Divorce Court Alternatives?
Most Alabama divorces do not go to trial. The judge does not listen to arguments and rule on contested factors in divorces as often as many assume. Instead, through negotiations, mediation, and other means, many couples reach agreements the judge approves before issuing the divorce decree.
Working with an Alabama divorce lawyer does not mean your case will go to court. An attorney often helps clients reach agreements or navigate other alternatives to divorce court in Alabama. Many family law firms provide confidential, no-obligation evaluations so you can learn more about your options and answer your most pressing questions.
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One Alternative: Uncontested Divorce
While some divorcing couples may face disputes, this is not always the case; some can work together to navigate this process. If you and your spouse agree that divorce offers the best option for you, you could have an uncontested divorce.
This option works well for those with few debts or assets, little marital property, and no children. Such couples do not have many topics that require them to work together on an agreement. Of course, some with families or high assets also file uncontested divorces.
Spouses must agree on several legal topics to pursue an uncontested divorce. Working together to agree on all aspects of the divorce makes navigating the entire process easier, faster, and less stressful.
The steps in this process include:
- Working on outlining your agreements
- Each party has their lawyer review the agreements
- One party filing a divorce petition based on no-fault grounds
- Outlining the agreements in the petition
- Submitting the agreements to the judge
- Waiting for the 30-day cooling-off period required under Alabama law
- The judge approving the agreements and issuing a divorce decree
A couple with no children may receive their divorce decree within 30 days through this uncontested divorce process. For parents with children under age 19, however, a divorce could take longer. However, an uncontested divorce is still possible and can streamline the process.
This generally offers the least expensive, quickest way to get a divorce. However, it will not work in combative situations or with couples who cannot reach agreements related to their property, custody, and other factors.
The Collaborative Divorce Process
Alabama also supports collaborative divorce. Collaboration allows spouses to enter into a deliberate, respectful, and synergetic process to negotiate agreements on any contested topics in their divorce. This process aims to provide nuanced solutions and reach mutually-beneficial agreements based on each spouse’s priorities regarding property division, custody, alimony, and more.
Collaborative divorce often involves several parties:
- The divorcing spouses
- An attorney representing each spouse
- A coach trained in collaborative divorce, usually a therapist
- Expert witnesses, in some cases
These parties work together to ensure everyone’s rights remain protected and respect one another’s priorities and desires. As a result, conversations and negotiations occur instead of combativeness and arguments.
The Uniform Collaborative Law Act (UCLA) outlines the rules for collaborative divorce. You must have representation from an attorney well-versed in collaborative divorce. Some couples opt to work with two collaborative divorce coaches, as well.
Collaborative divorce is a no-fault, uncontested divorce settled with help from professionals. This means it could work in situations where an uncontested divorce would not happen without someone else guiding the discussions. While hiring additional professionals to help you navigate this process increases the divorce’s price, doing so often proves cheaper than a litigated divorce.
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Negotiating Agreements and Settling Your Divorce
Most divorces do not end in litigation or collaboration. Instead, the partners work with their attorneys to negotiate agreements. This allows the spouses to maintain control of their future instead of handing it over to the judge to decide.
A divorcing couple may be more likely to agree to mutually beneficial terms through this process than if the judge orders them. In addition, pursuing agreements instead of litigation can help each spouse maintain a better working relationship for the future.
This process can bring many challenges. However, your attorney can guide you through it, creating workable plans, making trade-off offers and compromises, and reaching acceptable settlements that benefit everyone involved.
What Is Mediation?
In some cases, mediation offers the best option. Mediation can help spouses negotiate an agreement even when their previous discussions were unproductive. Mediation is a particular type of settlement negotiation led by a trained mediator.
A mediator does not have the authority to force an agreement or issue an order, but they may:
- Outline what they believe the judge will order in the case
- Discuss the possibilities of what could happen in court
- Propose agreements based on their experience with similar cases
- Serve as a go-between to work out compromises
- Provide incentive and encouragement when negotiations stall
Spouses commonly pursue mediation before they go to divorce court. Many jurisdictions require at least one meeting with a mediator before hearing the case in court.
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What Factors You Must Agree On to Settle Your Divorce
Alabama allows both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce.
Under Alabama law, the no-fault grounds include:
- Irretrievable Breakdown of the Marriage: The problems in the marriage are not repairable.
- Incompatibility: The spouses do not get along and cannot remain married.
There are many fault-based grounds for divorce, including adultery, abandonment, drug or alcohol addiction, and incarceration for a serious crime. However, filing based on no-fault grounds offers the best option if you hope to avoid divorce court. In a no-fault action, the judge sees that at least one of the spouses believes the marriage should end. That is enough evidence for the judge to grant the divorce.
The other factors you and your spouse must agree on to avoid litigating the divorce include:
Property division often proves the most difficult part of a divorce when a couple does not have children. While each party came into the marriage with some assets, anything purchased or earned during the marriage is community property. Under Alabama law, the courts must distribute community assets and debts equitably.
This does not mean the spouses split the assets and debts equally. Instead, it is a fair distribution based on factors such as income, contributions to the family, and more.
It can be more challenging for couples to manage these agreements when they have high assets or debt. Therefore, individuals should choose an attorney well-versed in high-asset divorce if they want help protecting their income, livelihood, business, or specific assets.
Alabama law allows one partner to receive financial support from the other while they finish their education, get a job, or take additional steps to better their financial stability after supporting the family at home. The courts could award alimony in other situations.
Many couples will agree that alimony is not necessary. However, a partner could receive temporary or periodic payments after a divorce.
Alabama law requires judges to consider joint custody. This often results in court orders with joint decision-making, shared physical custody, and reasonable visitation for both parents.
The parents must agree to a plan to avoid the judge determining custody.
This plan should include:
- Legal custody
- Physical custody
- Reasonable visitation, if they do not pursue joint custody
Because parents may have different ideas of what best serves their children’s health, safety, and happiness, this often becomes a complex negotiation. Attorneys, mediators, and others involved in the process understand this and work to help parents meet in the middle during settlement discussions.
Parents must agree on a visitation schedule in addition to other custody decisions. Alabama law gives parents a right to reasonable visitation with their children unless a prevailing concern suggests that this should not happen, such as a history of abuse.
Your attorney can show you other schedules approved by judges in your county. Many counties have a default schedule they use when issuing a court order. This may be a good starting point for negotiating with your spouse over visitation. These schedules often include most time spent with the primary parent and visitation with the other parent every other weekend and one night each week.
If you hope for equal physical custody and visitation, negotiating an agreement could offer a better solution than going to divorce court.
While parents can agree to child support and calculate the obligation, Alabama law dictates the amount and frequency of payments.
Your attorney can use the worksheets provided by the state to determine:
- Who pays child support
- How much they pay
- How do they pay it
The amount of child support paid to the primary parent depends on:
- Each parent’s gross income from all sources
- How many children the money supports
- Other child support obligations
- How many days the child spends with each parent
- The cost of health insurance, childcare, and other expenses
- Other factors deemed important and necessary by the parents or judge
Most of these factors are not negotiable. The calculation is not an agreement so much as it reflects state guidelines for arranging child support payments. However, these payments could vary somewhat from the worksheet total as long as reasoning and evidence suggest it could do so.
Working With an Attorney Makes It Easier to Avoid Divorce Court
Divorcing spouses often find it difficult to have calm, productive discussions without someone else’s assistance. This is normal and expected. After all, if a couple got along and agreed on the most difficult decisions, they might not face this process. When each partner hires an attorney, many believe it increases the combativeness and makes it more difficult. However, the opposite frequently holds true.
Lawyers protect their clients’ rights and fight for their best interests. However, they also know how the local circuit courts work and the possible outcomes of divorce courts. They guide navigating the divorce process, including negotiations between spouses and discussions about agreements. Working with an attorney usually makes it more likely you can avoid going to trial, not less.
For example, consider child custody. Your attorney knows Alabama law and the factors the judge must consider when creating a custody order and visitation schedule. Your lawyer discusses these factors with you and helps you understand how this could go in court. This can make it easier to create an acceptable agreement or accept one if your spouse proposes it.
The factors considered include:
- Each parent’s mental, emotional, and physical health
- The parents’ ability to provide financial stability for the child
- Where the child will live with each parent
- The child’s wishes, if they are mature enough
- The child’s current relationship with each parent
- The child’s involvement in their school, local activities, and community
- The age and gender of the child
- Any documented history of dangerous behavior, including abuse, neglect, violence, drug use, and other similar concerns
Working with a lawyer helps you understand what to expect in court, giving you a sneak peek at the possible outcome of your case. When both partners have this advantage, it may be easier to agree on a plan together.
Learn the Next Steps in Avoiding Divorce Court Today
Many divorcing couples hope to navigate the process and dissolve their marriage without paying the high cost of going to trial—financially and emotionally. Discuss the possibility with an Alabama divorce lawyer’s team during a no-obligation consultation.
Using one of the alternatives to divorce court described in this blog may make it possible to avoid the bad blood, resentment, and anger that often occur during litigation. You may maintain a better working relationship with your former spouse, making it easier to co-parent and communicate.