When Is an Alabama Divorce Final?

Alabama law is clear that the death of one of the parties to a divorce ends the divorce. Jones v. Jones, 517 So.2d 606 (Ala. 1987). In the case of Boudreau v. Slaton, Case No. 2070647 (Ala. Civ. App. November 21, 2008), the appeals court wrestled with what it takes for parties to be divorced. The trial court had granted three continuances. When the wife asked for another continuance and the husband objected, the trial court issued this entry in the case-action summary sheet: “Case called. Divorce issued. Parties are forever divorced. All issue [sic] of property division reserved to this Court.” The court set a hearing to deal with the property division issues, but the husband died before that hearing.

The wife sought and obtained from the trial court an order enjoining all parties from taking any action concerning the property division pending the court’s order. She also sought and obtained an order setting aside the purported divorce of the parties. The representative of the husband’s estate’s argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to set the divorce aside after it had divorced the parties “forever.” When the court denied the administrator’s motion, the estate appealed.

The appeals court ruled that, notwithstanding the “forever divorced” language in the court’s order, the reservation of issues of property division kept the order from being a final judgment. The appeals court distinguished Goodloe v. LaRoche Industries, Inc., 686 So. 2d 335 (Ala. Civ. App. 1996), in which the appeals court had reversed a trial court’s dismissal of a final judgment of divorce three weeks after the husband’s death. The final judgment in Goodloe was actually final, the appeals court said. The appeals court said that this case was more analogous to Jones v. Jones, 517 So. 2d 606 (Ala. 1987), in which the court had held that “an action for divorce, alimony, attorney fees, and an equitable division of marital property in which there has not been a final judgment does not survive the death of a party.” Jones v. Jones, at 608. “Alabama has repeatedly confirmed in its caselaw that divorce judgments are not final until all matters pursuant to that divorce, including property division, have been adjudicated.”