You may have decided that you want to file for divorce, but you don’t know where to begin. This article will give a general overview of how to file for divorce in the state of Alabama.
Specific counties may have requirements in addition to what’s listed below, so you should always check with your local county clerk before filing your divorce paperwork. If after reading this article, you have specific questions about your case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
The Alabama Administrative Office of Courts has do-it yourself forms available on its website. To begin your divorce, you’ll need to complete the “Complaint for Divorce” and “Summons,” available on the Alabama Administrative website. The spouse filing for divorce is called the “plaintiff,” and the other spouse is the “defendant.”
As you prepare your complaint and summons, you’ll need to verify that you’re filing the forms in the correct county. This is called “venue” in a divorce. Either you or your spouse must have lived in the county where you are filing, for at least six months.
In your divorce complaint, you must state that one spouse has been a resident of the county for at least six months, and you’ll need to cite a legal ground (or reason) for the divorce. See Ala. Code § 30-2-1 (2019).
In Alabama, you can file for a no-fault divorce, which is based on incompatibility or irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. You can also file based on a separation of at least two years.
Alternatively, you can file based on one of the following fault grounds:
If you file based on your spouse's misconduct, you'll have to prove to a judge that your spouse engaged in specific behavior that caused the divorce. This can be difficult and often results in a longer and more expensive divorce process.
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 called 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 of the circuit court in the county where you are filing. When you’re ready to file, you’ll give a copy of your signed complaint to the clerk and you’ll receive a copy back 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.
Once your complaint has been filed, you’ll need to serve a copy of the complaint on your spouse. 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 agrees to accept delivery of the complaint. The Acceptance or Waiver of Service should be in writing, and signed by the spouse accepting service. Your circuit court should have a form called an “Acknowledgement of Service,” which you can use to complete this method of service.
Alternatively, you may also hire a “process server," who is a sheriff, constable or disinterested third-party and is at least 19 years old, to hand deliver a copy of the complaint. After delivering the complaint to your spouse, the server will complete an Affidavit of Service and file with the court clerk certifying that the defendant has been served. See Alabama R. Civ. Pro. 4 (2019).
If your spouse refuses to accept service, you may send the complaint by certified mail and use the return of the certification as proof that your spouse has received the complaint.
When you can’t accomplish service by certified mail, you can seek permission from the court to serve your spouse using an alternative method, such as publication of your divorce in the local newspaper.
Also, even if your spouse is out of the state or country, there are ways to accomplish service. Contact your county clerk for more information on serving a spouse in the military or who is difficult to find.
If you’ve been served with a divorce complaint, it’s important that you respond. Your spouse could obtain a default divorce if you don’t file an Answer to the divorce complaint within the prescribed time period.
Dividing property and assets is crucial to the divorce process. You’ll likely need to file financial disclosures in connection with your divorce. Specifically, a judge may require you to submit the following documents as part of your income verification:
It’s important to be thorough in your financial disclosures. You or your spouse could face sanctions if you fail to disclose any assets during your divorce case.
If you still have questions about the divorce process, you can find additional legal resources at the Alabama Legal Help website. To find out if you qualify for free legal help through Alabama’s legal services, call 1-866-456-4995.
You can also read the full text of the law governing filing for divorce in Alabama, see Ala. Code §§ 30-2-1 through 30-2-12.