Every state has its own rules and procedures for filing a divorce. Here's what you need to know to get started with your Alabama divorce.
You must meet a state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce in its courts. Alabama's only residency requirement is that if the defendant spouse—the one who isn't filing the divorce—lives out-of-state, then the plaintiff (the filing spouse) must have been a resident of Alabama for six months before filing the divorce. (Ala. Code § 30-2-5 (2022).)
Alabama allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. A no-fault divorce is one in which the court doesn't require either spouse to prove that the other's bad acts were the cause of the divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one or both of the spouses must show that the other's actions caused (were "grounds for") the failure of the marriage.
No-fault divorces in Alabama reach resolution faster than fault-based divorces because the spouses don't have to argue about or prove who was responsible for the divorce. Alabama courts will grant a no-fault divorce when one of the two following situations exist.
In a fault-based divorce, one or both spouses will have to present evidence to the judge that proves the other spouse committed acts that meet one of Alabama's fault-based grounds for divorce. Alabama has a long list of fault-based grounds for divorce.
(Ala. Code § 30-2-1 (2022).
Many of these grounds for divorce are outdated. Most divorcing couples in Alabama choose to pursue no-fault divorces instead.
Generally, there are two types of divorce—uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters, such as division of property, child custody, and alimony (spousal support). A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses disagree on at least one topic and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.
Uncontested divorces usually reach resolution faster and are less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court. Instead, the judge needs only to review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.
To get a divorce in Alabama, you'll need to file your divorce paperwork in the correct circuit court.
If both spouses live in Alabama, the plaintiff spouse must file the divorce in the circuit court of the county in which the defendant lives or the circuit court of the county in which the couple lived when they separated.
If the defendant spouse doesn't live in Alabama, the divorce must be filed in the circuit court of the county where the plaintiff spouse lives.
(Ala. Code § 30-2-4 (2022).)
To get an uncontested divorce in Alabama, both spouses have to reach an agreement on all the issues in their divorce and submit a marital settlement agreement to the court. Alabama offers some state-approved forms for use (linked below). If a form you need isn't linked below, check with the clerk of the court in which the divorce will be filed to see if there are local forms available for use.
If you have children, you will have to file additional forms, such as a Child Support Obligation Income Statement/Affidavit. Check with the clerk of court to obtain these forms. You can file the papers at the clerk's office or online through AlaFile.
A contested divorce begins when one of the spouses files a complaint for divorce with the court. Check with the clerk of the court where you will be filing your divorce to find out if there are any court-approved forms you can use for your contested divorce. In most cases, you will need to file the same forms as mentioned above for an uncontested divorce—except for the marital settlement agreement.
Along with filing the right paperwork, you'll have to pay court filing fees to begin your divorce. Filing fees in Alabama vary from county to county, so you'll need to contact the court clerk's office to find out the fees at the court where you plan to file. As one example, as of 2022, the divorce filing fee in Madison County circuit court is $324.00.
If you can' afford to pay the filing fees, you can ask to defer payment of the fees (until your divorce case concludes) by filing an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship and Order. (Ala. Code § 12-19-70 (2022).)
Once you file the paperwork, you will need to provide notice to your spouse of the divorce by "serving" (delivering) copies of what was filed with the court. In Alabama, you must serve the documents within 120 days of filing the complaint. You can't serve your spouse yourself; you must have someone who's at least 18 years of age and not a party to the case do it. You can serve the papers by:
If you don't know where your spouse is, you can request permission from the court to serve your spouse by publication (putting a notice in a local newspaper).
For both uncontested and contested divorces, the court may not enter your final divorce judgment until at least 30 days after you filed your initial divorce papers. (Ala. Code § 30-2-8.1 (2022).) Even uncontested divorces usually take longer than that, depending on how busy the court is. And contested divorces can take much longer—up to a year or more.
If you'd like to DIY your divorce, many of the forms you'll need are available on the Alabama courts' website or on the website of your county circuit court.
If you're working with an attorney, your attorney will assess your situation and fill out, file, and serve all the necessary forms. Many divorcing couples can't afford to hire an attorney to handle their entire case, but would like some assistance with completing and filing their forms. If this describes your situation, consider using an online divorce service or finding an attorney who will consult with you on an as-needed basis. Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-fee or free legal aid—visit AlabamaLegalHelp.org and Alabama Access to Justice Commission for more information.