You may have decided that you want to file for divorce, but you don’t know where to start. This article will give a general overview of how to file for divorce in the state of Alabama.
Specific counties may have requirements other than what is listed below, so you should always check with the county where you intend to file to determine what other steps you may need to take. If you have specific questions about your case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
The first thing you’ll want to do when preparing to file for divorce is make sure you are filing your forms in the correct county. Either you or your spouse must be a resident of the county where you are filing for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.
The first form to complete is the “Complaint for Divorce.” The spouse filing for divorce is referred to as the “plaintiff,” and the other spouse is the “defendant.”
The complaint must state that one spouse has been a resident of the county for at least six months, and it must state a legal ground for divorce. In Alabama, you can file for a no-fault divorce, or you can file based on one of the following fault grounds:
Any other issues you want to have the court address should also be identified in the complaint, such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support and alimony. If you and your spouse have agreed on all of these issues, you may be able to do an uncontested divorce; you would need to prepare and sign a marital settlement agreement (also referred to as a divorce settlement) and state that all issues raised in your complaint have been resolved.
Filing for divorce means you have given your divorce complaint to the clerk’s office or the circuit court in the county where you are filing. You’ll give a copy of your signed complaint to the clerk and they should give you a copy with a date stamp and notation showing that it has been filed with the court. Most counties have a domestic relations or family law self-help department to help you if you have questions.
You have to give your spouse a copy of your filed complaint; this is called “serving” your complaint. There are several ways to serve your complaint on your spouse.
The easiest way to accomplish service is if your spouse or your spouse’s attorney simply agree to accept delivery of the complaint. The acceptance of the complaint should be in writing, and signed by the spouse accepting service and a witness. Your circuit court should have a form called an “Acknowledgement of Service,” which you can use to complete this method of service.
You may also hire a "process server," who is a sheriff or constable of the county where you are filing for divorce, or another qualified person, to deliver a copy of the complaint. Once the server has delivered the complaint to your spouse, he or she must then then return to the court clerk and make a note in your court docket that the defendant has been served.
If your spouse refuses to accept service, the court clerk may send the complaint by certified mail and use the return of the certification as proof that your spouse has received the complaint. If the clerk is unable to serve your spouse by certified mail, there are other options, including service by regular mail, or by "publication," which means posting the divorce in a newspaper.
Also, even if your spouse is out of the state or country, there are ways to serve your spouse. Contact your county clerk for more information on serving a spouse that's difficult to find.
Your county may require you to make certain financial disclosures in connection with your divorce, depending on local rules. You can expect to turn over the following types of financial information and documents:
For the full text of the law governing filing for divorce in Alabama, see Alabama Code, §30-2-1 through §30-2-12.
A map of all Alabama judicial circuits with their contact information is here: http://www.alacourt.gov/JudicialCircuits.aspx
Alabama divorce forms, including a complaint for divorce.