What Should I Know About Divorce in Alabama?
Divorce is a sensitive subject that must be handled as delicately as possible. When a couple is divorcing, they need support from a lawyer who will guide them through this complex process. Additionally, lawyers can record agreements that have been made and make modifications when necessary. A divorce can be hard on everyone, and there are many details that need to be covered. Working with a divorce lawyer can help the family handle the divorce in an amicable and efficient manner.
Spouses and children may fear an abusive parent or ex-spouse. A business may also be involved. Two divorcing spouses might move away from each another, and alimony may be included in the petition for divorce. It is difficult for someone to navigate all the moving parts of a divorce on their own.
Which Divorce Terms Should I Know?
Learning divorce terminology for spouses, parents, and children helps everyone get involved in the process. Important terms include the following:
- Alimony: This is a sum paid to the spouse with lower earnings or lower earning potential after the divorce is finalized.
- At-fault divorce: An at-fault divorce requires grounds for separation that are greater than the irretrievable breakdown of the union. Common grounds for an at-fault divorce include adultery, addiction, imprisonment, abuse or cruelty, abandonment, substance abuse, and deviant sexual conduct within or outside the marriage.
- Contested divorce: This might involve a disagreement over a single item, or the couple might disagree on several things that need to resolve before the divorce filing can be made.
- Irretrievable breakdown: If two parties are ready to move on, they can cite this reason when filing for a divorce. This means that both parties agreed to the divorce filing, likely included all proper documentation, and are ready to attend a hearing as soon as possible.
- Guardian ad litem: This person may be needed when a child is in danger or when an older child wants their wishes to be considered during the divorce. For example, a child may want to live with a certain parent, and they might feel so strongly that the court appoints the guardian ad litem to help that child express their concerns.
- Uncontested divorce: This occurs when both parties agree to the divorce without argument.
- Post-judgment modification: This can be made at any time when one or both parties need to fundamentally alter the divorce decree. Modifications can be made regarding alimony, child custody, or child support.
What are My Divorce Options?
The couple will either choose between an at-fault or no-fault divorce. No-fault divorces are often confused with uncontested divorces; they are not the same. In a no-fault divorce, the parties do not blame each other for the dissolution of the union. An uncontested divorce, however, might result from an at-fault divorce. For example, a man might have cheated on his wife. However, the husband will not contest the divorce, and the case will close quickly.
Divorcing couples may even choose mediation because they need help coming to terms with certain parts of the divorce. Mediation is a simple option that allows the couple to talk in a safe space. Nothing that the lawyer says during a mediation session is legally binding. This is simply an attempt by the lawyer to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. In extreme cases, the couple might choose to work with an arbiter who will decide for both sides and submit that decision to the court.
How is Child Support Handled?
Child support in Alabama is calculated using the income shares model. This model requires that both parents contribute to the lives of their children. Therefore, the higher earning parent would contribute more than the lower earning parent because the lower earning parent cannot make the same contribution. A percentage is used to determine how much each parent will pay, and a lawyer can help calculate that number based on information provided by the client. The child support model used by Alabama can be altered in extreme cases, such as the following:
- When the non-custodial parent spends a lot of money traveling to see their child
- When the child has college expenses after they reach the age of 18
- When the child has any form of unearned income
- When the court deems extra child support serves the best interests of the child
Because child support can be complicated, it helps if the parents agree on extra funding for the children. Parents might build extra funds into the parenting plan, or they might agree to pay for yearly expenses that enrich their children. If the couple cannot come to an agreement, the court has the right to act in the best interests of the children.
How Should Parents Create Parenting Plans?
When parents create parenting plans, they need to set forth rules for the children, parenting guidelines, and other simple lifestyle choices for the children, such as whether they attend religious services. The parenting plan can be quite detailed because children have specific needs. Additionally, the parenting plan will better explain the custody agreement because parents need to know how they will see their children, who is picking up the children, and if any additional adults are allowed to be included in the parenting plan.
Divorcing parents will likely move to separate homes, requiring a schedule for visitation and travel. Both parents are required to provide a safe place for the children to live, and certain parents may need to offer special accommodations for their children. Parents might also try nesting, where the child remains in the family home. The parents use a rented space when they are not enjoying visitation with their children and swap in and out of the rented space. While this plan can be expensive, it helps create a level of consistency for the children.
The parenting plan should also include how the parents will make decisions for the children. Parents need to decide who will make educational, medical, and financial decisions. If the plan is not detailed, there could be confusion in the future that might require legal action.
What Does Alimony Entail?
Alimony in the state of Alabama can be offered to the lower-earning spouse when they do not have high earning potential, they supported their ex-spouse’s career, or they need to be repaid for their contribution to the marriage. Alimony also allows the lower-earning spouse to maintain the quality of life they had before the divorce. These basic factors are used to generate an alimony order:
- The age of both parties
- The income of both parties
- The health of both parties
- The length of the marriage
- The earning potential of both parties
- Any misconduct that might have occurred during the marriage
- The chances that the lower-earning spouse can support themselves and possibly their children
Other factors may include severe illness or disability. For example, a spouse who is disabled likely needs more alimony to pay for treatment and any mobility aids that might be required.
Alimony is not permanent. Typically, alimony will last until the receiving spouse remarries, cohabitates with a partner, or becomes self-sufficient again. Additionally, the court might award rehabilitative alimony to the spouse who has lower earning potential. This spouse may need time to get their education, enter the workforce, and become self-sufficient again.
Because the state does not have a formula for alimony, divorcing spouses should work with lawyers who can calculate a fair alimony payment schedule. This amount will be presented to the court, or the judge can award alimony based on evidence provided during a hearing or trial.
Alimony is also not guaranteed. A lawyer can create a compelling argument for alimony that includes many factors. Someone asked to pay alimony may also need to mount a defense against alimony payments because they cannot afford them, do not believe they should pay, and have evidence of mitigating factors that might disqualify their ex-spouse from receiving alimony. A qualified lawyer can argue for either party.
What About Property Division?
When couples divide their property, it helps to do so before they file their divorce paperwork. When the two spouses can construct an asset division document, they will detail everything that goes to both spouses. This document should be so detailed that there is no room for confusion or interpretation. Asset division can include bank accounts, credit cards, houses, cars, and even a family business. For example, the business needs a succession plan if one spouse is bought out. The couple must decide how their furniture and collectibles will be divided. If the couple cannot agree on asset division, a judge must make the best determination without knowing the specifics of the marriage.
What If Ex-Spouses and Children Need Protection from Abuse?
A lawyer can file a Petition for Protection from Abuse when a spouse or children are afraid for their lives or safety. This protective order must list the reasons that it is needed, including:
- Overt threats
The judge has the right to file an immediate protective order or hold a hearing to determine the severity of the claims. A fearful spouse should reach out to their lawyer immediately if they believe this level of protection is required. Additionally, a divorce can be processed in the absence of a spouse if abandonment or abuse occurred. A lawyer may request a private hearing to prevent a victim from facing their abuser. This is especially important if the client’s ex-spouse has been imprisoned.
What are Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements?
A prenuptial agreement states the conditions of a divorce that may or may not occur in the future. Those who are affluent in terms of money, assets, or business interests can use a prenuptial agreement to easily divide assets if they file for divorce. Some couples do not create a prenuptial agreement when they get married because they have nothing to divide.
A postnuptial agreement helps the couple divide assets if a divorce occurs, but the document is written after the wedding. A couple could be married for 20 years but have a financial windfall or build a massive business. To make a divorce as simple as possible, a postnuptial agreement should be written and signed.
A lawyer should create the agreement, witness its signing, and get both spouses to agree. If both spouses do not agree, they need a lawyer who can explain the value of the document. One spouse should never surprise the other spouse with this document. The couple should work together on a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
What are Post-Judgment Modifications?
Modifications can be made at any time for a variety of reasons. The modification, however, needs to be made based on evidence that can be presented to the court. When a lawyer is hired for a modification, they need to know the reason for the modification, how they can prove that the modification must be made, and how the modification benefits the client. Common modifications include:
- A remarriage and change in alimony or child support payments
- A change in child support or alimony payments when the payer loses their job or has a significant life change
- To adjust the child custody agreement at the request of the child
- To adjust the child custody agreement if one spouse is moving far away from another
- To amend the divorce decree to add financial liabilities for one or both spouses
When a lawyer requests the modification, the ex-spouse can respond. Therefore, it is wise for both parties to have a lawyer. If someone is served with papers that outline a modification for which they do not agree, they need an attorney to represent them in court. The defendant can respond, make a counteroffer, and settle. If the modification cannot be resolved, a judge can decide in a hearing.
Modifications should also be made when children turn 18. Although a child may not be eligible for child support, the parents might agree to an amendment that pays for college expenses. Additionally, another modification may be needed when the children are grown. Both parents might not have a need to use their divorce decree, and most of the items can be removed. In the end, the decree shows only that the couple was divorced.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer?
When couples plan to divorce, they might continue to disagree and remain stuck in a circle of separation for years at a time. Hiring a lawyer makes it easier for the couple to complete the process. There are many couples that do not know how to proceed and move on.
A lawyer can act as a secretary who simply documents all the things that should be included in the divorce paperwork. Even in an uncontested divorce, the couple should have a lawyer document everything. A lawyer knows how to prepare documents correctly and can file without any trouble. All documents will be handled properly, and the court can quickly set a hearing date, stamp the divorce decree, and let the couple go on their way. A lawyer should also be used when a couple has several issues to sort out. When a lawyer offers mediation, the process can be facilitated by someone who has no stake in the matter.
Alabama Divorce Lawyers at Hodges Trial Lawyers, P.C. Assist Those Seeking a Divorce
If you are divorcing or planning to divorce, reach out to the Alabama divorce lawyers at Hodges Trial Lawyers, P.C. today for further assistance. We help clients through every step of their divorce, document all agreements, and assist with modifications when needed. Call us today at 256-539-3110 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Huntsville and Athens, Alabama, we serve families in North Alabama, Madison County, Limestone County, Marshall County, Jackson County, Morgan County, and Lauderdale County.