an uncontested divorce. You’ll hire an attorney and pay an hourly fee for their work. You’ll have to pay more for the hours they spend in court fighting your ex.
Because contested divorces often go to trial, they can drag out over months or even years. Hiring an attorney or mediator can help speed the process along, but there’s no guaranteed way to predict how long it will take to resolve.
Main issues that spouses typically disagree on are:
- The division of assets
- Custody of the children
- Child support
Pros and Cons
Divorce by Default or Publication
If you’re unable to locate and contact your spouse or they don’t respond to the divorce documents in a set time, then the judge can grant you a divorce by default. or divorce by publication. In Alabama, the legal time limit to respond to a divorce suit is 30 days.
If you can't find your spouse and tried to track them down to no avail, your last resort is to post a public announcement in the local paper. This way, there’s a chance your spouse might see the notification and contact you or the court.
The divorce announcement runs for three weeks. If your spouse doesn’t reply to the newspaper announcement after that time, the divorce may go ahead as an uncontested case.
Whether you serve your spouse with papers or you run a notification in the newspaper, getting a divorce by default will only take a couple of months. You will probably be granted everything you asked for in the divorce because your spouse wasn’t there to contest it.
Since your spouse didn’t respond to the divorce suit, you’ll have to pay the court costs yourself. Some people ask that the spouse pay these fees, especially in at-fault divorces, but if you can’t find your spouse, then you can’t make them pay.
Additionally, you’ll have to pay for any effort made to find your spouse. This includes hiring a process server to deliver the documents and running the notification in the newspaper. Overall, it’s an affordable way of getting divorced when compared to a contested divorce.
- family members
- former employers
- mailing a letter to their last known address
- giving public notice of divorce in the local newspapers
Transitioning To Divorce by Trial?
It's important to note, you might start the process to divorce by default, but your spouse suddenly pops up to contest the terms of the suit. In that case, the divorce goes to trial.
This can also happen when you serve a local spouse with paperwork. Any time someone doesn’t agree with the divorce document, the case will go to trial.
A divorce trial is just like any other contested divorce court case described above. You and your spouse will need lawyers unless you intend to represent yourselves, which we highly recommend against.
During the divorce, you both have the right to call witnesses. These witnesses usually give character references if your spouse is slandering your reputation. Witnesses are especially powerful in custody cases.
Some courts don’t allow family members as witnesses since they’re biased. Therefore you should choose close friends or coworkers that you trust. Attorneys for both spouses will question the witness. If a witness isn’t available, the judge can grant a continuance, which delays the trial.
Contested divorces by trial can take months or years to finalize.
Starting divorce proceedings by hiring a mediator to meet with you and your spouse can go a long way in preventing disagreements further down the road.
Residency Requirements in Alabama
In order to meet the residency requirements for getting a divorce in Alabama, you will have to live in Alabama for six months to qualify as a resident. If you meet this requirement, then you can start the divorce process through the state.
Keep in mind, only one person in the marriage needs to be an Alabama resident to divorce in the state. If your spouse lives elsewhere, you can still file for divorce in Alabama. If you file first, then the entire process will take place in the county where you live.
- To qualify for a divorce in Alabama, you must live in the state for six months before filing the divorce paperwork.
- Your spouse doesn’t have to live in the same state.
- If you can’t find your spouse, you can request a divorce by publication in the state.
Grounds for Divorce in Alabama
Marriage is a legally binding contract, so to dissolve the contract, the judge must understand the reason why.
In many states, you have to have a fault, which is a specific reason that the marriage isn’t working or is actively hurting you. But other states allow no-fault divorces.
Alabama is a no-fault divorce state, though you still have to name a reason why neither partner has caused the marriage to end. You can say that there was an irretrievable breakdown or incompatibility.
Irretrievable breakdown means that the marriage is so broken that therapy and counseling can’t repair it.
Incompatibility means that you and your spouse don’t get along and aren’t compatible anymore.
No-fault divorces can be good candidates for uncontested divorces because both spouses agree that the marriage isn’t working anymore. You both want out, so there’s no sense in fighting about the terms.
However, if one spouse doesn’t agree to the terms of a divorce, the process will be more involved—and definitely more expensive. This is because one of you will have to prove that the other is at fault or caused the marriage to end in order to prove your argument for terms you want.
Acceptable reasons for fault-based divorces in Alabama include:
- someone in the marriage committed adultery
- someone in the marriage is an alcoholic
- someone was incapacitated at the time of marriage
- the wife was pregnant at the time of marriage and didn’t tell her spouse
- someone abandoned the marriage for over 12 months
- someone was institutionalized for five years or more
- someone was imprisoned for two years and sentenced to more than seven years
- someone committed a crime against nature before or after the marriage
- someone in the marriage was violent or cruel to their spouse
- In a no-fault divorce, the process runs smoothly because the spouses agree that they can’t save the marriage.
- In a fault divorce, one spouse must work to prove that the other spouse did something to end the marriage.
Using an Alabama Divorce Attorney
If you and your spouse agree that you can’t save the marriage and aren’t fighting over assets, you might be able to complete the divorce paperwork on your own.
But if you have to prove that your spouse was at fault or you’re arguing over how to divide your possessions, then you’ll probably want to hire a divorce attorney for a contested divorce.
Using an Alabama divorce attorney will cost more than completing and filing divorce paperwork yourself, but it can be easier in the long run for contested divorces. You’ll know that your attorney understands Alabama laws and won’t make any mistakes on your paperwork.
Divorce attorneys are experts in Alabama family laws. They’ll make sure that your divorce goes as smoothly as possible.
It’s smart to have a professional representing you and looking out for you and your best interests as you go through this emotional time, and that’s exactly what a good divorce attorney will do.
What Makes Good a Divorce Attorney
Just because someone graduated from law school doesn’t make them a good lawyer. Here are the qualities you need to look for when you hire a divorce attorney in Alabama.
A good divorce attorney needs experience with Alabama divorce laws that are different from attorney's who practice other forms of law, such as business law or environmental law. This is because other law practice areas are very different than family law which is what you need expertise in for a divorce.
You will want to have an attorney represent you that has a proven track record of successful divorces and previous client testimonials to back that up. For example, if you will be going through a divorce with a narcissistic spouse, having an attorney with experience with negotiation tactics that will not fall into common traps narcissists set for their victims.
Many people might laugh at the idea that their divorce attorney should be honest, but it’s true. They should be honest and upfront with you about what can happen during the process. A divorce lawyer who promises you that things will proceed easily without issues might relieve some of your stress, but you need to determine if they are being honest.
Just as your attorney should be honest with you about what to expect, you also need to be honest with them. Give them all of the information you have, even if it doesn’t paint you in the best light. Lying to your lawyer can cause trouble later on, which can prolong the divorce process and increase costs.
A good divorce attorney has great communication skills. They understand your questions and answer them clearly. If you call or email them, they get back to you within an acceptable period.
Confident & Professional
You also want to choose a lawyer that is confident and professional. When you talk to them, you’ll be able to tell that they know their stuff. You’ll see how they hold themselves and how composed they are. Hiring a good divorce attorney will reflect well on you in court, so don’t take this decision lightly.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
Many people find good divorce attorneys through word of mouth. Maybe your coworker went through a divorce last year and got exactly what she wanted from the settlement. Ask who her lawyer was, and then research them on your own.
You can also contact the Lawyer Referral Service. The Alabama State Bar offers this service to help connect clients with lawyers. You can call the toll-free number to find an attorney in good standing with the State Bar.
Research is key for finding a good divorce attorney. You want to find someone who can get you what you want. If you have children, look for a lawyer with experience in custody and child support. If you have to prove your spouse is at fault, find an attorney who has handled that type of case. Better yet, find an attorney that has qualifications in all these areas of divorce.
Aim to interview at least three local divorce attorneys to contact. That way, you’ll know their communication style, capabilities, and fees. You can compare and contrast them to see who will work best for your needs.
Most lawyers will meet with you for a consultation. Do your research beforehand, including asking around about the attorney, reading online reviews, and searching their name in the news.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
When you have a consultation with a divorce attorney, make a list of interview questions to ask them. This will give you a better idea of how they’ll handle your case. Ask them things like:
- How long have you been practicing family law in Alabama?
- Do you have experience with divorce cases in Alabama?
- Do you have experience with custody and child support, if applicable?
- What are your hourly rates and other fees?
- Do you offer a flat fee for divorces?
- Do I pay upfront or after the court finalizes the divorce?
- How much time will you devote to my case? (This gives you insight into how attentive they’ll be. You can also estimate how much you’ll have to pay at an hourly rate.)
- Do you work with a team of attorneys, or will you handle my case directly?
Is the Initial Consultation Free?
Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation to learn the details about your case. They need to find out if they’re able to help you or not. Many lawyers will mention on their website if they offer a free consultation.
If you use the Lawyer Referral Service, you can be confident that all initial consultations will be free or not cost more than $50 for 30 minutes.
Other lawyers might charge more for a consultation. Unless you’re sure that you want to work with a particular lawyer, it’s best to look for those who will talk to you for free.
You want to interview them to make sure they’re the right fit before you hand over any money.
Is the Meeting Confidential?
In Alabama, meetings with lawyers are confidential. If hired, your lawyer may need to share some information with outside sources to help you win the case, but they will always ask for your consent first.
According to state law, your lawyer might also reveal information you gave them if you’re likely to commit a crime or harm others or yourself. Even then, your attorney will advise you on your rights before sharing your information with others.
Pros and Cons of Using a Divorce Attorney
- Interview at least three lawyers so you can compare their experience and fees.
- Make sure your attorney has experience with divorce cases similar to yours.
- Weigh the pros and cons to make sure hiring a divorce attorney is the right choice.
Filing for Divorce in Alabama
Whether you choose to hire a divorce attorney or go through the process yourself, there are certain steps you’ll have to take. Being organized when you file for divorce in Alabama will streamline the process and make it less stressful for you.
Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
Make sure you have your important documents nearby so you can use the information on your divorce forms. Some of the documents you’ll need include:
- Tax returns
- Pay stubs
- Bank statements
- Other financial documents relating to credit cards, 401ks, IRAs, pension, retirement, and investments
- Real estate paperwork, like mortgage agreements or leases
- Life insurance documents
You’ll first need to complete the Divorce Complaint. This is a basic form that will give the court the general background of your divorce. If you have children or need to divide assets, you’ll have to file additional paperwork.
Even an uncontested divorce will require a marital settlement agreement. The court needs to have proof that everything you and your spouse agree on all terms so the issue won’t come back to court later. If you have questions about any of the necessary forms, a lawyer can help you.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
Once completed, you need to file the paperwork with your county’s Circuit Court. Court employees will check over the paperwork for errors but can’t give you legal advice.
When you file your divorce forms, you’ll also have to pay court costs. Depending on your county, court costs can range from $200 to $300.
Serving Your Spouse
Filing the paperwork is only the beginning of the divorce process. You also have to make your spouse aware of the divorce documents. In Alabama, you can’t give the paperwork to your spouse yourself. They require that someone outside of the marriage serve the papers to the other spouse.
Anyone who is over 18 years old and isn’t involved in the divorce can serve your spouse. If you don’t want to ask a friend to do this task for you, there are professional process servers you can hire for a small fee. Sometimes sheriffs will deliver the documents as well.
The act of serving your spouse just means that the server ensures they handed the divorce paperwork to your spouse or an adult that is present at their home or place of work. It’s to guarantee that your spouse received the final documents.
When the process server shows up at your spouse’s residence, your spouse can technically refuse to accept the paperwork. In that case, you can use certified mail to send the documents. Legally, that will count as serving your spouse.
Pro Tip: You may be thinking you can leave the documents in their mailbox or on the kitchen counter if you still live together, but that's not the case. Under Alabama law, you cannot serve your spouse's divorce documents yourself.
Alabama courts require financial disclosures for divorces. This is a document that each spouse must complete on their own to ensure that all property and money is evenly distributed. Each party lists financial information and outstanding debts.
This document helps the court decide if a spouse needs alimony to stay afloat financially. It’s also used to determine who pays a certain amount of child support in eligible cases.
If one spouse doesn’t willingly release their financial information, the court can subpoena the institutions to get the specific details. Lying on this document can result in legal penalties, so make sure you include everything from the important documents mentioned above.
- Start with a Divorce Complaint and file it with your county’s Circuit Court.
- Serve your spouse via a process server or documents sent through certified mail.
- File financial disclosures, so the court knows how to divide assets.
Online Divorce in Alabama
Like many states, Alabama allows you to complete divorce paperwork online. However, in most states, you then have to print the paperwork and file it at the Circuit Court. This not only puts the burden of printing and signing paperwork on you, but you also have to take time out of your busy schedule to go to court.
Alabama has a unique method to allow people to complete and file divorce paperwork online without needing to make a trip to the Circuit Court.
How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in Alabama
A resident of Alabama can register as a pro se individual so you can use AlaFile. This is a secure site authorized by Alabama courts to make filing legal documents more accessible for everyone.
While AlaFile will make your divorce process easier, you can’t do everything from home. After you create a profile on AlaFile, you have to go to your local clerk’s office for them to check your driver’s license against your form to verify your identity.
Once you’re verified, you can complete all the divorce paperwork online. You can open a new case and see all of the forms you need to fill out. If you have an uncontested divorce, you’ll only have to pay your county’s fees to file it online through AlaFile.
If you require a more modern and helpful user interface than AlaFile to help you file for divorce online, you can check out a 3rd party online divorce platform. After all, AlaFile is a government website and they do not focus on user experience like a professional business will.
Do You Still Need to Go to Court?
Using AlaFile eliminates the need to go to court unless you have a contested divorce. Keep in mind that you still have to visit the Circuit Court to prove your identity when creating an AlaFile account, though. Once that’s done, you won’t have to go to court to file the final paperwork.
If you complete paperwork through an external site, then you still need to go to court. You’ll have to print off the completed documents and file them in person at your county’s Circuit Court.
- Register for an AlaFile account and complete all of your paperwork online, including filing the divorce with the courts.
- Use a more helpful inexpensive third-party online divorce system to complete the paperwork, then print it and file it in person at your county’s Circuit Court.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce in Alabama
The length of time it takes to finalize a divorce in Alabama can vary depending on your exact circumstances. For example, a judge will finalize an uncontested divorce quicker than a contested divorce. Having children involved may prolong your timeline as the judge makes sure their wellbeing is taken care of after the divorce is final.
Alabama has a 30-day waiting period before the court will finalize a divorce. Even the most amicable divorce will take at least 30 days, according to state law.
They call this period a cooling-off period, giving both spouses time to understand what they’re going through. Once you realize how major a divorce is, you might change your mind. But in reality, it takes about that long to go through the court system, so there’s no way to waive the waiting period.
An uncontested divorce is one where both parties agree to the legal terms. They are willing to split their assets and have worked out custody and child support, if applicable. No one is arguing over what they think they deserve, so there is no need to hire a mediator or lawyer to act as the middleman.
After you file paperwork for an uncontested divorce, you usually just have to wait for the 30-day cooling-off period to pass before your divorce is final. If the courts are busy, it might take six or more weeks to finalize the divorce decree.
A contested divorce means the spouses don’t agree on the terms of the separation. One spouse might want full custody or dispute how much child support the other is asking for. They might not agree on how to divide their assets or are unwilling to share their financial information.
In this case, it’s good advice for both parties to hire a lawyer. While you can still try to work through things yourselves, it can get emotional. It’s better to have a professional who understands the law fighting for you. You can still tell your attorney what you want and why you disagree with your spouse, but they can approach it with some emotional distance.
It’s also possible to hire a mediator instead of a lawyer. A mediator is another professional who can help you and your spouse rationally discuss how the marriage can be fairly dissolved. You’ll get more details on the mediation option in the next section.
If hiring a mediator or attorney doesn’t help you and your spouse resolve your problems, the divorce could go to trial. The contested divorce process could take months or even years, depending on how much there is to argue about, how many witnesses each of you call, and even how the courts schedule divorce trials.
In Alabama, the divorce decree will specify the difference between physical and legal custody. Physical custody is the parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time. That parent has sole physical custody while the other parent has visitation. The parents can have joint physical custody if they split time evenly.
Legal custody refers to who has the right to make decisions for the child. Both parents usually share legal custody except in extreme circumstances. If one spouse is at fault in the divorce due to mental incapacitation, alcoholism, or violent abuse, then they might not have any physical or legal custody over their children.
You’ll learn more about custody and child support in a later section. Right now, it’s just important to know that a divorce involving children can take longer than a divorce without children. The courts want to ensure that the children are getting the best care possible after the divorce is finalized by the courts.
If you and your spouse have children but have an uncontested divorce, your timeline could still be 30 days or not much longer. If both parents agree on custody and child support, having children involved doesn’t necessarily prolong the divorce proceedings.
Factors That Influence the Divorce Timeline
There are several factors that influence the divorce timelines in Alabama, for better or for worse.
- All divorces in Alabama require a 30-day waiting period, also called a cooling-off period.
- An uncontested divorce won’t take much longer than the waiting period. Depending on how busy the court is, an uncontested divorce might take as little as 6 to 10 weeks.
- A contested divorce is better handled by professional attorneys and mediators. Depending on how much you and your spouse argue, it could take anywhere from two months to a year or more.
- While having children doesn’t necessarily mean your divorce will take longer, the court will take time to ensure that you’re taking care of the children and not using them as pawns in the divorce.
- An uncontested divorce can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on how many cases the court is handling.
- A contested divorce can take anywhere from a couple of months to more than a year, depending on how easily you and your spouse can agree on divorce terms.
Divorce Costs in Alabama
One factor that causes additional stress on many couples who want to divorce is how expensive it can be. In Alabama, there are certain fees you’ll have to pay whether you hire an attorney or fill out the paperwork on your own. Make sure you budget for all of the following fees as you prepare for your divorce.
You have to pay court fees to file divorce paperwork in every state. In Alabama, the exact cost varies by county. The court costs typically range from $200 to $300.
If you’re experiencing financial hardship, the judge might waive the court fees. You can file an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship if you think your circumstances apply.
Most judges automatically grant a financial waiver if:
- You’re eligible for government assistance.
- Your household income is 125% or less than the poverty level.
Attorney fees vary according to the specifics of your case and your particular divorce lawyer. If you want legal help to complete the paperwork but otherwise have an uncontested divorce, you might not have to pay much for an attorney at all. Some even offer a flat fee for an amicable divorce.
Attorney fees for a contested divorce will start to add up because you’re asking the lawyer to devote a lot of time to your case. The average hourly rate for a divorce attorney in Alabama is around $300 an hour.
It might seem like a hefty fee, but when you consider how much of an expert your attorney is and how their experience will help you get what you want in the divorce, it’s a small price to pay. Sometimes hiring an attorney is worth the money just for the peace of mind they’ll give you.
Litigation, in terms of a divorce, means that you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement on your own. You have to take the case to family court for help resolving your issues. Because your case goes to court, you’ll have to pay additional fees.
You’ll have to pay your attorney’s hourly rate, so they show up in court and fight for your side of the divorce. This means you’ll also have to pay for more hours for the work and research they do behind the scenes.
There’s no way to know how long the divorce might last in court, so it’s hard to estimate your expenses. If it seems like your case is going to family court, ask your attorney for their advice. If they’ve handled cases similar to yours, they’ll most likely be able to estimate how long it will take to resolve all of the problems.
If you’re worried that you and your spouse might not agree on all the terms of your divorce and take the case to family court to decide, consider seeking mediation early on in the process. You’ll hire a mediator to meet with both of you to work through your disagreements so the process doesn't get messy in the court systems and cost more time and money.
Sometimes it helps to have a third party around while you’re navigating such tumultuous waters. Knowing that a neutral person is listening to your arguments might keep matters more civil. Agreeing to things on the front end can also prevent your divorce from stretching on for months while you and your spouse fight for what you want.
Online Divorce Service
Many online services have state-specific paperwork that you can fill out online. Once it’s complete, you’ll print it off, sign it, and file it with your local Circuit Court. The price of online divorce services varies depending on how much legal help you need.
If you feel confident that you can fill out the paperwork on your own and your spouse agrees, you have several options for online divorce services.
3StepDivorce offers a divorce for $299 and is our preferred online divorce service and #1 in our rankings. The site has paperwork specific to Alabama divorce laws. You can complete everything online by answering a questionnaire. The software inputs your answers into the appropriate legal forms. You then print the document or have it sent to you at no additional cost.
Before you use an online divorce service, make sure you know what you’re getting. Most sites, including those listed above, state that they give you your money back if the court doesn’t accept your documents. If they don’t offer this type of guarantee, consider finding another option.
Keep in mind that what you pay these companies is for the online divorce documents only. You have to pay state-specific court fees when you file in person.
You can also refer back to the section about online divorce in Alabama. The state is unique in that it offers residents a way to complete and file divorce paperwork online. The only fee you’ll incur using AlaFile is the court filing fee, which makes this the most affordable online option in Alabama.
- Court costs to file your paperwork vary according to the county. They’re usually around $200 or $300.
- If you hire an attorney, you’ll have additional expenses. Most have an hourly rate between $200 and $300, though some might offer a flat fee for an uncontested divorce.
- A contested divorce that goes to family court will incur litigation costs, which can add up quickly.
- Paying for mediation upfront can benefit not only your relationship with your spouse but also prevent you from paying more in the long run.
- You can use online divorce services in Alabama. They’re very affordable, but you have to pay to file the paperwork in court in addition to the website’s service fee.
Custody Considerations in Alabama
Custody refers to the legal responsibility a guardian has over a minor child. It can include where the child physically lives as well as who can make important decisions regarding the child.
Interestingly, most minor children are under 18 in the United States. However, in Alabama, a minor child is under 19 years old. Therefore you might need to consider custody of a child you wouldn’t think of as a minor in any other state.
Even if you and your spouse have an amicable divorce, you still need to get a custody agreement in writing. Things might cause additional tension between the two of you, and you don’t want the children to suffer as a result. Having a legally binding custody agreement will give you something to protect both you and your children in case of a dispute.
The parent who has the child most often has physical custody. For example, one parent will get sole physical custody and have the child from Sunday night to Friday afternoon. The parent without physical custody has visitation and can see the child from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.
The parent with sole physical custody also gets child support from the other parent. Because they have the child more often, they have more expenses. They’re feeding the child more meals and usually pay any fees that come up with school or extracurricular activities. Therefore the other parent’s child support helps offset these costs.
If a parent is mentally incapacitated or violent, the judge might not grant visitation. In that case, the safe parent would have sole custody. An abusive parent might not be able to see their child at all, or the judge might request supervised visits in a neutral location.
Some parents have joint physical custody. This might mean that one parent has the child from Wednesday night to the following Wednesday afternoon. Then the other parent gets the child for a week. While the custody might not be exactly even, it’s closer to it than sole custody and visitation.
In the case of joint physical custody, one parent might still pay child support to the other. The judge will look over the financial documents to see if one parent makes substantially more than the other. The court might order them to pay child support so the child can continue living the same quality of life they did when their parents were still married.
Legal custody refers to which parent makes decisions for the child. This usually covers things like the child’s education, health, and religion.
Just as with physical custody, parents can have sole or joint legal custody. Sole legal custody allows one parent to make these decisions without having to get the other parent’s input or opinion.
Joint legal custody means both parents have equal input in major decisions regarding their child. When parents can communicate well, joint legal custody is the best way to raise the child. If your spouse contests the divorce, drags out the trial, or is abusive, it’s better to try and get sole legal custody.
Factors That Influence Custody
A judge will always grant custody based on the child’s best interest. Some factors they consider include:
- age and gender of the child
- emotional, social, and educational needs of the child
- home environments each parent can provide
- physical and emotional characteristics of each parent
- ability of each parent to provide for the child
- child’s relationship with each parent
- child’s preference, if the child is old enough
- Sole physical custody means the child spends the majority of their time with one parent and sees the other for visitation.
- Joint physical custody means the child spends time with parents equally or as close to equally as they can get.
- Legal custody refers to how the parents make important decisions about the child and can be joint or sole custody.
Child Support Considerations in Alabama
In Alabama, child support is what the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent to offset the expenses associated with raising their child. Both parents need to be transparent about their monthly gross income so the judge can determine how well they provide for the child.
Parents can work together to determine how much money they think their children need each month. Ideally, you want to keep your children’s lifestyle as similar to it is with both parents married. You want to disrupt their lives as little as possible.
A worksheet is available online to help you figure out potential child support payments based on both parents’ incomes. Other factors come into consideration, like if one parent provides health insurance for the child or pays daycare costs.
How much time a child spends with the non-custodial parent can also impact how much child support the other parent needs to pay. If you have split custody, the court will request less child support because that parent will be paying for more food and expenses as they come up.
While parents can come up with their own amounts of child support in an amicable divorce, the judge will still need to approve it. If the amount you suggest for child support is too high or too low compared to what the judge estimates it should be, you might not get the amount you wanted.
If a parent doesn’t pay child support, you can hold them in contempt of court. This means they aren’t doing what was legally asked of them. Not providing for their child can cause a parent to lose their driver’s license and have their income tax withheld to pay past-due child support.
- How often the child is physically in each parent’s custody
- How much each parent makes per month
- What each parent provides for the child, such as health insurance, daycare costs, or extracurricular fees
Alimony Considerations in Alabama
Alimony is financial support that one spouse pays the other after a divorce. It’s similar to child support in that it’s intended to help the former spouse maintain a similar quality of life that they enjoyed during the marriage.
For example, if a wife quit her job to raise children with her husband, she wouldn’t have a job to fall back on after the divorce. The court might order the husband to pay her alimony, in addition to child support, so she can properly provide for the children.
The court can limit alimony to a certain amount or a certain period. In the example above, the husband might stop paying alimony after the youngest child enrolled in school. At that time, the mother has more time and opportunity to get a job, so she won’t need to rely on her former spouse’s support.
There are two types of this financial support: periodic alimony and alimony in gross.
Your spouse pays periodic alimony monthly, much like child support. It’s calculated depending on each spouse’s income and their monthly expenses, so they can both make ends meet.
Alimony in gross is one lump sum of money that a spouse pays when the court finalizes the divorce. Though you only get one payment, it’s supposed to be enough to provide for you for months or even years, depending on the judge’s order.
How Much Alimony Can You Receive?
The state of Alabama doesn’t have a specific formula to calculate how much alimony you can get. Instead, it weighs certain factors to see what you’re entitled to. The judge will ask to see proof of your income or earning potential as well as how you’re accustomed to living.
The length of your marriage and if you have children together can also impact the amount of alimony you receive. The amount can also change under certain circumstances. If your situation or your spouse’s changes, the court can increase or decrease alimony accordingly.
You can request financial support during the divorce process as well. This is a temporary order of alimony that has no bearing on if you get alimony in the future or how much you receive. It can be court-ordered, or you and your spouse can agree on it amicably. Either way, make sure it’s in writing, and you both sign it, so it’s legally binding.
How Long Can You Receive Alimony?
Again, there are no Alabama state-specific guidelines as to how long you can receive alimony. The details will depend on your case. In general, a spouse can receive alimony until they remarry or get a job to support themselves.
If your spouse dies while still paying alimony, you’ll cease getting those payments. Any future money you get will depend on their will. If the divorce was final and they had written you out of their will, you won’t have a legal standing to request further alimony from their estate.
Factors That Influence Alimony
While stay-at-home parents are usually granted alimony until they can find employment, there are other factors that influence alimony. Some of these include:
- how long the marriage lasted
- your lifestyle during the marriage
- the age of each spouse
- the health of each spouse
- the money-earning ability of each spouse
- how much each spouse earns
- the reason the marriage ended
The judge will consider other circumstances as they arise. For example, they’ll find that a spouse that is too ill to work or has a handicap needs more alimony than a healthy, educated spouse who can find a job. A judge is more likely to ask a spouse who cheated or abandoned the marriage to pay alimony than a spouse in an uncontested divorce.
- How capable you are of supporting yourself with employment
- What your married lifestyle was like and if you need support to continue living in that manner
- What caused the marriage to end.
Division of Assets
States have different laws about the division of assets. Some split everything down the middle, so neither spouse loses their financial security. Others let spouses keep what was in their own name and only divide marital property.
Alabama is an equitable distribution state. This is potentially great for everyone involved because it allows divorcees to divide the property as they see fit. If you and your spouse agree on how to divide your assets, you don’t have to get the court involved.
However, if you can’t agree on how to share the assets, then the court will split everything fairly. They’ll consider how long the marriage lasted, who contributed more, how much debt they incurred, and what each spouse will need when they’re no longer married.
While equitable distribution sounds like it means everything will be equal, it really means more that each person will get back close to what they put in. This can be detrimental for a spouse that was a stay-at-home parent, at which point you should bring up alimony.
Real estate is typically classified as community property because it encompasses a house and land bought during the marriage. If you came into the marriage owning property and never put your spouse’s name on the deed, then it qualifies as separate property.
There are some qualifications to that broad statement, though. For example, you bought a house worth $100,000 five years before marriage. After you get married, you and your spouse buy a different house to live in.
When you divorce, the house you own is now worth $150,000. Because the value went up during your marriage, your spouse could technically ask for a portion of that $50,000 increase. Sometimes a spouse will write off that money in the interest of an amicable divorce. But if your spouse takes you to court, it’s a relief that they’re not entitled to more of your property.
A house you buy with your spouse is marital property. Even if your name is not on the deed, if your spouse purchased it during your marriage, then it’s community property. The court will request you liquidate it during your divorce, or your spouse can buy you out of your portion of ownership.
401k, IRA, Investments
Financial assets like 401ks, IRAs, and retirement accounts are usually thought of as separate property. At the time of divorce, the judge will grant that the owner of these accounts is the sole beneficiary.
One unique circumstance is if the marriage lasted more than ten years. In that case, a judge is more likely to grant a portion of a retirement account or IRA to the other spouse. They won’t receive more than half of what’s in each account, but it can still make a huge difference in each spouse’s financial well-being.
Money added to your 401k during your marriage counts as marital property and can get distributed to your spouse unless you had a prenuptial agreement in place. In an amicable divorce, a spouse might agree to let you keep your accounts, especially if they have their own.
Many people worry about penalties for withdrawing retirement funds early. Thankfully, dividing retirement funds due to divorce won’t penalize you. Instead, the court will order a qualified domestic relations order. This assigns a second payee to your retirement account rather than distribute the funds at the time of the divorce.
With a 401k and IRA, on the other hand, there are no tax penalties for accessing your funds during a divorce. You won’t need a court order to split these accounts.
Stock market investments are tricky to divide up during a divorce. Because the stock market fluctuates, it can be difficult to say how much either spouse will get in the settlement. Sometimes the judge will approve a percentage of the investments. Depending on the state of the market at the time of divorce, that can be a nice payout or mere pocket change.
Like other property in Alabama, you should only need to divide a business if you obtained it during the marriage and both spouses were business partners. This sounds simple in theory, but the real-life application gets a bit murky.
Any profits from the business can’t have influenced the couple’s marital life. Also, the spouse who wasn’t a business partner can’t have helped the business run or expand. This is difficult to prove because it’s such a division of business and life, so it doesn’t happen often.
As a result, businesses, or at least the profits, are usually considered community property to be equitably distributed. However, since the judge won’t simply split the business down the middle, you don’t have to share everything with your spouse.
If your name was on the business and you mostly ran it without any help from your spouse, they aren’t entitled to much. On the other hand, if they helped a lot and didn’t earn money outside of this business, they’ll get more.
A spouse who was an equal partner makes things more difficult. You’ll have to work together to decide how to move forward with the business. Can you continue to work together and split profits and expenses? Do you want to buy out your spouse and keep the business for yourself?
Try to keep this aspect of divorce amicable. Word can spread and negatively impact your business’s reputation if you get involved in a messy legal battle. If all else fails, you can choose to sell the business entirely and let someone else run it.
It’s important to consider each asset rationally in a divorce. You might want to get it finalized as quickly as possible and agree to things that hurt your financial standing in the long run.
Buying your spouse’s portion of the marital house might seem like a good idea because you keep your home. But remember that you’re paying the mortgage on your own now, so you’ll have to refinance and handle a new rate with your income.
Dividing stocks is always risky because of how their value changes. You might sell stock and give your spouse $100 of your profit, and then the stock skyrockets. While you would have paid your spouse more, you would have made more, too. So carefully consider your investments before making quick decsions.
Sometimes the assets you gain during a divorce can have a negative impact in terms of taxes. If you’re not sure what penalties you might incur from divorce gains, seek professional help.
Consulting a financial advisor is a good idea if you’re worried about the equitable distribution of your assets. It’s always better to know you’re covered and are getting a good deal instead of coming out of a divorce with nothing to your name.
- How long the marriage lasted
- How much each person brought into the marriage
- What each person contributed to the marriage.
Common Law Marriage Considerations in Alabama
Common law marriage is stereotypically thought of as what happens after a couple is together for seven years, but that isn’t true. Couples must meet three requirements:
- Both people have the capacity to marry, meaning they’re older than 19, mentally sound, and not married to anyone else
- Both people intend to marry each other
- Both people present themselves to friends and family as married.
These three qualifications must have started by 2016. In January 2017, Alabama stopped recognizing common law marriages as legally binding. They still recognize common law marriage that started in 2016 or earlier.
How Courts Determine Common Law Marriages
If you ever need to prove your common law marriage, a judge will consider many factors. Some are questions like:
- Did you live together?
- Did you sign contracts together?
- Did you buy real estate or vehicles together?
- Did you file joint income tax returns?
- Did you deposit money in joint bank accounts?
- Did you share household expenses?
- Did you conceive or adopt children and raise them together?
While each of these questions alone doesn’t mean you have a common law marriage with someone else, they paint a different picture when put together. The judge will still have the discretion to say if you and your partner had the intention to marry, but they create a strong foundation.
How Common Law Marriages End
Because there is no divorce process specific to common law marriages, they end in divorce just as any other legally binding marriage. You will have to go through the court to dissolve the partnership.
If a common law marriage ends with one partner claiming they were married and one saying they weren’t, the judge will look into factors like those listed above to determine if the couple needs to legally divorce or not.
The fact that you have to legally divorce makes this next situation seem extra strange. If your common law partner dies, you aren’t entitled to anything the way a legal spouse is. You have to go to court to prove your marriage so you can get any insurance or Social Security benefits from your deceased spouse.
- Were older than 19 and mentally sound
- Weren’t legally married to anyone else
- Intended to marry and presented themselves to the community as married.
Alternatives To Divorce in Alabama
By now, you see that divorce isn’t just an emotional time but also stressful and financially difficult to get through unscathed. Even the most amicable divorces put a lot of strain on your mental well-being, your relationship with your partner, and how your kid's cope.
Legal separation sounds a lot like divorce, but there are some major differences. Divorce cuts all ties between the couple and ends the marriage. Legal separation cuts ties but keeps the marriage intact.
After you and your spouse legally separate, all of your future earnings and debts are yours alone. They don’t impact your spouse’s financial well-being or credit score. If you buy a car or a house, it’s yours alone, and your spouse has no ownership in it.
Even if you later decide to divorce, anything you earned or bought while legally separated won’t factor into the divorce proceedings. Therefore, a legal separation can be a good alternative to divorce in Alabama.
You might be wondering, what’s the point of staying married if you don’t have any legal ties to your spouse. Many people choose legal separation because of their religion. If their church discourages divorce, they can stay married in name but not be legally bound to their spouse.
Some people choose legal separation because they’re still married in terms of receiving health insurance. Many jobs provide health insurance for the employee and their spouse. If you get divorced, you’re no longer eligible for those benefits. But staying married means you can use your spouse’s health insurance.
And for the romantic in everyone, there are people who legally separate because they want to reconcile with their spouse. Maybe they’re not sure if divorce is the right choice. Maybe they feel like they need some time apart. A legal separation gives you the financial freedom to do your own thing without severing your romantic ties to your spouse.
Reconciling after a legal separation is much easier than going through a divorce and then remarrying your former partner. You’ll file a motion to vacate your legal separation through the court. Specify that you never filed for or finalized a divorce, so the judge knows you don’t have to do more than vacate the separation.
A divorce ends a marriage, but an annulment declares that the marriage never happened in the first place. Because this is such a serious undertaking, there are several requirements you must meet for an annulment.
If your marriage started legally, then you can’t have it annulled, even if your spouse was abusive or cheated on you. Instead, you have to prove one of the following:
- Your spouse was married to another person, or their divorce was in progress but not finalized when they married you.
- You and your spouse found out that you are blood relatives.
- You were forced or threatened to enter the marriage and didn’t do it willfully.
- One spouse was underage at the time of marriage. In Alabama, you can get married at 16 with parental consent. Underage means you’re younger than 16 or don’t have parental consent if you’re between the ages of 16 and 18.
- One spouse committed fraud to get married. One example is if you thought you were in love, but your spouse only wanted a green card. Another example is if a woman was pregnant by someone other than her intended spouse, but she wasn’t honest about it.
- One spouse has an incurable sexually transmitted disease that they didn’t tell the other about before marriage.
It’s easier to get an annulment soon after the marriage. If you stay in the marriage for a longer period, the court won’t think it’s necessary to declare that it never happened. It’s also recommended to hire an attorney to help with your annulment since there are so many requirements to prove.
Work It Out Together
Sometimes you just have to work together to make your marriage last. Make time to talk with your partner and remember why you fell in love with them in the first place. Split household chores and expenses so no one feels more put-upon or taken advantage of.
Spending time together can help you reignite your initial spark. Go on dates, kiss each other hello and goodbye, and cuddle together on the couch. But also spend time apart. You’ll feel more in tune with yourself, your emotions, and your needs. Plus you’ll have a chance to miss your partner! Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Many relationships can benefit from counseling, and marriage is no different. If you want to work on your marriage, sometimes you need help from an outsider. Counselors can help you communicate with your partner in rational ways, without emotions escalating things.
While couples’ counseling is great for relationships, many spouses say they benefit from individual counseling as well. You might want to understand your own issues apart from your spouse, but individual therapy can cause problems when you’re working on your marriage.
Considering a divorce can really take an emotional toll on even the strongest people.
If you are in need of therapy with both privacy and convenience, we recommend Online-Therapy.com. Their incredible service gives you access to instant professional help, on any device, wherever you are in the world.
An open marriage is something both partners must agree to. You stay legally married but can have physical and emotional relationships with people outside of the marriage. If both spouses aren’t comfortable with this concept, it can end the marriage. However, some couples find that an open marriage is what they need to stay together.
A parenting marriage is a great way for spouses to stay together to raise their children together. You don’t need to be romantic with each other anymore, but you want to keep your family whole.
Many people who choose this alternative to divorce find that it works like a business partnership. Taking the emotions out of the relationship can make it easier to stay with your spouse. You’re not depending on them to provide any love or romance for you; instead, both of you focus completely on the children.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.