In Alabama, divorce is carried out as a civil action. That means the person who files will be named the plaintiff, and the other will be named defendant.
This can set the tone for an adversarial proceeding, but it doesn't necessarily need to play out that way.
Birmingham Divorce Attorney Steven Eversole of Eversole Law, LLC is dedicated to pursuing advantageous resolution of key disputes while maintaining civility and following correct protocol throughout Alabama divorce proceedings.
We usually recommend individuals meet with a divorce lawyer prior to filing in order to ensure all criteria are met and so that a plan for contingencies can be formulated.
Filing for Divorce
The first step in filing for divorce in Alabama is the initial complaint.
This is a document your attorney can prepare or help you prepare that lists parties involved and cites grounds for divorce. One can file a no-fault divorce, or seek a fault-based divorce on grounds such as adultery, abandonment, imprisonment, habitual drunkenness/addiction or domestic violence.
Plaintiff has to have lived in Alabama for at least six months prior to filing.
The complaint is filed within the Alabama circuit courts, which have trial courts assigned specifically to family law cases.
Copies of the complaint must be provided to defendant via a process called “service.” This can be done to satisfaction a number of ways, including:
- Providing documents to the spouse's lawyer
- Hiring a “process server” to deliver a copy of the complaint
- Send the complaint via certified mail
- Service by publication, which means posting a notice in a local newspaper
If your spouse is difficult to locate or is refusing process of service, consulting with an attorney is the best way to ensure expedience.
Temporary Orders in Birmingham Divorce
Early on in a Birmingham divorce case, a judge will likely schedule one or more “Pendente Lite hearings.” This is Latin for “pending litigation,” and it references the temporary relief or support a judge can grant while a divorce is pending.
These hearings are set after your divorce lawyer files a motion for such relief, which will be in effect for the duration of the divorce proceedings.
During these hearings, the court will set some ground rules and temporarily resolve certain questions or disputes, such as:
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Child custody/visitation
- Occupancy of the marital home
- Health insurance
The judge will weigh each request in light of the individual circumstances before deciding whether to grant them.
Discovery Phase/ Financial Disclosures
The discovery phase allows both sides to build their case and learn about the evidence the other side intends to present. Witness statements (depositions), expert witness testimony and various subpoenas may be collected in connection to a variety of points, ranging from proving grounds in a fault-based divorce to child custody and visitation to spousal support and property division.
A key part of this process – even when the divorce is uncontested – is submission of financial disclosures.
Generally, this includes the following kinds of records/information:
- Tax Returns
- Credit Card Statements
- Bank Statements
- Retirement Account Information
- Owned Property Information
- Any other records that contain financial information pertinent to you or your spouse in relation to the divorce
In some cases, this will be fairly straightforward. However, in situations where one spouse may be concealing important information, you may need to request a subpoena to compel your spouse to provide that information. In some situations, it may be beneficial to hire an appraiser to calculate the value of certain property, businesses, stocks or other accounts.
If a spouse is still uncooperative, the court may give an explicit deadline, and if it is not met, that spouse could be held in contempt of court.
Ala. Code 6-6-20 sets forth the guidelines for “mandatory Mediation Prior to Trial.”
Essentially, state law requires parties in a divorce action to undergo mandatory mediation:
- When all parties agree;
- Upon motion by any party;
- Via court order before a judge makes a final ruling.
There are certain provisions for domestic violence victims under the Protection of Abuse Act. That doesn't necessarily mean those escaping an abusive relationship won't have to mediate with his or her abuser, but the court will analyze whether it's necessary and if certain protections need to be in place first.
An agreement stemming from a successful mediation will be finalized by court order.
If resolution of disputes is not forthcoming in mediation, the case will then move to the trial phase. In some cases, it can take months or even a year for a case to reach the docket. It's important that clients be prepared.
Once a case reaches trial, all evidence and information will be put before a judge, who will make a final decision regarding any unresolved disputes.
Although these decisions are appealable, appellate courts grant trial judges a broad amount of discretion. That means unless there was an error of law, a ruling is likely to stand.
Aspects of child custody, child visitation, child support or spousal support may be modified in the future, assuming there is a significant change in circumstance. But getting it right the first time is always the best course of action.