Grounds for Divorce in Alabama

Learn more about no-fault and fault-based divorce, as well as other alternatives to divorce in Alabama.

Is Alabama a Fault Divorce State?

Sometimes, even couples with the best of intentions can't save their marriage. In Alabama, couples have the option to file for divorce using the state's no-fault or fault-based procedure. A no-fault divorce is available in all 50 states because it is the most streamlined way to end a marriage.

On the other hand, a fault divorce usually requires the spouses to hire attorneys, introduce evidence, and spend more time in court. Both "types" of divorce terminate the marriage, and the judge will decide all divorce-related issues, like property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support.

What Is a No-Fault Divorce in Alabama?

Marriage is a legal contract, which means that the court must have a legally acceptable reason (grounds) before a judge can grant a divorce. Each state's grounds vary, but all states have adopted some form of no-fault divorce, which means that neither spouse must prove that the other is responsible for the marriage's breakdown.

Alabama allows spouses to allege one of two reasons as a reason for the divorce:

  • irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or
  • incompatibility. (Ala. Code § 30-2-1 (a)(7)(9).)

Irretrievable breakdown means that the marriage is broken beyond repair, and incompatibility means that the spouses simply do not get along anymore. Both no-fault grounds tell a court that at least one spouse wants to end the marriage, which is generally enough for a judge to grant your divorce.

A no-fault divorce is typically less expensive, and it takes less time than a fault-based proceeding because the court doesn't require spouses to demonstrate why their marriage didn't work—just that it's not possible to stay married. (Phillips v. Phillips, 49 Ala. App. 514.)

Fault-Based Divorce Is Complicated

If you want a court to grant your divorce based on your spouse's bad actions, Alabama law allows you to file for a fault-based divorce. In many cases, spouses don't want to air their dirty laundry in a public forum, like a courtroom. Still, in other situations, a spouse's misconduct may be so extreme or severe that it's very relevant to the divorce proceedings and should be alleged and proven.

It's important to understand that you will have to prove your allegations against your spouse if you pursue a fault divorce. While this may allow you the opportunity to shout to the world that the divorce isn't your fault, it will also likely cost you more in legal fees and take much more time before the court finalizes the divorce.

The acceptable grounds for a fault-based divorce in Alabama include:

  • a physically and incurably incapacitated spouse at the time of the marriage
  • either spouse committed adultery
  • habitual drunkenness
  • abandonment of the marriage for a period of at least 12 months
  • a mental illness caused a spouse to be institutionalized for at least 5 consecutive years, and the spouse is incurably insane at the time of the divorce filing
  • imprisonment for at least 2 years, with a sentence of at least 7 years in prison
  • a crime against nature, human or beast, before or after the marriage,
  • a wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage and didn't tell her spouse. (Ala. Code § 30-2-1 (a)(1-6)(8)(10-11).)

Violence in the marriage

You can also file for divorced based on your spouse's history of violence or cruelty toward you throughout the marriage. The process is generally the same as any other fault divorce, except that you'll need to prove that you were fearful for your life or health as a result of the violence.

For example, in one Alabama case, a wife filed for divorce based on her husband's history of cruelty and violence. She demonstrated to the court that her husband pulled her hair, choked her, and struck her in the face. This was enough to prove to the court that her husband's actions caused her to fear for her health and safety, so the court granted the fault-based divorce. (Turner v. Turner, 44 Ala. 437.)

What Are the Requirements for Divorce in Alabama?

If you're filing for divorce, you'll need to show that you've been a resident of Alabama for at least 6 months before you file. (Ala. Code § 30-2-5.) Additionally, you need to file the paperwork in the county where your spouse lives or where you were both living when you separated. (Ala. Code § 30-2-4.)

Before a judge can finalize any divorce, the couple must wait for a minimum of 30-days from the date they filed for divorce. This "waiting period" allows the couples to consider reconciliation before divorcing. (Ala. Code § 30-2-8.1.)

Are There Other Divorce Options in Alabama?

Yes. If spouses can agree on all the legal issues in their case, like child support, child custody, property division, and spousal support, you can file together and request an uncontested divorce. In this type of proceeding, you can file the petition for divorce in any county in the state of Alabama as long as you've lived in the state for at least 6 months.

Couples pursuing an uncontested divorce must provide a settlement agreement to the court for the judge's approval. If you disagree on any issue before the judge signs off on the agreement, you case will become contested and you'll have the option to go to trial. Similarly, if you're going through a no-fault or fault-based divorce, you can ask the judge to convert it to an uncontested divorce.

Legal Separation in Alabama

Alabama offers couples an alternative to divorce, called legal separation. A legal separation allows a judge to decide legal matters like property division, custody, and support, but the marriage remains intact.

Legal separation may be appropriate for couples whose religious beliefs prohibit divorce or for families who believe a divorce would be harmful to the children. Legal separation doesn't prohibit either spouse from filing for divorce in the future.

Courts can only grant a legal separation if the following conditions are met:

  • at least one spouse is a resident of Alabama and has been for 6 months before filing
  • the court determines that the marriage is irretrievably broken, there is a complete incompatibility, or one or both spouses desire to live separate and apart, and
  • the judge decides or approves all issues surrounding child custody and child support.

Neither spouse can change the legal separation terms unless they both agree to do so in writing and present the new agreement to the court for approval. If one spouse wants to modify the agreement, but the other doesn't, the requesting spouse must file a motion with the court and prove a material change in circumstances occurred since the court entered the original order or separation. (Ala. Code § 30-2-40.)

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