In Alabama, divorces are handled by the Circuit Courts of the particular county it is filed in. Each county has several different courts, usually in the same courthouse. There is usually a District Court, which is used for traffic offenses and other lower court matters. There is also a Circuit Court that is the highest court in the county. This is where divorces are heard along with larger civil cases and felony criminal matters. These are the Alabama’s trial courts of general jurisdiction that hear civil and criminal cases, including jurisdiction over divorces. If a divorce is contested, the hearing takes place before a Circuit Judge. Likewise, if a divorce is uncontested, the divorce is finalized by the Circuit Judge assigned the case. However, if the divorce is not contested, the parties do not normally need to appear before the judge.
At least one party should be a resident of Alabama to file for divorce. To be considered a resident, you must have lived in Alabama for at least six months. If you are both residents of Alabama, you can file in whichever county you live or whichever county your separation took place. For example, if you live in Jefferson County and your spouse lives in Shelby County, and you lived together in Madison County at the time of your separation, you could potentially file in Jefferson, Shelby, or Madison Counties. Sometimes parties, out of a desire to be as private as possible, will try to file in a county where neither of them live (like if the couple in the above example wanted to file for divorce in Etowah County).
Filing a case in a county where neither of you live, or where you lived when separated, is allowed in Alabama, but it is ultimately up to the clerk’s office or judge in that county to allow it. Often times counties discourage this forum shopping since they do not want their filings to increase substantially for one reason or another due to out of county residents liking their process better than other places.
Before you file a divorce, you will need to decide if it will be contested or uncontested. Uncontested divorces are filed when the spouses agree on the need to divorce, the division of their property, and, if applicable, child custody and support matters. In Alabama, uncontested divorces are sometimes called no fault divorces. Generally, uncontested divorces are less expensive and are processed through the courts quicker than contested divorces. These factors make filing an uncontested divorce a smoother and cheaper method. A contested divorce is any divorce filed without an agreement. Contested divorces involve a trial in front of the judge and can take much longer and be much more expensive to attain.
Once you have decided whether the divorce will be uncontested or contested, the next step will be to have your divorce attorney file a Complaint for Divorce in the county you decide to file in. The party that files the Complaint is called the Plaintiff. The non-filing party is the Defendant. The Defendant will have to sign the divorce paperwork in order for it to be filed. With an uncontested divorce, the parties will submit a settlement agreement to the court indicating their agreement on all marital issues.
After your complaint and settlement agreement are filed for an uncontested divorce it usually takes about four to ten weeks for the judge to sign the divorce decree. The divorce decree is the official legal document that finalizes your divorce. Under Alabama law, the court cannot officially grant your divorce request until a mandatory thirty day waiting period from the time you file the Complaint has taken place. This is meant to be a “cooling off” period to ensure both parties are sure it is what they want.
There is a lot of paperwork that has to be drafted and signed in the divorce process. Even more so if you have minor children or considerable assets. Also, each county may have their own special procedures about what they require in the filings. You can file for an uncontested divorce yourself, but you will be held to the same standard as a licensed divorce attorney in making sure what you submit is correct and what the judge requires.
Making mistakes in your paperwork can lead to serious delays in obtaining your divorce decree. Mishandling something as serious as a divorce could cost you more in the long run than hiring a divorce lawyer from the start. That is why it’s imperative that you retain a local Alabama divorce attorney to represent you. He or she can ensure that all local rules are followed in your divorce and that you obtain your divorce decree as quickly and easily as possible.
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!