Divorces and annulments conclude the same way—with the end of a marriage. They take different paths towards this shared goal, though. With a divorce, you establish grounds for the dissolution of the marriage and then negotiate its terms. Annulments, however, can completely void the marriage. This means that under the eyes of the law, the marriage never existed. However, divorces don’t void a marriage. Instead, they acknowledge its existence and signal its end.
A legal annulment is different from a religious annulment. For instance, in the Catholic church, you must receive a religious annulment—called a declaration of nullity—to remarry again in the church. These proceedings have no impact on Alabama law. In the rest of this article, the term annulment will refer to its legal counterpart.
How Do You Annul a Marriage?
You may choose from many possible legal grounds to get a divorce in Alabama. For instance, facing temperamental incompatibilities with your partner is a sufficient ground for divorce.
Unlike divorces, however, annulments require particular grounds.
The stricter annulment guidelines typically include showing that:
- A partner in the relationship was too young to consent to the marriage (younger than 18)
- Bigamy took place, meaning one or both partners were already married
- One spouse tricked the other into marriage
- One partner hid something essential from the other, like an STD, or they didn’t desire a sexual relationship
- An incestuous relationship
Annulments necessitate a considerably higher burden of proof than a divorce. If you believe you need an annulment, consider contacting a divorce lawyer’s team. They can advise you on annulments and help you understand your options.
The Difference in Outcomes Between Divorces and Annulments
Annulments and divorce have different outcomes. The benefits you can receive from a divorce may not apply to annulments.
Some legal decisions you can expect in an annulment include:
- Child custody: The Alabama courts recognize the rights of children born out of wedlock. This means that children whose parents separated via annulment will see similarities to those whose parents divorced. If a judge deems shared custody best for the child or children, the court will determine custody terms.
- Alimony: Alimony refers to financial support paid from one partner to the other after a divorce. This type of financial support depends on the existence of a past marriage, though. If you file an annulment, you can’t receive permanent alimony. Alimony can prove particularly helpful for those who were stay-at-home parents. Therefore, it’s essential to consider your finances when choosing an annulment or divorce.
- Division of property: You may need to divide your assets in an annulment. However, in most cases, annulled marriages were never lawful, meaning that a couple’s assets were never mutual. You can’t divide property without designated mutual assets.
Should I Get an Annulment?
Annulments can be challenging to prove. They entail more specific criteria and bar lower-earning spouses from permanent alimony and the claim of mutual assets.
An annulment could offer a solution if you had a short-lived relationship and few shared assets. In most cases, however, divorces make more sense than annulments. A family law firm can further explain the differences between annulments and divorces.
Choosing an Uncontested Divorce Instead of an Annulment
In an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on the terms of the divorce and part amicably. If you plan to file an annulment, you should first consider the benefits of seeking an uncontested divorce.
An uncontested divorce can be:
- Less time-consuming
- More cost-effective
- Can lead to a better relationship with your ex-spouse
For a divorce to proceed without contention, both parties must agree on its terms. You will need to discuss:
Alabama law recognizes two types of child custody: legal and physical. Legal custody permits a parent to make decisions about a child’s life, like healthcare, education, and more. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with. A parent can have sole or joint custody in both areas.
For example, if a parent had both legal and physical custody, they would care for the child and make decisions about their life. The other parent may have no custody but could visit the child, depending on the agreed-upon custody arrangement.
You’ll need to create a visitation schedule if one parent has sole physical custody. This schedule will determine when the other parent, who doesn’t have physical custody, can visit the child or children. You must account for variances in this schedule, like holidays and summer breaks.
Distribution of Assets
Most married couples share several assets, including:
- A home
- A bank account
- Debts and loans
- Other forms of financial assets, like retirement plans
A divorce plan must account for the distribution of these assets. You need to agree on who gets what percentage of each asset.
Alimony refers to financial support for a spouse, which may come in addition to child support. A recently divorced parent can face responsibility for both alimony and child support.
Historically, women had a right to alimony payments from their ex-husbands. However, the lesser earner in a marriage can now get alimony regardless of gender. You and your partner must agree upon fair alimony payments during your divorce. Similarly, if the lesser-earning spouse decides that they don’t need financial support, they can waive their right to alimony.
To secure alimony, you must prove that:
- You require financial support.
- The other party has the financial means to pay said support.
Are Contested Divorces Different From Uncontested Divorces?
In a contested divorce, you and your partner disagree about one of the above factors. Contested divorces can begin as uncontested divorces, too, but may change because of an unforeseen disagreement.
Typically, these disagreements resolve through:
- Mediation: During mediation, you and your partner sit with a third-party mediator. The mediator will facilitate your discussion but can’t resolve the issue. Attorneys can also represent you at these meetings.
- Attorney negotiation: It’s possible to defer to your lawyer during the negotiation process. They’ll contact the other party’s lawyer and work towards a fair resolution.
- The settlement agreement between you and your spouse: Unlike other types of litigation, you can speak with the other party during a divorce. If you choose, you can settle your disagreement directly with your partner.
- Trial: Your divorce will proceed to trial if you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement through the above methods. During the trial, you and your legal team will make your case before a judge. Ultimately, the judge will have the final say on your case. If you or your partner disagree with their ruling, you can appeal.
The Steps of the Divorce Process
A divorce necessitates multiple steps. First, you must ensure that you meet Alabama state residency requirements.
These requirements include the following, per Alabama law:
- You can file for a divorce if you do not have residency in Alabama, provided the defendant (your partner) holds residency status.
- If you and your partner both have residency in Alabama, you can file a divorce whenever necessary.
- If the defendant holds residency in another state, you must show that you lived in Alabama for at least six months before filing a divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce refer to specific reasons that permit you to file a divorce.
They include, among other instances:
- Your partner cheated on you.
- Your partner abandoned you for a year or more.
- Your partner is in jail. They must have served two or more years of a prison sentence lasting seven years or longer.
- Your partner was participating in criminal activities.
- Your partner has a drug addiction.
These examples include grounds for a fault-based divorce. In such a divorce, the complaint states that the defendant took part in specific behaviors or illegal activities that wronged the filing spouse.
Alabama doesn’t require you to pursue a fault-based divorce, though. No-fault divorces can offer another potential option.
They include instances where:
- You and your partner do not have compatible temperaments.
- You believe that you cannot salvage your relationship.
Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll need to explain to a judge why you want to end your relationship when you file a divorce complaint.
Submitting a Divorce Complaint
Once you’ve met the above eligibility guidelines, you can submit a divorce complaint.
To file this complaint, you’ll need to gather:
- Your name and your partner’s name
- The names of your children and their documentation
- The date of your marriage
- The grounds for divorce
- Proof of residency
A lawyer can gather your required documentation, write your complaint with it, and serve it to your partner.
Replying to a Divorce Complaint
You have 30 days to reply if you receive a divorce complaint.
If you don’t reply by the deadline, a divorce-by-default could take the place of standard proceedings.
In a divorce-by-default, the party who filed the divorce will make their case to a judge without any input from their partner. Then, the judge will decide on the factors of the divorce. This type of divorce completely bars the party who failed to respond to the complaint from having any say in child custody, alimony, and the division of property.
Settling the Divorce
Once you file the complaint and the other party responds to or ignores it, you can work towards establishing the terms of your divorce.
As noted earlier, this process can involve:
- Negotiation between you and your partner
How Do I Know If I Need a Divorce?
When you entered your marriage, you likely never dreamed that you might eventually consider ending your partnership. When you feel deeply in love with your partner, marriage always sounds like a good idea. However, everyone changes with time. This change can bring you and your partner closer or further apart. If any of the following sounds like your relationship, you may want to consider a divorce:
You Have Exhausted All Efforts to Fix Your Marriage
All marriages hit rough patches. However, if you have taken advantage of all available resources and feel as though your marriage has run its course, you may feel option divorce is the right option for you.
Your Partner Emotionally or Physically Abuses You or Your Children
As one half of your relationship, it’s your job to support your partner and treat them with love and care.
If your partner hurts you or your children emotionally or physically, do not remain in your marriage. Call a divorce lawyer near you to discuss how you can safely leave your spouse.
Your Partner Cheated on You
Cheating doesn’t always spell the end of a marriage. Some couples, through therapy and deep reflection, weather infidelity. However, if the affairs become a pattern or you fail to recover from infidelity, you may want to consider your options.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer?
It’s always your choice to get legal help if you’re seeking a divorce in Alabama. However, divorces can prove complex. They involve a range of tricky laws and codes you’ll need to abide by. Similarly, if your partner hires a lawyer, you likely won’t want to face their legal team alone.
A Divorce Lawyer Protects Your Interests
Whether you face a contested or uncontested divorce, a lawyer can protect your best interests. For example, during a divorce, your partner may attempt to claim large portions of your property, finances, or belongings. A lawyer can actively fight against these attempts.
Divorce Lawyers Advise You During an Emotional Time
Divorces don’t always progress straightforwardly. If you and your spouse continue to disagree on the terms of your divorce, your case may proceed to trial. A divorce lawyer can offer you advice on the divorce process. This advice could prove invaluable and increase your chances of securing a positive divorce settlement.
Divorce lawyers offer no-obligation consultations to learn your story and help you explore your options.