How long it takes to get a divorce in Alabama depends on several factors, including whether you have a contested or uncontested divorce. The more you and your spouse can agree on legal matters related to the divorce, the faster the process will likely go.
Generally speaking, an uncontested divorce can resolve as soon as 6-10 weeks after filing for the divorce. However, contested divorces can take several months or even a year. No matter how long your case takes, an experienced divorce lawyer can help you navigate the entire process and ensure that it goes as fairly and efficiently as possible. Let’s look at the question ‘How Long does a divorce take in Alabama?’ a little more closely.
The Divorce Process Timeline in Alabama
If you’re considering divorce, here’s an overview of what you can expect from the process and the general timelines that accompany a divorce in Alabama.
File for Divorce
The process begins when you or your spouse file for a divorce in your county’s circuit court. You will need proof that you or your partner had residency status in Alabama for at least six months.
Filing for divorce involves paperwork known as a divorce complaint. In the complaint, you will cite legal grounds for the divorce, including no-fault or fault-based grounds. Additionally, you’ll include any terms of the divorce you want to submit to your spouse, such as how child custody will work and how you should divide your property.
Be sure to keep these deadlines in mind:
- Once you file for divorce, you have four months to serve your spouse the divorce complaint.
- You must wait at least 30 days after filing before finalizing your divorce, according to Alabama law.
Response to Divorce Complaint
Once your spouse receives the complaint, they have 30 days to respond with a document known as an answer. In their answer, they can choose to agree to your divorce terms, agree to some of the terms, or contest the divorce.
In some cases, your spouse may not reply to your complaint. If this happens, you still have options for moving forward. You can request a divorce by default, which involves the court making an order based on your divorce complaint’s terms. A court will not hear your spouse’s concerns in a default divorce.
Resolve Remaining Legal Matters
You and your spouse may find that you can agree to all legal matters of the divorce. For example, you may agree on child custody, child support, how to divide your property, and whether one spouse deserves alimony. If so, you’re in an ideal situation, and the rest of your divorce process may be relatively short.
If you fully agree with your spouse, you have an uncontested divorce. You can either sign the divorce agreement or hire an Alabama divorce attorney to review it. Even in an uncontested divorce, you may still have some remaining disagreements. Couples can often work out these issues through mediation.
In some cases, you might need to go to court and receive a judge’s order. Known as a contested divorce, cases that require court intervention generally entail a longer divorce timeline.
What Happens in an Uncontested Divorce in Alabama?
As mentioned above, an uncontested divorce is often relatively smoother—and faster—than a contested divorce. Since both parties agree to most of the divorce’s terms, little stands in the way of completing it.
However, that doesn’t mean that spouses in an uncontested divorce have nothing to work out.
Couples may still need some help negotiating the final terms of their divorce settlement, such as:
- How they will divide property and assets
- How they will arrange child custody and visitation
- How much child support payments will be
- How much alimony payments will be
Couples with no children, few assets, and shorter marriages may not even need to address these terms. However, some couples with longer marriages and children involved can work together amicably to determine what’s best for their children and personal finances.
The Process of Dividing Property
Dividing property entails determining which property belongs to each spouse separately and what constitutes marital property. Personal items may include inherited items, cherished heirlooms, personal art collections, and other belongings the spouse owned before the marriage.
Marital property includes most items acquired during the marriage—therefore, couples must determine how to divide these assets.
Marital property may include:
- The family home
- Bank accounts
- A family business
- Household items, such as furniture
It can take time for a couple to itemize all marital property, determine its value, and decide what an equitable division will be. They have to decide whether to sell certain items and divide the proceeds or find a way to split their possessions. Some couples work with an appraiser to determine the value of higher-priced items, which can lend transparency and fairness to the property division process.
When Children Are Involved
Determining what’s best for your children can be one of the most challenging aspects of divorce.
However, in an uncontested divorce, couples find they can agree on most matters related to child custody, including:
- Physical custody – Whether the children will live with one parent or share time equally with both
- Legal custody – How the parents will make legal decisions for the children, such as their education and healthcare needs
A divorcing couple with children must agree on both aspects of custody (physical and legal). If one parent receives sole physical custody, they must also arrange a visitation schedule for the other parent.
Additionally, they will need to agree to child support obligations. Often, one parent will pay the other to help care for the children’s essential needs. The state of Alabama has specific guidelines for how child support payments work. These guidelines consider how much income each parent makes, how many children need financial support, the cost of the children’s care, and other factors.
What Happens in a Contested Divorce?
As mentioned above, a contested divorce happens when a couple cannot agree on legal matters involved in the divorce, and they need to go to court to resolve their disputes.
Going to court can significantly increase the amount of time a divorce takes. Generally, a contested divorce could take between six months and one year—and some could take longer.
Depending on your case, you may need to participate in:
- Mediation – Some judges may order a couple to go through mediation before proceeding to court. A neutral third party, typically a trained attorney, will try to help a couple navigate their disputes.
- Court requests for documents – You will likely need to provide certain paperwork for the court, such as financial statements.
- Depositions – You may need to give oral testimony with your and your spouse’s lawyers present in a process known as a deposition.
- Interrogatories – This includes paperwork from the court that directs you to respond to certain questions related to the divorce.
Presenting Your Case to a Judge
If you cannot resolve challenging divorce issues through mediation and must go to court, you will need to present your case to a judge. Both you and your spouse can make your case through legal representatives. Your lawyer can show various forms of evidence, such as witness statements, expert testimony, and other documents.
After one spouse files the divorce complaint, the court could issue a trial date several months later. It can take several more months for the judge to decide and finalize the divorce.
Other Factors That Can Delay a Divorce
Seeking a judge’s help with your divorce process can set back your divorce timeline, but other factors can delay the time it takes to finalize a divorce:
The Discovery Process
Discovery refers to the phase when you share important documents in the divorce case, such as your financial records, debt information, appraisals, and other records related to assets. This process enables the couple to understand all assets that fall under the umbrella of marital property—and how to divide them fairly.
However, the discovery process can be lengthy, and you may face delays for several reasons. Some partners use discovery as a way to delay the divorce proceedings. Delays can also occur when one spouse doesn’t have a lawyer. They may not comply as readily with document requests when they do not have an attorney explaining the legal requirements of discovery.
A Spouse Doesn’t Want to Cooperate
Trying to work with an uncooperative spouse can frustrate you. When a spouse approaches the divorce antagonistically, they may try several delay tactics, such as filing excessive motions or document requests or telling the judge they need more time to prepare for hearings.
You Face Court Scheduling Issues
Sometimes, court calendar issues delay divorces. If there is a backlog of cases, you may need to wait longer to appear before a judge. Also, if you need to spend more time in court and have not worked out any disputes through mediation, this can also set back your timeline.
How to Help Ensure a Faster Divorce Process
Thinking about the issues that can slow down your divorce timeline may be overwhelming.
However, you can ensure a smoother, faster divorce process if you:
- Prepare documents in advance – You can start preparing important divorce documents sooner rather than later. For instance, you can start an inventory of your personal and shared assets. Gather tax returns, income statements, real estate documents, and anything else that could prove crucial during discovery.
- Strategize your goals for the divorce – Knowing what you want before you move into the divorce process can help you feel more prepared for the conversations to follow—and may also streamline the process. Strategize what you want and where you think you could compromise.
- Work together with your spouse, if possible – As explained above, couples who can work together to resolve the divorce typically have a faster divorce process. However, working with your spouse doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything the other party demands. You can get a lawyer’s help during negotiations or work with a mediator to determine equitable terms for both of you.
- Understand your divorce options – Knowing your options can help you save time. For instance, determine if an uncontested divorce could work for you. A collaborative divorce, which uses both negotiation and mediation strategies to avoid court, may also be an option.
- Get a legal case review: An Alabama divorce lawyer can tell you everything you need to know to start your divorce during a case evaluation. During this meeting, you can ask questions and determine if they’re the right firm to represent you.
How Working With a Lawyer Can Make the Divorce Process More Efficient
The emotions and major decisions involved in a divorce often feel overwhelming, especially when you face them all at once. Never go through a divorce process alone.
When you hire a divorce lawyer, you can rest assured that you have someone on your side advocating for your best interests. A lawyer can learn your story and strategize to seek your desired results in a divorce.
A lawyer can also:
- Help you gather important documents for your case
- Make sure that you have crucial divorce paperwork
- Explain your rights and how Alabama divorce law applies to your case
- Help you if the other side unnecessarily delays the case
- Represent your side of the story during mediation or in court
- Ensure a fair, equitable divorce process during property division, custody matters, and more
- Offer a neutral perspective as you navigate the challenges of divorce
- Take steps to ensure the most efficient divorce process possible
Know How Long Your Divorce Might Take
Contact a lawyer at The Law Offices of Charlotte Christian and Associates to find out how long your Alabama divorce may take and what strategies can help secure your desired outcome faster. To start, get your case evaluation with our law firm today.