Divorce Basics in Alabama - FAQs

Get answers to general questions about divorce in Alabama.

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Gavel and Scales

What kind of court will decide my divorce case?

In the Alabama court system, the circuit courts have the exclusive jurisdiction, or power, to decide divorce cases. This is because the circuit courts are Alabama's trial courts, and they are assigned to hear family law matters. Alabama's circuit courts are divided into 41 separate judicial districts.

If you disagree with the decision of the circuit court, you can appeal it to the next level, which is the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Only the Alabama Supreme Court has greater power than the Court of Civil Appeals.

Where should I file for divorce in Alabama?

If the defendant (meaning, the spouse who isn't asking for a divorce) lives in Alabama, then the plaintiff (the party asking for the divorce) should file the summons and complaint (the legal papers that initiate a divorce, specifying the reasons the judge should grant it and requesting the division of property, child custody, and so on) with the circuit court in the county where the defendant lives. Alternately, the plaintiff can file them in the circuit court in the county where both spouses lived when they separated.

If the defendant isn't an Alabama resident, the plaintiff can file the complaint in the circuit court of the county where the plaintiff lives. In this case, the plaintiff has to have been a "bona fide resident" of Alabama (meaning, the plaintiff has lived and maintained a residence in Alabama) for six months before the filing of the complaint.

What do I have to prove to get divorced in Alabama?

There are a dozen "grounds," or reasons, that a court can grant a divorce in Alabama.

Some of the grounds are based on marital misconduct in which the "guilty spouse" has damaged or hurt the "innocent" or "injured spouse" through bad acts, like adultery. This is also known as "fault."

Other grounds are commonly known as "no fault." This means that the court can grant the divorce based on simple residential requirements without looking into the issue of whether anyone committed marital misconduct.

Alabama law contains fault-based and no-fault elements. Alabama's circuit courts have the power to grant a divorce when:

  • one spouse was, at the time the parties married, physically and incurably incapable (lacked the ability) to enter into marriage
  • one spouse committed adultery
  • one spouse voluntarily abandoned the other for one year before the filing of the complaint
  • one spouse was imprisoned in any penitentiary for two years, with a sentence of seven years or more
  • one spouse committed a "crime against nature," with a human being or with an animal, either before or during the marriage
  • one spouse became addicted to alcohol or illegal narcotics during the marriage
  • one spouse provides testimony and evidence that there is such a "complete incompatibility of temperament" (meaning, the spouses are totally incompatible) that they can't get along anymore
  • one spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for five consecutive years during the marriage, is "hopelessly and incurably insane," and the medical experts submit a sworn statement to that effect
  • there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (meaning, the marriage has broken down and can't be mended) and further attempts to reconcile would be impractical
  • the wife was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage and didn't tell the husband
  • one spouse has committed actual violence against the other, causing danger to life or health or has caused the other to be reasonably afraid of such violence, or
  • the husband left the wife and lived away from her for two years, failing to support her for the two years preceding the filing of the complaint.

I was served with a divorce complaint. What should I do?

If your spouse serves you with a complaint for divorce, you should respond with a document called an "answer." The answer will respond to the complaint point-by-point, explaining which parts you agree with and which parts you plan to challenge. The answer also outlines your legal defenses.

Alabama law does not require you to verify your answer by oath. This means it doesn't have to be a sworn statement and it can't be used as evidence in the case. The purpose of the answer is to clarify the issues in the case.

When will my divorce be effective?

The circuit court can't issue a final court order (known as a "final judgment") until at least 30 days have passed from the date that the summons and complaint were filed with the court. Thus, Alabama has a thirty-day waiting period, but it mostly affects only those people who want to divorce very quickly and aren't planning to litigate all the issues.

Can I keep my husband's name after we divorce?

It depends. Alabama law provides that a divorced wife can be prevented from using the name, or even the initials, of her former husband. The decision is within the discretion of the judge who's presiding over the divorce. That means the judge will use good judgment and common sense, in light of all the available facts, to decide if the wife can keep her former husband's name or if she must revert to her maiden name.

What is a temporary order?

The waiting period for a divorce doesn't prevent circuit court judges from issuing "temporary orders" during the waiting period. Temporary orders are issued to stabilize the divorcing couple's child custody and financial situations. Either side can ask the court to issue a temporary order to govern custody, spousal and child support, visitation, and occupancy of the marital residence. Once the final judgment is issued, the temporary order stops being effective.

Resources

You can find more information about divorce basics at Alabama Divorce and Family Law.

For basics forms you'll need to file divorce in Alabama, see The Basics for Filing for Divorce in Alabama.

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