You can obtain some, not all, Alabama divorce papers directly from the court or from commercial companies providing this service. Other papers, such as evidentiary filings, remain in the possession of your attorney.
Available Filings in Alabama's Divorce Records Directory
Alabama's Center for Health Statistics maintains and issues certified copies of divorce certificates (sometimes referred to as "divorce decrees") from 1950 onward. You can order these in person, by mail or online through the Alabama Center for Health Statistics or from your county's Department of Health. These are public; anyone can order a copy of your divorce certificate if they know your Social Security number.
Alternatively, you can order a divorce certificate online on an expedited basis from one of several companies providing this service, the largest of which is VitalChek, a division of LexisNexis, the legal research service. VitalChek charges about $40 for an Alabama divorce certificate. Other companies also provide Alabama divorce certificates, but at a slightly higher cost. Whichever company you choose, be sure you know enough about them to trust them with your Social Security number.
If you need to get a copy of an Alabama divorce certificate issued before 1950, you'll have to go through the circuit court in the county where the divorce occurred.
Obtaining Other Divorce Papers
In the process of obtaining a divorce, you may have created a number of other filings that the state of Alabama does not keep once the divorce case has concluded. These may be written declarations of witnesses or declarations you or your former spouse have made in support of arguments relevant to child custody, child support, temporary protective orders and restraining orders. Both parties may also have submitted financial or other papers that have become evidence in court.
The state of Alabama does not keep any of this material; few states do. Your attorney, however, keeps these, usually for a long time because the documents may become relevant – in a subsequent appeal, for example. Most attorneys make these available at minimum cost, often for a photocopying charge of a dollar or less per page.
Sometimes, when a divorce is reasonably friendly and there are no contested issues, you and your spouse may decide to avoid divorce courts and divorce attorneys and conduct what is often called a "collaborative divorce." In these cases, the only divorce records that exist are the Alabama divorce certificate and those records you and your spouse have compiled in the process of coming to an agreement. In these cases, since there is no official record keeper, these records will exist only as long as you or your spouse decide to keep them. Divorce attorney Myra Chack Fleischer, lead counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby, recommends keeping them for seven years. At that point, she suggests, they serve little legal purpose and may only be a sad reminder of the end or your marriage.