A small handful of counties in Alabama still appoint a “commissioner” to act in place of a notary in order to witness the signature of the Plaintiff’s testimony in divorce proceedings. It is an old practice which very few courts in Alabama, or the country, still require. If you live in a county where this practice is still observed, you will need to discuss their specific procedure with the circuit court clerk. The largest county to still require a commissioner in the divorce process is Mobile County.
The point of having a commissioner is to have someone the court finds to be a disinterested third party to the case (e.g. they are not related to the parties and don’t stand to gain anything from the divorce) who can listen to the testimony and certify for the court that the documents signed by the parties are accurate. Today, that “trusted third party” is generally a notary public. In most counties, as long as the testimony is signed and notarized by notary public then the notary essentially is the witness to testimony being given outside of judge’s courtroom.
In counties who assign a commissioner, the commissioner must sign as witness and no notary public is necessary. The commissioner must be willing to be appointed by the court as a person witnessing signing of testimony of plaintiff in case. The thinking behind using a commissioner instead of a notary was that it was better to use someone close to the parties, but still without an actual stake in the outcome, as a witness to signing the documents rather than a stranger that is a notary. That way, for example, since the commissioner was someone close to the parties, if they felt one party was being dishonest in their handling of the case they could make a note of it. A notary would not necessarily know that, though, just by witnessing the signing of the documents if they didn’t know the parties.
Many counties used to also require witness testimony regarding the couple’s incompatibility and marital breakdown. Mobile County still requires this obligation. In Mobile County, in addition to the standard documents required throughout all counties, you must also have someone with knowledge of the incompatibility give testimony and have it entered into evidence in the divorce case. This additional testimony is also witnessed by the divorce commissioner. It can be a friend or anyone that can speak to the breakdown of the marriage.
As you can tell, each county can vary slightly in how they handle divorces. In some cases, like counties that still have divorce commissioners, they can vary greatly in the amount of paperwork, testimony, and people involved in your divorce. That is why it is important to go with an experienced Alabama divorce attorney and not some document preparation company. Filing the wrong documents or incorrect documents can cost you a lot of time and money, making your divorce more drawn out and expensive in the long run.