This is a complete guide to getting a divorce in Alabama.
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- The differences between divorce, annulment and legal separation
- Grounds for divorce
- The types of divorce and which one is right for you
- Overview of the divorce process and how to file
- How much does divorce cost
- Where to turn for financial help
- And a whole lot more
So if you’re facing divorce and want to make sure that you have a lay of the land (and steer clear of the landmines), we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
- The differences between legal separation, annulment and divorce
- Grounds for divorce in Alabama
- Divorce process options
- Process of filing for divorce in Alabama
- Completing proof of service
- Filing for divorce online
- Filing for divorce without a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost?
- How long does divorce take?
- Role of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
- Bifurcation of marital status
- Can you refuse, contest or reverse a divorce in Alabama?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a divorce certificate?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between divorce, annulment and legal separation
Married couples can end their marriages by divorce or annulment in Alabama. Legal separation is also permitted, but a couple will still remain married after this action takes place.
When one spouse moves out of the home, couples may be physically separated, but in the eyes of the law they are not considered to have a legal separation. Legal separation requires an actual court action to put certain provisions in place.
A legal separation provides a couple the option of living independently from each other both physically and financially.
This agreement does not end the marriage, but it does require that things like a division of assets, child custody, and alimony be decided as if a marriage were actually being dissolved. It requires the execution of a document that is legally binding and signed by both spouses. In essence, the process for legal separation is the same as getting a divorce.
To obtain a judgment of legal separation, the court must determine one of the following:
- that the bonds of matrimony have been irretrievably broken
- that there exists an incompatibility of temperament between the parties
- that one or both of the parties desire to live separate and apart from the other spouse.
In many cases, legal separation provides a much-needed time out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less combative environment. Stepping away can oftentimes bring added perspective about what a couple will lose in a marriage and possibly give them time to heal from the issues that caused their marriage to come under stress.
Spouses may also choose legal separation for religious reasons. Some religions do not look favorably upon divorce and staying married though legally separated puts less pressure on a couple who might otherwise be in conflict with their church and religious beliefs.
There are also potential financial benefits as well, such as being able to remain on your spouse’s employer’s health insurance (sometimes) or continuing to file as a married couple on tax returns.
If a person is not a U.S. citizen, and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
Annulments can be granted in Alabama and mean that a marriage is considered null and void. It’s as if it never happened. For an annulment to be granted, strict requirements must be met and litigated in front of a judge.
The grounds for an annulment in Alabama include:
- Incestuous marriage
- Pre-marital concealment of pregnancy by another man
- Fraudulent intent to cohabit
- Fraudulent concealment of a sexually transmitted disease
- Underage marriage
The reality is that annulments are quite uncommon, but they do happen on occasion – so this may be worth looking into if any of the above applies to you.
Divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final divorce decree is issued.
What are the grounds for divorce in Alabama?
Alabama is both a no-fault and a fault-based state when stating grounds for divorce.
With a no-fault divorce, all that needs to be cited is that there is an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage. No other explanations are necessary.
Alabama also allows a spouse to divorce by stating one of several acceptable reasons. While a no-fault divorce is quicker and less expensive, a fault-based divorce may be a better option of the conduct that was alleged has a material impact on how the divorce is settled.
The acceptable grounds for a fault-based divorce in Alabama include:
- a physically and incurably incapacitated spouse at the time of the marriage
- either spouse committed adultery
- habitual drunkenness
- abandonment of the marriage for a period of at least 12 months
- a mental illness that caused a spouse to be institutionalized for at least 5 consecutive years and the spouse is incurably insane at the time of the divorce filing
- imprisonment for at least 2 years, with a sentence of at least 7 years in prison
- a crime against nature, human or beast, before or after the marriage,
- a wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage and didn’t tell her spouse
- violence or cruelty, as long as you are able to prove that you were fearful for your life or health while the violence was taking place
What kind of divorce is right for you?
Aside from the decision to get a divorce, the single most important decision you will make is the type of divorce.
You see, there are only two ways that you reach a final resolution:
- You and your spouse agree
- A judge decides
That’s it. Those are the only two ways to get a divorce in Alabama.
The type of divorce sets the frameworks for how you get to a final resolution. The process you and your spouse choose sets the tone and shapes the outcome of your divorce.
Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind.
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all.
Here are the types of divorce:
- Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
- Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
- Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids. Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
- Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
- Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in Alabama?
No matter which kind of divorce you pursue in Alabama, the basic processes are all pretty much the same starting out.
Gather important information
To give yourself the best chance at achieving the best possible outcome, you need to be organized and proactive when it comes to pulling together the information you will need.
By doing so, you can ensure your rights are protected while also saving time, money and anxiety for the next steps in your divorce.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here.
Complete the initial paperwork
After you decide what kind of divorce you will pursue, you will need to fill out several forms and submit them to start your Alabama divorce.
An attorney can help you with this process, making sure that you are using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.
But if you are going to complete forms by yourself, which many people do, there are several possible forms you will need to submit. You will need to make sure that you are also filling out your forms in the correct county.
At a minimum, you will need to complete a Complaint for Divorce that will provide details on the issues you want to be settled such as dividing assets, child support and custody, alimony and other related items. If children are part of the divorce, you will need to complete several additional forms as well. If you are attempting to go through an uncontested divorce, you should also be prepared to submit a marital settlement agreement.
If you want help completing paperwork, you may be able to access legal aid societies to assist you. Court personnel are not able to provide legal advice, but they will check to make sure your forms are completed properly.
File your forms
In Alabama, you must file forms at the Circuit Court of the county where the defendant lives, or in the Circuit Court of the county where the parties lived when the separation occurred.
When the defendant is a non-resident of Alabama, the plaintiff a resident of Alabama for six months prior to the filing of the divorce action. This must be alleged in the complaint for divorce backed by proof.
You must then serve your spouse with copies of the divorce papers to legally make them aware of the divorce petition.
Completing proof of service in Alabama
In Alabama, there are certain requirements that must be met to ensure that divorce documents are delivered legally to a defendant in a divorce case.
A plaintiff cannot deliver the papers personally, but anyone who is over 18 and who is not a party to the divorce can do so. This is usually done by a professional process server or a sheriff or constable.
Service can be made at a person’s home or place of business and the summons and complaint can be left with the defendant or with a competent adult who is present. This server must serve papers within 30 days.
If the person refuses to accept service, papers can be mailed to him or her and service will then be considered complete. Many times, a plaintiff will request service by certified mail.
When these options fail, service can be made by publication which entails running a legal notice in a local paper for a specified about of time in the county where the divorce complaint has been filed.
In all cases, the defendant has 30 days to file his or her response from the date of service.
Can you file for divorce online in Alabama?
You can complete much of the paperwork for an Alabama divorce online, but you will eventually need to file that paperwork in person at your county courthouse.
There are several services and private attorneys who can work with you and expedite the paperwork through electronic means. This is especially helpful in an uncontested divorce where most or all of the issues have been resolved.
Get started with 3 Step Divorce now >>
Filing for divorce in Alabama without using a lawyer
You can file for divorce in Alabama without using a lawyer.
If you want to pursue an uncontested divorce and you and your spouse agree on all terms, you can complete the required paperwork, cite a no-fault ground, file it with the court and wait 30 days before a judge will issue your divorce decree.
How much does it cost to get a divorce?
To file for a divorce in Alabama, a petitioner will need to pay a filing fee of $290 for an uncontested divorce. That amount is $390 in uncontested divorce with minor children of the marriage.
There is also a filing fee that varies from county to county. You will need to contact the court where you live to determine what that fee is.
You will also need to pay a fee for service of the divorce papers on your spouse. This can involve using a sheriff’s deputy or process server.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer upfront to start the process.
If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more. In some cases, a judge may require a couple to go through mediation as part of the divorce process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Alabama?
By law, Alabama requires that 30 days must elapse from the filing of a summons and complaint before a final judgment of divorce can be entered.
It should also be noted that neither party in a divorce can remarry, except to each other for a period of 60 days after the judgment of divorce is entered.
A final judgment may take longer depending on the venue, court backlog or other circumstances.
If a divorce is contested, it could take several months to resolve issues before a final judgment is entered.
Should I work with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
In simple cases, your attorney may be equipped to handle all aspects of the divorce, including the finances.
But if you have a degree of complexity to your financial situation, you might benefit from working with a divorce financial planning expert.
The best professional to help in these situations is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
A CDFA has specialized training in the financial and tax implications of divorce and can work with you to help you understand the pros and cons of your options.
If you have financial concerns or are interested in learning more about what a CDFA does, be sure to check out our guide: What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).
Bifurcation of marital status
Bifurcation of marital status in Alabama means that both parties can legally divide their divorce into two stages.
The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce and the second part addresses the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
Alabama courts may be somewhat reluctant to grant bifurcation because it creates judicial inefficiency, meaning that a divorce will actually have to go through two hearings instead of one.
Couples will also need to understand that they could rack up more legal bills by going through two hearings instead of one as well.
Can I cancel, stop or reverse a divorce in Alabama?
You cannot stop someone from divorcing you in Alabama if that is what they want to do.
However, if the divorce process has started but a final decree has not been issued and the spouses have reconciled, it may be possible to have a petitioner file a motion with the court seeking to dismiss the complaint and ending the divorce action.
Once a final decree has been issued, the divorce is final. If two people decide they want to reconcile at that point, they will have to get married again.
What is a divorce decree?
An Alabama divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a details of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including a division of assets, child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
Once the divorce decree is issued, parties are legally free to marry another person.
It is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is a divorce certificate?
After a divorce decree has been granted, a divorce certificate will be filed with the Alabama Vital Records Office. A certificate has much less information than a decree, generally only stating that a divorce took place, along with the specifics of where and when it happened.
By Alabama law, anyone can obtain a divorce certificate. They can be requested by anyone who can provide enough information to search for the record and submit payment of the $15 fee.
You can obtain an Alabama divorce certificate in many ways:
Download Mail-In Application (also available in Spanish)
Send as much information as possible about the divorce and the appropriate fee to:
Alabama Vital Records
P.O. Box 5625
Montgomery, Alabama 36103-5625
In Person in Alabama:
You may go to any county health department in the State of Alabama to obtain a certified copy of an Alabama divorce certificate. Most divorce certificates can be issued while you wait. A map showing locations of county health departments where vital records may be obtained is available. View Reference Map
To Order a Certificate Online:
You may order certificates through a service provider called VitalChek using a credit card. Note that there are additional fees for using this service.
Changing Your Name
You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.
Name changes are granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are accepted with all US organizations and agencies as evidence of your name change.
Just because you have a court order does not mean your name change has taken effect. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.
Start by updating your name with the Social Security Administration. Once complete you can go on to change names everywhere else.
We understand that it takes a lot of time to contact each company and figure out what to send where. We recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to mitigate the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follow.
Related: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name
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Looking for more great divorce tips? Here are a few of our favorite resources: