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What to Expect from the Divorce Process

Statistically, divorces are not uncommon. However, it is apparent from conversations with our clients that few really understand how they work. What most people know about divorces comes second and third hand and are reminiscent of that age-old game “Telephone”. You know, where someone tells something to the one next to them, and that person tells the one next to them, and so on until it reaches the end of the line. What is understood by the last to hear is not what was originally said.

1. A divorce is a lawsuit. There is a plaintiff and a defendant.

  • Technically, one must prove grounds for a divorce as in any other lawsuit requesting equitable relief, but in Alabama, it’s merely “irreconcilable differences” or the like, which is a low hurdle.

  • As with any other lawsuit, there is a complaint and an answer which must be filed with the court, and which become public record in all but very extreme circumstances.

  • There is also discovery. This is a court-ruled process by which each party is allowed to ask the other for facts and documents which are relevant, or which may lead to the discovery of potentially relevant information. These questions can be asked in writing and in person. If they are in person, they are called depositions. If in writing, they are interrogatories. The answers in both must be sworn to and given under oath. Each side is also allowed to ask the other for documents, which includes electronic data and information.

  • Both may also issue subpoenas to third parties for information, documents, or testimony (a deposition).

2. The court sets the case for trial. Trials are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis – in the order of their filing.

  • Cases are heard by local judges (unless they must recuse for some reason) and are heard without a jury. This means that the judge decides any disputed facts and then applies the law to the facts and renders a decision. The judge will decide all issues on which the parties do not otherwise agree, which may include a division of property or assets, responsibility for debts (as between the parties), alimony, child support, custody, etc.

  • Once a decision is rendered, an aggrieved party may appeal. However, the grounds or bases for an appeal are limited.

3. As with other lawsuits, the issues involved in a divorce can be resolved by compromise settlement agreement. However, the court will still need to enter an order to make the agreement enforceable and official (which means the filing of a complaint and answer).

  • The court has the right to review any agreement made.

  • The parties may mediate their dispute and the court may order them to attempt mediation. Mediation involves hiring an independent, neutral, third-party who serves as the mediator and who works with the parties as they attempt to negotiate a compromise settlement.

Questions about the divorce process are best answered by someone who knows and by someone experienced in the area like an experience Huntsville divorce attorney. Every case is different. Decisions about divorce shouldn’t be made without the advice of a divorce lawyer experienced with divorces in our area. We’re happy to help.


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