You can file a complaint for a decree of legal separation in Alabama if you want to stay married but live apart. You and your spouse can determine the terms of the agreement, or else the court will decide what is fair in terms of property division, financial support and parenting time.
What Legal Separation Means in Alabama
In some states, a couple must live apart for a certain period of time before they are eligible to file for a no-fault divorce. This is sometimes called a legal separation. However, legal separation in Alabama is an entirely different animal.
If an Alabama couple is married but doesn't want to continue living together, they can divorce. If they aren't ready to divorce or can't because of religious beliefs or other personal issues, they can file for legal separation.
Those who are granted a legal separation move into a separate legal status called "legally separated." Their marriage is not dissolved, so neither can marry again unless and until they get a divorce. But they aren't really married either, in that they don't live together.
Read More: Alabama State Legal Separation Laws
Filing for Legal Separation
You can file a complaint for legal separation in Alabama, just like a complaint for divorce. One spouse needs to meet a six-month residency requirement, and one or both spouses must want to live separately.
You must file the legal separation complaint with the court and pay the filing fee. If your spouse opposes the motion, you will have to attend an evidentiary hearing. If you and your spouse are in agreement, file a legal separation agreement with the complaint and ask the court to approve it. You may or may not require a court hearing.
It is Easier if You Both Agree
Just like in a divorce case, it's easier, quicker and cheaper if you and your spouse arrive at a separation agreement about property division, support issues and parenting time. Separation agreements cover the same topics a divorce agreement covers, including who gets to live in the house, who pays the bills and who gets child custody.
The terms of the legal separation are not cast in stone. They can be changed if both spouses agree on changes or if the court changes them after one spouse shows proof of a material change in circumstances.
Legal Separation vs. Divorce
Why get a legal separation instead of a divorce in Alabama? In general, people who opt for legal separation either have personal beliefs against divorce or have personal issues that would make divorce a problem.
Some religions prohibit divorce, and members of those religions may choose legal separation as a way to keep church rules yet live apart. But it could be something more mundane such as insurance.
Divorce and Losing Spousal Medical Insurance
Most employers stop providing medical insurance to an employee's spouse once a divorce goes through. But some of those same employers continue covering a spouse who is legally separated but not divorced. If a spouse has a medical condition and might have a hard time getting other health insurance coverage, a legal separation can literally be a lifesaver.
The Role of Uncertainty
Add uncertainty to the list of reasons for a legal separation. You think you want to go it alone, but you aren't sure. Your spouse won't go for a divorce, but he'll consider a legal separation. It's a middle ground that gives you time to consider your options. You can get together again or file for divorce at any point.
On the other hand, it isn't final. Neither spouse can remarry since they are still married. The couple's rights to date others or have relationships while legally separated are unclear in Alabama.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.