Spouse Rights in Divorce in Alabama

By Bernadette A. Safrath
Half, the marriages, the United States, divorce
ring image by Jens Klingebiel from Fotolia.com

Approximately half of all marriages end in divorce. In Alabama, either party has the right to file for divorce and request that property be distributed, spousal support, custody of any children born of the marriage and child support for those children.

Divorce in Alabama

Alabama uses no fault divorce, in which a spouse has the right to file for divorce based on "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage" or "incompatibility of temperament." The state also has fault divorce, in which a spouse can state grounds or reasons for wanting the divorce. Grounds include adultery, alcohol or drug abuse, imprisonment of one spouse and domestic violence. A spouse may choose to file with grounds because fault is considered during property distribution, meaning an adulterer or violent spouse may be punished by the court, which can award more property to the victimized spouse.

Property Distribution

Alabama divides property based on equitable distribution. Property is not always divided equally but instead fairly amongst the spouses. A court considers several factors when dividing property, including the age and health of the spouses, the length of the marriage, each spouse's income and ability to maintain employment, retirement benefits, the spouses' standard of living, either spouse's contribution to the other's education or increased earning capacity and which spouse will have custody of the children. However, not all property is considered marital. Property brought into the marriage by either party and kept apart from the marital property is considered "separate property." Additionally, anything inherited by one spouse from her family is separate property if kept apart from marital property.

Spousal Support or Alimony

Spousal support or alimony is awarded to one spouse at the judge's discretion. In Alabama, spousal support is usually awarded for longer-term marriages, when one spouse has a considerably lower income and was dependent on the other spouse. A judge examines the age and health of both spouses, the length of the marriage, the income of both spouses, the spouses' standard of living during the marriage and any "marital misconduct," such as adultery or domestic violence.

Child Custody

If children were born of the marriage, a court must also decide custody. Alabama awards custody to either spouse, regardless of age and gender of the children, and gives no preference to mothers or fathers. Alabama law does prefer joint custody, meaning parents will share physical and legal custody. Physical custody pertains to whom the children live with, and legal custody refers to each of the parent's right to make decisions regarding the child's care.

Child custody in Alabama is determined using the "best interests of the child" standard. The factors a court examines include each parent's ability to provide a stable home environment, each parent's physical and mental health, each parent's relationship with the child, any special needs of the child, including educational, medical or emotional and the child's preference, if the court believes the child is mature enough.

Child Support

The amount of child support in Alabama is based on a formula using each spouse's income and the number of children needing support. The court can also include an additional amount for health insurance or any health care costs not covered by insurance as well as any child care costs to allow the custodial parent to work or attend school.