Do It Yourself Uncontested Divorce in Alabama
This is a series of blogs on what to look out for when you purchase uncontested divorce documents online from a national document preparation company and to generally describe the divorce process and the documents involved. This is not going to give you all of the exact clauses and phrasing that you need in your documents since that can vary depending on your particular jurisdiction and your marital issues to be resolved. It is not going to teach you exactly how to type up the documents you need from scratch and file them. This blog is just going to give you some helpful anecdotes on filing divorces, especially uncontested divorces in Alabama, and explain some of the common issues to look out for in your documents if you are filing it yourself.
Uncontested Divorce Process
The process of initially filing for divorce is pretty simple. You must file a document called a Complaint to begin a divorce, whether contested or uncontested. What happens after this is filed depends on whether you and your spouse have reached an agreement and, if not, whether you will be able to eventually. In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse have already reached an agreement and signed it, and this contract or agreement is filed with the Complaint. Since an agreement has already been reached, there is no need for a hearing or trial since there are no contested issues. This is the cheapest and fastest way to get a divorce in Alabama.
Once all the appropriate paperwork has been signed and filed, then about a month or two later you can receive your divorce decree in the mail. As long as all of the proper paperwork is signed and filed with the Court, then you can have your decree fairly quickly and easily. If you are filing a contested divorce, and only filing the Complaint with no agreement attached, then there will be hearings set and the process can take a very long time to be resolved.
In any divorce, you begin by filing a Complaint for divorce. This document is filed by the Plaintiff and states what it is that you want from the Court and requests that the Judge grant what you are asking. For example, it might state that you want the Judge to grant you a divorce on account of incompatibility or to order that the other spouse pay you child support in the amount of $500.00 per month. Whatever you ask for in the Complaint, a judge may grant you. In an uncontested divorce, this is filed with all the other documents, but in a contested divorce it is filed by itself and served on your spouse. Once your spouse is served with the document then they have a limited number of days to get an attorney and file a document called an Answer, at which point the case will be set for a hearing and a contested divorce will continue until both sides reach an agreement or until there is a trial before the Judge for him or her to resolve all of your contested issues.
Since the amount of paperwork in a contested divorce can be overwhelming, we will just be talking about document requirements in a no fault or uncontested divorce. As we said earlier, it starts with a Complaint asking the Court to grant your divorce, asking for you to return to your maiden name, asking for certain property to be awarded to you, and other such requests.
The next document that is filed in a simple uncontested divorce is called an Answer and Waiver. This document answers the allegations and requests in the Complaint and is filed by the Defendant in response to it. Basically, if you are the Plaintiff then your attorney files the Complaint. Then the Defendant (your spouse) must sign and file the Answer. The Answer usually denies all of the allegations in the Complaint but also waives any hearings or other legal requirements that are usually necessary in a civil case. For example, it waives the requirement that Testimony be given in person to the Judge. This allows you to sign a deposition stating all manner of things and have it filed with the Court instead of having to come to Court and give testimony in person.
The Answer and Waiver is signed by your spouse and waives many of the technical requirements, allowing the uncontested divorce to go through more smoothly. He or she will also need to sign a document stating that they realize they are not represented by an attorney and you are. The document goes on to state that they do not wish to retain an attorney for themselves and they waive the right to an attorney in reaching an agreement with you.
Since the Defendant has waived certain requirements in order to streamline the divorce process, you can give testimony by deposition instead of having to go in person and verbally give testimony at the Courthouse. This means that a document can be drawn up and you can sign it swearing that the statements made in it are the truth, avoiding having to go to court.
The main document in an uncontested divorce is the Settlement Agreement, which states how you and your spouse are dividing all of your debts, personal property, real property, retirement, how you are scheduling visitation, who pays child support and how much, and other such marital issues. Both spouses sign this document, your attorney files it with the Court, and it is this agreement that must be followed when your divorce decree is ordered. Everything in here must be adhered by or the other party can file a motion for contempt later on, finding the other party in contempt of court for not abiding by the agreement. This agreement is what makes the divorce uncontested.
There are also certain forms called CS or Child Support forms. These must be signed in all cases involving minor children of the marriage (children under 19 years old). There is the CS-41 form, which states what your gross monthly incomes are and what each of you pay for health insurance coverage and child care costs for the children. Then there is the CS-42 form, which calculates what the child support guidelines are. The guidelines are the recommendation of what should be paid in child support, and although you and your spouse can agree to a different amount, the guidelines are usually considered a fair amount to pay. Therefore, if you agree to a much lesser or much higher amount than what the guidelines state, then it might not be approved by the Judge in your case, since all judges have to approve your agreement.
There is also a CS-43 form that basically states whether the guidelines were followed or not. There is an Income Withholding Order or IWO that can be served on one party’s employer to garnish the child support directly out of his or her check. Lastly, there is the Final Judgment that must be submitted to the Court for the judge to sign.
Some counties have other document requirements such as Custody Affidavits, Motions to Restore Wife’s Maiden Name, Commissioner’s Certificate, and Motions to Enter the Divorce Decree, all of which may be necessary in a few counties across Alabama. The custody affidavit just states the address of the children and certain other facts as to the custody of the children. The Motion to Enter Decree is filed at the appropriate time to get your documents pulled and on the judge’s desk for him or her to sign. The Commissioner’s Certificate is rare and is only necessary in a few counties, including Mobile County.
In our next blog post, we will continue with this discussion and talk about the clauses and language to make sure are in your documents when filing an uncontested divorce in Alabama.
Attorney Steven A. Harris regularly blogs in the areas of family law, bankruptcy, and real estate closings on this website. He is always available in any of the firm’s offices or by phone anytime for a consultation. Mr. Harris tries to provide informative information to the public in easily digestible formats. Hopefully you enjoyed this article and feel free to supply any feedback. We appreciate our readers and love to hear from you!