These blog postings concern family law matters such as divorce, custody, and child support. If you want to participate in the conversation then feel free to leave a message on any of the posts.

Can I do My Own Divorce?

The short answer is yes. You do not have to hire a local family law attorney to obtain a divorce in Alabama. You are allowed represent yourself. An uncontested divorce, also called no fault divorce, is generally less expensive and is processed through the courts quicker than contested divorces. These factors make filing an uncontested divorce a smoother and cheaper method.

Another benefit of an uncontested divorce is that the parties normally do not have to appear in court. However, some counties are more difficult than others. Can I do my own divorce?For example, in Etowah and Madison Counties, they sometimes require a hearing in some uncontested divorces, even though both spouses are in agreement. Make sure to check with your local county court for their unique processes.

Even if you don’t legally need one, having an experienced lawyer work 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. Having a lawyer to represent you in your divorce can help ensure you send in the correct paperwork to the court and that it is submitted in a timely manner. But more than that, an experienced lawyer 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.

There can be more to filing for divorce than filing the standard forms like a Complaint, Answer and Waiver, Testimony, and Settlement agreement. There are multiple documents required when children are of the marriage. You may also need to draw up and file a quitclaim deed to convey joint property to your spouse. You may need to divide your 401(k) or other joint retirement account, which will usually require a special order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). These are just a few examples of situations where you will need additional documents or need special language in your paperwork.

Representing yourself in court proceedings is called acting as a “pro se” litigant. Pro se litigants have a right to file for an uncontested divorce themselves. But you should be aware, the judge and court clerks will hold pro se litigants to the same standards they hold licensed attorneys in terms of knowing what to file, where to file it, how it should be worded, and applicable laws to apply. You may be tempted to ask the judge or court staff what you should do. While judges and court staff are generally friendly and can offer you some information about what documents to file, it is against the law for them to give you legal advice and they cannot tell you how to prepare your documents. Doing Your Own DivorceThey will advise you to seek out a lawyer that handles divorce cases.

In most counties in Alabama, judges require a hearing if no one has an attorney helping them with their case. This will involve court costs and, unless you get all your paperwork correct the first time, the judge may tell you to fix your mistakes then come back – adding additional court costs for each hearing. Making mistakes in your paperwork filings 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 lawyer from the start. That is why it can often be cheaper to retain a local divorce lawyer to represent you. For these reasons, it is best to use an actual Alabama attorney and not go with some online document preparation company.

Our divorce lawyers in Montgomery, Birmingham, or anywhere else across the State of Alabama currently charge $290 in attorney fees for an uncontested divorce with no minor children of the marriage and $390 with minor children. There is also a filing fee that is charged for filing an uncontested divorce and it is set by each particular county. These amounts vary from county to county, ranging from about $207 in Jefferson County to a little over $330 in Madison County.

What is a Settlement Agreement?

A Settlement Agreement a written contract used to formally lay out how you will divide your marital property, your rights, and other matters like alimony and custody after you are divorced. The settlement agreement is what makes an uncontested divorce uncontested. Your local divorce attorney files it with the other documents to initiate your case. An uncontested divorce is when the spouses agree on the need to divorce, the division of their property, and other applicable marital assets and rights. What is a Settlement Agreement?In Alabama, these divorces are sometimes called no fault divorces. Generally, they are less expensive and are processed through the courts quicker than contested divorces. These factors make filing an uncontested divorce a fairly quick and easy process.

The agreement is to show the court how you have resolved all marital issues.. All property, assets, and debts acquired during the marriage are considered “martial property.” Even if an asset or debt was acquired individually during the marriage, it is considered marital property, including pensions and retirement plans. The court will generally consider non-marital property to remain with the original owner. Examples of non-marital property include assets or debts acquired before the date of marriage and gifts or inheritances to one individual during or before the marriage.

When the divorce lawyer files your uncontested divorce, you must sign a settlement agreement. This shows the court you agree on all the terms of the divorce and the “who gets what” after your divorce is finalized. If you have already signed the settlement agreement and no longer want to agree to those terms, you should consult with your attorney. Rescinding the settlement agreement is harder than rescinding the Complaint for Divorce (the first document you file with the court for divorce) and you will likely need the help of a divorce attorney to accomplish it.

In order to file an uncontested divorce, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirement of residing in the state of Alabama for at least six months prior to filing your complaint. In the uncontested divorce, you can file a divorce complaint 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, or 3) in the county where the spouses resided at the time of separation. The divorce complaint is usually filed alongside a settlement agreement to show the court what you and your spouse have agreed to. 

When you agree to a settlement agreement in a divorce, it is a binding contract between the two of you.  Like your divorce decree, the settlement agreement will be a document that you will be obligated to follow for many years to come. As with any contract, you agreed to it at the time, so a judge is not going to let you out of the contract very easily.  The more time that has passed since you agreed to the contract, the more likely a judge may let you alter parts of it or get out of certain aspects of the agreement as situations are more likely to change significantly over a long period of time. In order to make such changes later on, you must show a substantial change in circumstances, which can be difficult sometimes.