Divorces in Alabama are handled by the Alabama Circuit Courts. Each county courthouse has a circuit court. These are the state’s trial courts of general jurisdiction that hear civil and criminal cases, and they have jurisdiction over divorces. If a divorce is contested, the trial takes place before the circuit judge. However, if a divorce is uncontested then the divorce is finalized by a circuit judge but the parties do not normally need to appear in court.
Contested divorces are filed when the parties do not agree on the division of marital assets, custody, or other marital issues. These do typically end up in court unless the parties come to agreement before the trial date. This is because the court has to hold hearings to listen to both sides so that it can come to a judgment on the contested issues. In cases where fault is cited, the party making the allegation (e.g. adultery) as grounds for divorce has to produce evidence and the defending party has a chance to rebut the allegation before the court.
To file for a divorce, you or your spouse must have resided in the State of Alabama for at least six (6) months. If you are the spouse filing for divorce you are the Plaintiff and your spouse is the Defendant. You can file a Complaint for Divorce in the Circuit Court of: 1) the county where the Defendant resides; 2) in the county where the Plaintiff resides if the Defendant is not a resident of Alabama but consents to the jurisdiction; or 3) in the county where the spouses resided at the time of separation.
The first step in initiating the divorce process is filing a Complaint for Divorce. For the Complaint for Divorce, you’ll need to have the following information available: Name, age, and residency of both parties; names of minor children and their dates of birth; grounds for divorce; marriage date and date of separation; acknowledgment that the parties have assets and debts for division; a plea for the court to take jurisdiction of the case and provide the requested relief.
Once the Complaint is filed, your spouse will have thirty days to provide an Answer to your Complaint for the court. When the Defendant files their answer, the parties engage in the Discovery phase. During this time, both parties “build their case” by getting depositions, sending interrogatories, issuing subpoenas for documents, etc. They can also file discovery motions to obtain information and evidence to support their position. The court will set a date for trial far enough in the future to allow both sides to adequately engage in Discovery to gather evidence to support their positions.
Next is the trial. At trial, the parties may present evidence such as documents, expert testimony, and witness testimony to support their case. If you take the stand, you can have your lawyer ask you questions that can support your position. The tradeoff, however, is that your spouse’s divorce lawyer can cross examine you and their lawyer can essentially tell their side of the story through cross examination. Whether or not to take the stand will depend on the circumstances and only decided on after consulting with your attorney. After both sides have had a chance to tell their side, the judge then takes all of this into consideration and makes a ruling.
Once the judge has signed a divorce decree the parties must follow the ruling. You can file a Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate the judge’s ruling within thirty days, but if both spouses do not agree it is difficult to have such a motion granted. Down the road, if you wish to amend the decision of the judge you must show a change in circumstances and argue why this change makes the amendment necessary.
If you reached an agreement, such changes in circumstances can be used to argue for an amending of the original agreement. If there was no agreement and the judge decided the issue, you would be arguing why the judge’s decision should be changed, which is more difficult than arguing why you and your ex-spouse’s decision to agree on a specific issue should be changed. If you want to amend an old divorce decree then you should contact a local family law attorney and let them advise you on how to proceed or whether you should proceed at all.
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!