A divorce represents a major life change for not only the parents, but also any children of the marriage. If parties can work out their differences amicably, some of the negative effects of the separation on the child can be minimized. In Alabama, the courts will step in and ensure that the best interests of the child are being met by any custody and support arrangement. Understanding what factors a judge will look to for guidance can remove some of the confusion and help parties work toward a solution that puts the needs of their children first.
Residency Requirements and Grounds for Divorce in Alabama
In order to obtain a divorce in Alabama, one party must have resided within the state for at least six months. Alabama recognizes both fault grounds and no-fault grounds for divorce. Fault grounds include adultery, abandonment, imprisonment for an extended period, and domestic violence. No-fault typically involves a showing that the parties are incompatible to such a degree that they can no longer live together.
Division of Marital Property
When parties divorce in Alabama, the court will divide the marital property based on what is "equitable" for both parties. This standard looks at what is fair and not necessarily what is equal, which could mean a larger share for a spouse who stayed home during the marriage so the other spouse could pursue an education or get a job. The parties are encouraged to work out their own agreement regarding property division, which is generally looked upon favorably by the judge.
Overview of Custody
If parties to a divorce in Alabama have minor children, the court will need to make a custody order. There are two types of custody, physical and legal. Physical custody essentially refers to who the child lives with as well as who has the power to make day-to-day decisions regarding the child. Legal custody refers to the power to make major decisions regarding the child's life, including those involving religion, medical treatment and education. Custody can be either joint or held solely by one parent. It is not uncommon for parties to share one type of custody and not another. When one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent often has visitation rights.
Best Interest Standard
When determining custody, the court will focus on what is in the best interests of the child. While this can seem arbitrary, the judge will look to specific factors, such as the age of the child, specific needs of the child, living environment of both parents and capacity to care for the child, relationship of each parent to the child, and any other relevant factors.