- What you have to have
- Grounds for divorce
- How property gets divided
- How child custody works
- How child support works
- How alimony works
To get a divorce in Alabama, you have to satisfy the requirements for jurisdiction and residence. Basically, that means that at least one of you must have lived in Alabama for six months (or both of you need to reside in Alabama).
There’s a similar question about the right county to file in — the term for this is venue (pronounced “VIN-you”). If you’re the one filing the divorce, you can file in the county where your spouse lives, or in the county where the two of you lived when you separated. If your spouse doesn’t live in Alabama, you have to file in the county where you live. If this is an uncontested divorce, the two of you can elect to file in any county you wish.
Alabama requires a 30-day waiting period after the complaint for divorce is filed before the divorce can be effective. Because of the 30-day waiting period, people sometimes decide to file the complaint even while they’re negotiating the terms of an uncontested divorce.
You really don’t need to spend much time worrying about the grounds for divorce in Alabama. There are several grounds for divorce set out in the statute — but most of them require a finding of fault on the part of one of the parties — things like adultery, abandonment, habitual drunkenness or drug use, or violence against the spouse. Click here for the statute on the grounds for divorce.
The vast majority of divorces these days are granted on the so-called “no fault” grounds of incompatibility and irretrievable breakdown. These are actually two separate grounds in the statutes, but nobody seems to know the difference, and you’ll hear lawyers use the two terms interchangeably.
From time to time, somebody suggests that we should do away with no-fault divorce – that we should require that one of the spouses prove that the other has done something wrong before they can get a divorce. Until that happens, though, no-fault divorce is the law inAlabama, and there’s not much to talk about when it comes to the grounds for divorce.
The important question in this area usually revolves around whether the divorce will happen — that is, if one of you wants the divorce and the other wants to stay married, can one of you keep the divorce from happening? The short answer is no. A spouse who opposes a divorce can make it take longer, make it hurt more, and make it cost a lot more, but neither spouse can keep a divorce from happening if the other spouse is determined to divorce.
The first thing you’ll want to know is that Alabama does not assume that all your property should be divided 50/50. Alabama’s what’s called an equitable distribution state. That means the division of assets and liabilities should be fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal.
So how does a court decide how to divvy everything up? In a short-term marriage, the division of property is often pretty simple — it’s just a matter of giving back to each spouse what he or she brought to the marriage — and dividing up between the spouses the little bit of property or debt that accumulated during the marriage itself. With a longer term marriage, though, property division can get complicated.
In either case, there’s no hard and fast formula — it’s more a sense of who contributed the property, coupled with who needs help the most, sometimes coupled with who’s done something bad, like adultery or violence. If this sounds gooshy, it really is a gooshy process.
It’s also tricky, because judges have broad discretion to decide how to divide everything up. Because judges don’t know the particulars about how the spouses hold property or what the tax impact might be of selling a particular asset, sometimes the distribution a judge orders may not be the best thing for either spouse.
I first have to tell you an idiosyncrasy of mine: I hate the word “custody.” It makes it sounds like the kids are property — like Mom and Dad are fighting over them the same way they might argue over who gets the microwave. But I’m afraid we’re stuck with the term. Legislators use it, judges use it, lawyers use it, and you and your spouse will probably end up using it. So how do we decide custody in Alabama?
Theoretically, and I emphasize theoretically, Mom and Dad stand on equal footing in the determination of custody. As a practical matter, though, Moms are always favored when there’s a dispute about custody. Particularly for young children, a father who’s jockeying for custody over Mom’s objections has to prove one or both of two things:
- The mother has done and is likely to continue to do something that places the children in danger; or
- The mother has done and is likely to continue to do something that sends to the children a signal about how to live their lives that’s just dreadfully out of whack.
The key principle, though, is that none of these factors alone is enough to make the difference — not even what the child prefers. Instead, the court will look at all the factors and weigh them to decide what’s in the overall best interest of the child. Click here for the list of factors.
Alabama has a statute on joint custody. Here’s the gist of it:
- Joint custody is preferred.
- Joint custody means both joint legal custody and joint physical custody.
- Joint legal custody means some kind of sharing of decision-making authority.
- Joint physical custody means meaningful contact with both parents but does not necessarily mean equal time parenting.
- Regardless of the custody arrangement, unless there’s a court order to the contrary, both parents have full access to all information (academic, athletic, law enforcement, etc.) about the child.
- The statute doesn’t change (and is not grounds for changing) decrees that were already entered.
Alabama uses guidelines to figure child support. Basically, the state looks at how much money each parent makes as a percentage of the total. Then you look up that total income figure and the number of young children you have in a big table to get a basic child support figure. With a couple of extra calculations for the cost of health insurance and child care, that figure from the table becomes the total child support amount. The parent who doesn’t have the children — who doesn’t have custody — will pay their share of that total amount based on the percentage of the total income they contribute.
If you’d like to know what the child support guidelines would call for in your particular situation, there’s a helpful interactive child support calculator here on Divorceinfo.com.
I’ve included here on DivorceInfo all the forms, tables, and instructions you need to figure your own child support in Alabama:
- Figuring Child Support in Alabama
- Alabama Child Support Table
- Alabama Form CS-42
- Alabama Rule of Judicial Administration 32
If you end up with a parenting schedule that’s substantially different from standard visitation, or if your income falls outside the range, the judge would come up with a figure in his or her discretion. In the majority of cases, though, child support is a simple mathematical calculation that most anybody can do.
The idea of alimony is to help the spouse with lower earning power stay as close as practicable to the standard of living the couple enjoyed when they were married. The award of alimony is much more in the discretion of the judge than child support, depending on factors like what standard of living the couple enjoyed while they were married, what each of them is able to earn, and how long they were married. A judge may also take into account something bad that one of the parties has done — like adultery or violence.
In general, you don’t often see alimony after a short-term marriage. It’s usually reserved for those situations where one spouse has been economically dependent on the other spouse for most of a lengthy marriage. And judges will often limit the alimony to a term of years — they’ll call it rehabilitative alimony. That’s designed to give the spouse enough time to go back to school and prepare for a new career or brush up on qualifications to return to a career from earlier in life.