Divorce may be defined as the legal dissolution of a marriage. Married couples do not have a legal or a constitutional right to seek a divorce, but states such as Alabama commonly grant divorces because forcing a couple to stay married would go against public policy.
“No-fault” and “fault” are the two types of grounds, or justifications, for a divorce in the United States. In some states, no-fault is the only acceptable justification for a divorce, even if fault grounds exist within the marriage. Other states, including Alabama, allow the members of a couple to select either a no-fault or a fault divorce. To file for a divorce in Alabama, a person must have been a resident of the state for at least six months.
The United States first adopted the concept of a no-fault divorce in the late 1960's, and nearly all of states currently allow for some form of it. A no-fault divorce is one in which the parties do not legally fault, or blame, one another for the divorce. Grounds for a no-fault divorce in Alabama include the following: incompatibility of temperament, meaning that the spouses can no longer get along; irretrievable breakdown of the marriage without the likely possibility of reconciliation; and voluntary abandonment of “bed and board” a full one year prior to the commencement of divorce proceedings. More details regarding no-fault divorce in Alabama can be found at divorcesource.com.
Many states require a “cooling-off” period of separation for a specific period of time before no-fault divorce proceedings can begin. During this time, the couple is required to live separately from each other with intent that the separation will become permanent. The duration of the cooling-off period varies from state to state. In Alabama, the required length of legal separation before the divorce can proceed is two years. When a judgment for divorce is entered in Alabama, it is awarded to both members of the couple.
Some states also allow fault grounds for divorce. Common fault grounds may include cruelty, desertion, adultery, prison confinement, habitual intemperance (drunkenness or drug addiction), and impotency. In Alabama, the fault grounds for divorce include the following: a party being physically and incurably incapacitated as a result of the marriage, adultery, imprisonment in Alabama or any other state for at least two years of a seven-year or longer sentence, habitual drug and alcohol use, the confinement of one party in a mental institution for at least five successive years with evidence of being “hopelessly and incurably insane," the wife’s pregnancy without the husband’s knowledge at the time of the marriage, domestic violence, and evidence that one party has lived separate and without the support of the other for two years in Alabama before the divorce complaint was filed. For a complete text of the grounds and jurisdictional requirements for a divorce in Alabama, see Alabama Section 30-2-1.
The specific grounds required for a divorce vary widely across the United States. The American Bar Association provides a variety of information regarding the divorce requirements state by state on their Section of Family Law website. A chart comparing all 50 states can be found at abanet.org.
*An example of an Alabama Divorce Settlement Agreement can be seen on Free Legal Aid.