Going through a divorce is a painful and stressful time for families. Generally, it’s safe to say that most spouses want a hassle-free divorce granted as quickly as possible. But even couples who intend to end their marriage peacefully may end up disagreeing to certain terms once the divorce process begins. In Alabama, that is called a contested divorce.
Contested Divorce: Myth vs. Reality
A contested divorce is rarely what you see on TV, with angry spouses hurling insults and threatening to sue or take the kids away. But legally speaking, marriage is a contract. Dissolving that contract involves coming to a mutual agreement on a variety of issues related to the marriage, such as asset division, child custody, child visitation and spousal support.
If a spouse does not agree on even one term of the divorce, you’ve moved into contested divorce territory. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. While some divorce proceedings may turn ugly, good family law attorneys for both sides should be working toward a divorce settlement that both parties agree upon, keeping it out of court if possible.
The attorneys at New Beginnings Family Law in Huntsville help clients navigate the challenges of all aspects of the divorce process. Our lawyers help couples in contested divorces find a common ground that is reasonable and fair, always keeping the family’s wellbeing in mind. If an agreement cannot be reached, we are also prepared to zealously represent our clients in court.
Key Aspects of Divorce in Alabama
There are some basic things to understand about Alabama’s divorce laws before going into the specifics of how a contested divorce works.
- No fault divorce – In Alabama, you don’t have to prove that one party is at fault to file for divorce. It is acceptable to simply cite incompatibility or that the marriage is irretrievably broken. This is usually the simplest way to end your marriage.
- You can pursue divorce on fault grounds – Examples of fault according to Alabama law include adultery, imprisonment for more than two years of at least a seven-year sentence, habitual substance abuse, addiction or domestic violence, among others. Sufficient evidence must be provided to the court for the divorce on fault grounds to be granted.
- Your spouse doesn’t have to agree to the divorce – You can still obtain a divorce in Alabama despite your partner’s objections.
How the Contested Divorce Process Works in Alabama
There are several steps to get divorce proceedings underway. These include:
- File a complaint – A complaint will be made by the plaintiff (you) or your attorney naming your spouse and establishing grounds for divorce. This is also where you will ask the court to grant your terms related to property division, alimony, child custody, child support and other issues. The complaint must be delivered to your spouse by the sheriff’s department, a process server or certified mail.
- The answer – Your spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint. This allows him or her time to hire a divorce attorney and respond to your claims fully. Ideally, he or she will agree to the terms and there is no need for the divorce to be contested. But be prepared that your spouse’s attorney may file a counterclaim against you or make additional requests in the answer. If the spouse does not respond to the claim, there is usually a default judgment for the plaintiff.
- Discovery – During this phase, attorneys will do the legwork necessary to support your legal position. This could include gathering evidence, obtaining documents, taking depositions and filing motions on your behalf, for example.
- Begin negotiations – After the court has ruled on all motions, you will begin to negotiate a settlement. Generally, judges want you to do this out of court as a collaborative divorce, and may request that you and your spouse work with an independent mediator to develop a revised settlement. It must be approved not only by the couple, but by the judge as well, before a divorce can be finalized. If an agreement cannot be reached at this phase, the divorce proceedings will head to trial.
- Trial and judgment – Going to trial means that a judge will rule on any terms that you were unable to resolve during negotiations. This ends the contested divorce process, unless you or your spouse files a Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate the judge’s order within thirty (30) days of the judge’s ruling. Either you or your spouse could also choose to file an appeal of the judge’s ruling, which would have to be filed within forty-two (42) days of the judge’s ruling from the original trial or any Motion to Alter, Amend, or Vacate filed timely thereafter.
How Long Will My Contested Divorce Take?
The timeline for finalizing a divorce in Alabama varies based on what type of divorce you will be going through. Uncontested divorces go relatively quickly, assuming the spouses completely agree, and are usually completed within two months. You would need to consult with a divorce attorney if your divorce is contested. Depending on the complexity of the issues and nature of the disputes, your lawyer can give you a general estimate on how long your case might take. Some take a year or more.
How Much Will My Divorce Cost?
Contested divorces can get expensive the longer you spend in court. That is why judges in Alabama strive for couples to come to settlements with their attorneys or mediators. There is an initial filing fee when you bring your divorce papers to county court, which is $324 in Madison County (plus any fees charged by the court for electronic filing, which brings the total to $337.01). Your divorce lawyer will be able to discuss the potential cost of the proceedings after learning the details of your case.
You’re Not Alone. Contact Our Huntsville Lawyers for Help
When your marriage is ending, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. At New Beginnings Family Law, our attorneys can help lighten your burden by making the divorce proceedings as smooth as possible.
Our divorce philosophy is to help couples build bridges to create a stable environment for themselves and their children in their new lives. To learn more about how we can help, call us or contact us online now.