Grounds for Divorce in Alabama

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

Sometimes, even couples with the best of intentions can’t save their marriage. In Alabama, couples have the option to file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences (no-fault), or based on a spouse’s misconduct during the marriage (fault-based).

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 breakdown of the marriage.

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

  • irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or
  • incompatibility.

Irretrievable breakdown basically 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 since the court doesn’t require spouses to demonstrate why their marriage didn’t work—just that it’s not possible to stay married.

Fault-Based Divorce Is More Complicated

If you would like a court to grant your divorce based on your spouse’s actions, Alabama law allows you to file for a fault-based divorce. In many cases, spouses don’t want to air their dirty laundry aired in a public forum, like a courtroom, but 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 if you pursue a fault-based divorce, you will have to prove your allegations against your spouse. While this may allow you the opportunity to shout to the world that it’s not your fault that your marriage ended, 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 that 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.

Violence in the marriage

In Alabama, you can file for divorce 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-based grounds, except that you’ll need to prove that you were fearful for your life or health during 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 show the court that her husband’s actions caused her to fear for her health and safety, so the court granted the fault-based divorce.

What Are the Requirements for Divorce in Alabama?

If you’re filing the paperwork for divorce, you will need to prove to the court that you’re a resident of Alabama and you have been for at least 6 months before you file. Additionally, you need to file the paperwork in the county where your spouse lives, or where you were both living when you separated.

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.

Are There Other Divorce Options in Alabama?

Yes. If spouses can agree on all the major legal issues, 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, if you have lived in the state for at least 6 months.

Couples would provide a settlement agreement to the judge to approve. If you disagree on any issue prior to the judge signing the agreement, you 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

Alabama offers couples an alternative to divorce, called legal separation. Although this process allows a judge to decide legal matters like property division, custody, and support, when it’s all said and done, you’re still married. This type of “divorce” is beneficial for couples whose religion prohibits 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 present:

  • at least one spouse is a resident of Alabama and has been for 6 months prior to filing
  • the court determines that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or 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 terms of the legal separation unless they both agree, 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 prove there has been a material change in circumstances since the court first entered the order.

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