The decision to file for divorce is never easy. At a time when your emotional are raw and you’re dealing with incredible stress, understanding the legal steps you must take to initiate and finalize this process can seem overwhelming. The first thing to know is that either you or your spouse must have been a resident of the county where you intend to file paperwork for at least six months.
It’s also important to learn the language surrounding a divorce proceeding. The plaintiff is the person who files the form, and the responding spouse is the defendant. In Alabama, you can either file a no-fault divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences or you can file a fault divorce, alleging that your spouse committed one or more of the following acts:
- Couple has lived separately for at least two years
- Deviant sexual behavior
- Habitual drug use or drunkenness
- Husband unaware that wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage and is not the father of the child
- Spouse has served at least two years of a prison sentence expected to last seven years or longer
- Spouse has been confined to a mental institution for five years or longer for a condition not expected to improve
Typically, it takes less time for a judge to grant a no-fault divorce than a fault divorce. It also costs significantly less money to process. However, a judge granting you a fault divorce can provide several benefits that are worth the time and expense. It can provide you with a better monetary settlement, ensure your protection and that of your children as victims of domestic abuse, and allow children to remain with the most suitable parent.
Filing a Complaint for Divorce
To initiate a divorce in Alabama, you must first complete a Complaint for Divorce form. It must state that one or both of you has been a resident of the county for at least six months as well as the legal grounds for seeking the motion. The form primarily asks you to agree with statements and then sign and date it. You will need to fill in some information, such as the date of your marriage and the date of your separation.
If you would like the court to address any specific issues in your proceedings, you need to list them on this form. These could include alimony, division of assets, child custody, child support, and division of debts. It’s also possible that you and your spouse agree on all issues and don’t wish for court involvement. In this case, one of you should prepare a marriage settlement agreement and both of you should sign and date it. This form is legal proof that both of you resolved all legal issues prior to the finalization of your divorce.
Filing Your Paperwork with the County Court
Once you have completed the Complaint for Divorce form, you need to bring it to the circuit court or the clerk’s office in the county where you or your spouse reside. You need to provide the clerk with a signed copy of the complaint form and he or she will give you a copy with a notation of filing and a date stamp. This proves that you have filed the appropriate paperwork with the court. If you’re not certain how to proceed once you reach the county office, look for the family law or domestic relations self-help desk.
Serving Your Divorce Complaint on Your Spouse
You now need to provide your spouse with a copy of the complaint and allow him or her an opportunity to respond to it. The easiest way to do this is for your spouse or his or her attorney to sign an agreement stating acceptance of the complaint. In addition to signing this particular form, your spouse or the attorney should also sign a form called Acknowledgement of Service.
If it’s not possible to serve your spouse directly, you can hire a process server to deliver it. He or she should obtain your spouse’s signature and file the form with the court. Another option is to send the complaint by certified mail that requests the recipient’s signature. Your spouse has 30 days from receipt of the complaint to respond by agreeing with or contesting the terms you have requested.
If you don’t know where your spouse is, you can publish a notice in a newspaper stating your intent to proceed with a divorce. The newspaper should serve the area of your spouse’s last known location. You may proceed by default if you receive no response after posting the public notice three times.
Financial Disclosure Requirements for Both Spouses
You and your spouse will need to make full financial disclosure to the other at the beginning of your divorce proceedings. This typically includes the following:
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Personal financial statements
- Retirement account information
- Tax returns
The family court judge considers the income and liabilities of each spouse when deciding on such matters as the division of property, assets, and debts. If one spouse is seeking primary custody of minor children, Alabama uses a child support formula that considers each parent’s income, the number of children, and how much time the children will spend in the separate homes of each parent when determining a monthly payment amount.
Don’t Start Your Proceedings without an Experienced Family Law Attorney
If you or your spouse contest any part of your divorce, a judge makes the decisions that will affect you for years to come. Your family law attorney at Alsobrook & Jackson, Attorneys at Law will be a part of this process to ensure that your best interests and those of your children receive fair representation. We encourage you to contact our office in Opelika, Alabama at 334-737-3718 to request a free review of your divorce case. Your attorney will guide you on how to proceed from there.