The first step to getting a divorce is talking with an experienced divorce attorney. While you may not technically need to hire an attorney to file a divorce for you, having an experienced lawyer working with you can make the process easier, quicker, and in many cases cheaper for you. They will bring their knowledge of the law and local court procedures to advise and serve you better. An experienced attorney will know the correct legal language to use in your filings. Even if you and your spouse are in total agreement about the terms of the divorce, and even if you turn in the correct paperwork on time to the judge, he or she could still reject it because the content was not legally sufficient to grant a divorce.
The first legal step to take toward getting a divorce is filing something called a Complaint in your local Circuit Court. Each county courthouse has a circuit court of some kind. These are the state’s trial courts of general jurisdiction that hear civil and criminal cases, which means they handle divorces since they are a civil case. Before you file the Divorce Complaint you should decide whether you will be doing a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce.
Uncontested divorces are filed when the spouses agree on the need to divorce, the division of their property, and, if applicable, child custody 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.
The party that files the Complaint is called the Plaintiff. The non-filing party is the Defendant. The Defendant will not play as big of a role in an uncontested divorce and will mostly need to be available to sign paperwork in a timely manner. With an uncontested divorce, the parties will submit a settlement agreement to the court indicating they agree on the terms of the divorce and lay out their wishes. After your complaint and settlement agreement are filed for an uncontested divorce it usually takes about 4-10 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 that a divorce is what they want.
Divorces involve a lot of paperwork that must be drafted and signed throughout the process. Even more so if you have minor children or considerable marital assets. Also, each county may do things a little bit differently in terms of procedure and 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 attorney in making sure what you submit is correct and what the court is looking for.
That is why it is often cheaper to hire an attorney as a first step in your divorce, to make sure the process is done correctly. Divorce is stressful enough on a personal level without the added stress of making sure all the legal paperwork is done correctly. Take the first step and call a divorce attorney today.