When Can I File for Divorce in Alabama?

Thanks to Jefferson County Circuit Judge Gary Pate for clarifying this at the Family Law Section / ABI/CLE seminar for family law practitioners this weekend. There are four possible scenarios for people who are considering filing divorce in Alabama. Let’s take them one at a time:

The Plaintiff and the Defendant both reside in Alabama. Not a problem. Either party can file for divorce in Alabama.

The Plaintiff resides within Alabama and the Defendant resides in another state. The Plaintiff must have maintained his or her residence in Alabama for six months. Note: this gives the court subject matter jurisdiction over the marriage, so that it can decree a divorce. It does NOT necessarily give the court personal jurisdiction (sometimes called “in personam” jurisdiction). This means that the court might be able to decree a divorce but might not have jurisdiction, for example, to award child support or to divide property.

The Defendant resides within Alabama and the Plaintiff resides in another state. Not a problem. The Plaintiff can file for divorce at any time in Alabama, because the Defendant is a resident of Alabama.

Neither the Plaintiff nor the Defendant resides within Alabama. No, neither party can file for divorce within Alabama.

The four scenarios above sum up the issues relating to jurisdiction — whether you can file for divorce in Alabama. For the question of venue — the question in which county you should file your divorce petition, you can check out my summaries here on the blog.

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