Is an Attorney Necessary in an Alabama Divorce?

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There are few things more stressful than going through divorce proceedings. Even if there are no children present and you have few shared assets to divide, you’ll still have to worry about navigating the legal system and making sure all of the essential paperwork is filled out correctly and filed on time.

No responsible person would argue that you shouldn’t hire a divorce lawyer in Cullman for a contested divorce. However, some people believe that they can save money by avoiding legal fees and initiating uncontested divorces without any help. While it’s technically legal for Alabama residents to represent themselves during any kind of divorce proceeding, that doesn’t mean a lawyer is unnecessary, even for an uncontested divorce.

What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

Part of the reason that there are so many misconceptions about filing for an uncontested divorce is that it doesn’t require going to court and fighting for one’s fair share of money, custody, or anything else. In Alabama, spouses that decide to divorce on the grounds of incompatibility or irreconcilable differences can file for an uncontested divorce without having to go through expensive and lengthy courtroom battles.

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses must reach an agreement about all of the details related to the ending of their marriage. This may sound easy to some, but it’s generally not. Issues can include not just the division of property, but also the division of debt. The presence of one or more children in the family can further complicate the matter. Alabama law determines child support automatically according to predetermined rules of judicial administration, but custody is another issue entirely.

Why It Helps to Have a Lawyer

At this point, you might be asking yourself if these generalizations really apply to your particular situation. Even if you don’t have kids, trust that they do. Having a lawyer on your side won’t just ensure that your rights are protected throughout the divorce proceeding, although that’s certainly one major benefit. It will also simplify the entire process, making it possible for you to put trying times with your spouse behind you and find ways to move on alone.

Initiating the Proceedings

If you haven’t yet looked into how to get a divorce in Alabama, you may not realize yet that it’s surprisingly difficult to get information about how to initiate the process. There are plenty of articles online that offer general guidelines, but just try to get information from your local court. Fair warning: the clerks will be hesitant to provide anything aside from the most basic information. If you need further guidance, they’ll tell you to contact a lawyer.

Getting Paperwork Approved

Getting an uncontested divorce in Alabama requires filing a lot of paperwork. It all needs to be filed on time with the proper authorities, and even if everything is in order, the judge can still decline to approve the terms of a divorce. Divorce lawyers know how to draw up agreements that are more likely to be approved and can suggest alternatives to terms that could hold up the divorce proceedings. They can also help with filing the other mandatory forms required of parents of minor children filing for divorce.

Understanding Local Rules

As if filing for divorce weren’t hard enough, every local courthouse has a different set of rules for how to complete the process in Alabama. In Etowah County, for example, the plaintiff is required to provide testimony during a walk-through. In Cherokee County, there’s no need for a walk-through at all and a judge will sign off on the paperwork after a 30-day waiting period. Some counties, such as Mobile County, even require that commissioners be approved to take testimony. Without a lawyer, even figuring out what to expect can be a challenge.

Ensuring Your Rights Are Protected

Do you trust your spouse implicitly? The chances are good based on the fact that you are planning to file for a divorce that the answer to this question is no, and if that’s the case, you should take steps to protect yourself. It’s not uncommon for people who agree to an uncontested divorce and move forward without seeking legal counsel to find after the fact that the terms of the agreement are not as fair as they had thought. Once the paperwork has been approved, there’s no going back, so consulting a lawyer first is the best way to protect your rights.

Exploring the Alternative

If you’re not convinced that it’s worth hiring a lawyer yet, let’s take a look at the alternative because remember, it is technically legal for divorcing spouses to act as pro se litigants. As such, they are entitled to information from the court clerks. The problem is that there is no guarantee the information will be accurate as applied to your particular situation. Remember, while lawyers are required to act in your best interests, clerks have no such injunction against giving bad advice under the guise of helping with paperwork.

The clerks are required to give you the paperwork you need to file. That doesn’t mean they’ll offer advice or guidance, nor does it guarantee that any help they do offer will point you in the right direction. To make matters worse, without a lawyer, you’ll have no protections if you accidentally file paperwork in a way that goes against your best interests. If the divorce involves significant assets or minor children, the negative results from even one mistake can be disastrous.

It’s Worth Hiring a Lawyer

At this point, it should be clear that while it’s legal to file for divorce without an attorney in Alabama, it’s certainly not in your best interests. The fact that your divorce is uncontested by your spouse doesn’t mean the judge will automatically approve all of the terms, nor does it mean that pro se litigants are subject to a different set of rules from those that choose to rely on experienced attorneys. It’s worth at least scheduling a consultation to discuss the particulars of your case with a divorce lawyer.