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Alabama Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
The filing spouse is the plaintiff; the other spouse is the defendant. The plaintiff makes sure he or she is filing in the correct county. Either spouse must be a resident of the county where the plaintiff files for at least six months prior. In Alabama, individual counties sometimes have specific requirements unique to the county, so a party should always determine what other steps may be required. Specific questions should be referred to a family law attorney.
The plaintiff completes the Complaint for Divorce, which states that one spouse meets the residency requirement and gives a legal ground for divorce. The complaint may also address issues such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support and alimony.
If both spouses agree on all of these issues, they may file an uncontested divorce. They prepare and sign a marital settlement agreement that states that all issues raised in the complaint are resolved.
Additional forms must be completed in a marriage with children, including the Child Support Information sheet providing information about calculating child support, the Child Support Obligation Income Affidavit CS-41 asking for income information, the Child Support Guideline Form, the Child Support Guideline Notice of Complaint CS-43, and the Standing Pre-Trial Order which prohibits activity harmful for the children. Before the divorce can be finalized, a seminar must also be attended called Children Cope with Divorce.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The plaintiff files the divorce paperwork in the clerk’s office or the circuit court in the county of filing. The clerk keeps a copy of the signed complaint and returns 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.
The Complaint for Divorce provides basic identification information as well as the grounds for divorce, such as irrevocable relationship breakdown. Other required forms include the Testimony of Plaintiff, in which the petitioner certifies the reasons for the divorce and asserts that the defendant isn’t in the armed forces, an Affidavit of Residency confirming residency, and a Vital Statistics Form, used for record-keeping purposes. All these are filed along with The Settlement Agreement.
Serving the Documents
After filing with the clerk, the plaintiff serves the defendant a copy of the filed complaint. If the defendant or his or her attorney agrees to accept delivery of the complaint, he or she can return an acceptance of service. The acceptance is in writing, and signed by the spouse and a witness. This is easiest way to serve process, though there are several different ways to do it.
At this point, the defendant responds to the Complaint for Divorce completing a form called the Answer and Waiver. The court needs to know that the other party knows of the divorce before proceeding with an uncontested divorce.
Disclosing Financial Information
The county may require certain financial disclosures including the following financial information and documents: income, assets and liabilities, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, personal financial statements, and any other documentation containing financial information that the defendant or the court should know.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Uncontested means not only that both parties agree to a divorce, but that both parties already agree on the division of property, child support, and child visitation. Their signed Settlement Agreement memorializes these agreements.
Finalizing the Divorce
The circuit court cannot issue a final court order (known as a "final judgment") until at least 30 days after the date that the summons and complaint were filed with the court. Thus, Alabama has a 30-day waiting period, but it mostly applies to those people who want to divorce very quickly and aren't planning to litigate all the issues.
In determining Alabama child custody, the court considers the wishes of the parents, the wishes of the child if the child is of sufficient age to appreciate the situation, the child's relationship with siblings and extended family, the educational needs of the child, and the mental and physical health of the child.
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