Here are six of the most frequently asked Alabama divorce, custody and family law questions:
1. What is the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce?
In Alabama, a contested divorce simply means that both sides can’t agree on how everything should be split (custody included) and must depend on the legal system to provide a fair resolution. An uncontested divorce is one where both parties are already in complete agreement on how to divide assets and custody before filing for divorce. In this case, the couple usually hires an attorney to draw up the appropriate documents and submit them to the court for approval. In our experience, nearly eight out of 10 divorces are contested even when a couple starts out thinking it will be uncontested, and almost never is a divorce involving custody uncontested.
2. Can’t I just get an annulment instead of a divorce?
Yes and No. An annulment basically means that in the eyes of the state, your marriage never existed. There are only a few instances where Alabama will allow an annulment, and being married for a short period isn’t one of them. Among the few reasons accepted are fraud or deception (such as concealment of criminal records, large debts, children, previous marriages, sexual orientation or STDs), inability or refusal by one party to consummate marriage, marriage to a close relative (such as siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.), or marriage under duress or the influence of drugs/alcohol.
3. Is my spouse automatically entitled to half of everything when we divorce?
No, not necessarily. A lot of factors play into how assets are divided, such as what assets were there before the marriage, how much each partner contributed to the marriage, length of the marriage and the list goes on. It’s best to consult an Alabama divorce lawyer to get a better idea as to what you and your spouse are entitled to as this question is very complex.
4. How is Alabama custody decided?
It is usually best if the parties can come to an agreement on custody arrangements for the sake of the children. However, this is usually not the case as most parents rightly don’t want to give up any time with their child so it is left for the court to decide. The court makes its determinations based on what they decide is in the best interest of the child, meaning not only their physical but also emotional well-being is considered. If a parent wants to file for changes to custody already in place, they usually must show a “material change” in the child’s current living arrangements such as abuse, neglect or unsafe situations before the court orders changes. As a side note, contrary to what some think, just because a spouse is cheating doesn’t automatically mean they will lose custody in Alabama.
5. Do the kids have a say in who gets custody?
This answer will vary from judge to judge, but as a rule of thumb it is nearly universal that the older a child is, the more likely a judge will hear them out. Teens will obviously have much more say in where they want to be, should they choose to say. Some judges will not allow minors younger than 14 or so to be involved in custody proceedings at all, while some judges will allow some children to talk to them privately in chambers with the attorneys from each side present. If abuse is alleged beforehand, it is even more likely a judge will want to talk to the child in chambers to assess what is going on, if anything. If you are in this situation with your child, I highly suggest hiring an experienced Birmingham custody lawyer who knows how to handle these touchy situations as well as minimize stress and trauma on your child.
6. What is spousal abuse and what should I do about it?
Spousal abuse can be verbal (such as screaming or threatening) or it can be physical. It can happen to men and women alike and we see plenty of both, sadly. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is best to remove yourself and consult an attorney to determine your rights. If you are being physically abused or fear for your safety, it is best to contact the authorities and remove yourself PHYSICALLY from the situation as quickly as possible. After you have filed police reports is the time to seek counsel of your attorney. Your attorney can do such things as attempt to persuade the court to grant you the temporary rights to your home, custody of your children and a protection from abuse order while you seek further action such as a divorce.