In an Alabama divorce, a wife may keep the personal property she owned before the marriage. A wife can also seek an equitable portion of marital property shared by the couple, including physical property (such as the family home) or other assets (such as bank accounts).
While Alabama law entitles each spouse to certain rights during a divorce, seeking a fair outcome can require a complex and emotional process. An experienced divorce lawyer in Birmingham, AL can explain everything you are entitled to—including your rights to property, child custody, and more. An attorney can also present evidence during mediation or in court that shows what you may deserve.
Does a Wife Always Get Half of a Couple’s Property?
Alabama law states that both parties in a divorce can expect an equitable division of marital property—but that doesn’t necessarily mean a wife will get exactly half of what the couple owns. Many factors can play a role in determining which spouse receives certain shared assets and belongings in a divorce.
Here’s what you should know about how property division works in an Alabama divorce.
Understanding the Difference Between Marital and Separate Property
Generally speaking, marital property refers to any property the couple acquired during their marriage, such as:
- A home
- Other real estate
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- A family business
- Recreational equipment, such as boats or RVs
- Household items, such as furniture
Some items might constitute marital property even if one spouse purchased them in their name. For instance, if one spouse purchases a vehicle and registers it in their name, the vehicle may still constitute marital property if the couple shared it during their marriage.
In another example, imagine one spouse starts a business shortly before the marriage. When he marries, his wife helps run the business throughout the marriage. This, too, would likely constitute shared property in the marriage.
Reclaiming Personal Property
Despite the establishment of shared property, a wife or husband likely still has the right to reclaim personal property during a divorce.
Some examples of personal property include:
- Inherited items
- Assets that the couple agreed to view as personal property via a prenuptial agreement
- Other property owned before the marriage, such as a personal art collection
Sometimes, the lines between what constitutes personal and marital property can get blurry. The courts can weigh in and decide if a couple cannot agree if an item or asset is shared or separate property.
What Does Equitable Property Division Mean?
Hopefully, you have a better sense of what marital property refers to—and what it does not. However, what does it mean to divide that property “equitably” in a divorce?
Spouses have the opportunity to decide this on their own by reaching a divorce settlement agreement. They can determine how much their property is worth or hire experts to appraise the value of high-ticket items, such as a home or vehicle. They can also decide whether to sell certain items and divide the resulting funds or continue to share certain assets following the divorce (such as a family business).
If a couple can’t agree on the valuation of marital property or how to divide it fairly, an Alabama judge will do so on their behalf.
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When a Judge Decides
Judges use multiple factors to determine what equitable division looks like, such as:
- How long the marriage lasted
- The couple’s standard of living
- Each spouse’s age and health
- Each spouse’s unique needs and circumstances
- If one spouse helped the other earn a degree or advance their career
- If one spouse provided certain services in the marriage, such as income, homemaking, or raising children
- The couple’s assets, property, and their value
- Fault-based claims for the divorce
For instance, if a couple’s marriage lasted 20 years and the wife was a homemaker for 10 of those years, a judge may decide that she is entitled to a significant amount of shared marital property.
However, maybe a couple was only married for six months before filing for divorce, and both partners are in good health. In this case, a judge may determine that an equitable division of property would place both spouses in similar financial conditions they occupied before the marriage.
What About Dividing Debt?
Marital debt is often one of the most challenging assets to divide equitably. After all, even if one spouse holds primary responsibility for adding debt to a shared account, it still generally constitutes shared marital debt.
For this reason, one or both partners may want to work on paying off any remaining debt before filing for divorce. However, the courts can decide if a couple cannot agree on how to divide shared debt after the divorce.
Does a Wife Get Alimony Payments?
Either spouse could get alimony under certain circumstances, including a wife.
Alimony refers to one spouse’s payments to the other during or after a divorce. This money gives a spouse time to adjust to the new financial circumstances that accompany separation. Alimony can help a spouse afford rent after moving out of the family home or help pay for career training to seek new employment.
Whether you want to understand your rights to alimony as a husband or wife, read on to learn how Alabama approaches alimony payments.
How Alimony Works Under Alabama Law
A wife or husband may meet the criteria to receive or pay alimony to the other spouse.
According to Alabama law, a spouse can seek alimony when both of the following are true:
- The divorce will make it impossible for one spouse to maintain the financial status they enjoyed during the marriage
- Contributing alimony payments will not financially strain the other partner
You should know that alimony typically does not last forever. Alabama courts generally award a spouse with interim or rehabilitative alimony. Interim alimony refers to payments that a spouse may get while the divorce is in process. Rehabilitative alimony can offer longer-term funds after the divorce finalizes, but typically no more than five years.
The court may grant permanent alimony in certain cases—for example, when the couple’s marriage lasts 20 years or more or when one spouse faces significant financial challenges without alimony (such as when they have a disability).
Is the Mother Entitled to Child Custody?
In the past, mothers might have anticipated receiving full custody rights for their children. However, the state of Alabama now takes a more equitable view of parent custody rights.
Alabama courts prefer that both parents share parenting responsibilities and encourage contact with both parents following a divorce. This means that both a mother and father can expect to seek custody rights, barring exceptional circumstances that could endanger a child.
How Child Custody Works in an Alabama Divorce
Alabama law states that parents should have the chance to maintain “frequent and regular” contact with their children—and this means both mother and father.
However, the issue of child custody involves two separate aspects, physical and legal custody:
- Physical custody – This refers to where a child lives. Children may live with one parent full-time and visit the other parent during school breaks and on weekends, or children may share time equally with each parent.
- Legal custody – This refers to which parent gets to make legal decisions about the child’s life, such as where they attend school or what health care they receive. Both parents may have this right, or the court could deem only one parent fit for legal custody.
As with property division in a divorce, a couple can create a child custody agreement on their own. This agreement needs to spell out who has physical and legal custody, how caring for the children will work, which days and holidays children will spend with which parent, and other details.
When a Judge Determines Child Custody
If the spouses can’t agree on custody matters, they may need to bring their case before a judge. If the court hears the case, the parents must follow whatever custody plan the judge orders.
Judges in Alabama determine suitable child custody arrangements according to what serves the child’s best interests. They may consider factors such as:
- The child’s age, gender, and emotional needs
- The child’s current activities and schooling
- The home environment both parents could provide
- The nature of each parent’s relationship with the child
- The parent’s health, financial stability, and capability to provide care
- The child’s desires
- Any factors that could place a child in danger, such as a record of parental abuse
Other factors could also play a role in informing a court’s custody decisions.
How Much Child Support Will a Wife Get?
Child support orders often accompany child custody determinations. Because Alabama stresses the importance of both parents contributing to children’s care, this usually involves the children’s financial needs as well.
As with alimony payments, a wife will not necessarily get child support payments. Either parent may receive child support, depending on their financial situation and other factors.
How Child Support Payments Get Determined in Alabama
The Alabama Administrative Office of Courts provides detailed information about how to arrange child support payments. These payment schedules, as the law calls them, help the court determine how much a parent should pay.
The court calculates these payments based on:
- Whether parents have shared custody or one parent only has visitation rights
- The cost of caring for the children, including education, health care, childcare, and other needs
- Each parent’s gross income
- How many children will require support
When a parent receives a court order to pay child support, they must do so—it’s the law. If the other parent does not receive these payments, they can take legal action.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Divorce?
As you can see, divorce can be legally complex. Whether you are a wife or husband, you could wonder what you deserve in an Alabama divorce. On top of these concerns, divorce can emotionally overwhelm anyone.
For these reasons—and many others—you may want to consider hiring a divorce lawyer. With a lawyer on your side, you can:
Understand What to Expect in the Divorce Process
You may research divorce law and think you have a solid sense of what the process will entail. However, most divorce lawyers have experience working on hundreds of cases, if not more. They know Alabama divorce law and can tell you exactly what to expect, so you never feel in the dark about your case.
Your lawyer can explain what happens in a contested and uncontested divorce, if you should seek a fault-based filing, what paperwork you need to gather, and much more.
Have an Advocate for Your Side of the Story
Advocating for yourself during any legal process presents huge challenges, especially when emotions are high. A lawyer can offer a neutral third-party’s perspective throughout your case. They can speak for your best interests, presenting crucial evidence before a judge or mediator so they understand your side of the story.
Ensure You Seek What You Deserve
As outlined above, you could deserve several legal rights in a divorce, such as:
- Fair property division
- Child custody
- Child support
An attorney can build evidence to show why you deserve certain assets or items. If your spouse’s lawyer pressures you or you are unsure of your rights, your lawyer can advocate for the best possible financial outcome. They can also seek the best possible outcome for you as a parent.
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Have Representation During Mediation or in Court
Being in court or appearing for mediation can be a stressful experience, especially if you have to appear along with your spouse. An attorney can accompany you to any necessary hearings or court appearances. They will cross-examine witnesses, make statements on your behalf, and do everything necessary to ensure a smooth legal process.
Have Your Questions Answered
Never wonder about your rights and legal options during a divorce. When you hire a lawyer, they can answer your questions. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that someone understands your interests and concerns—and will stand by your side throughout the entire divorce.