Couples preparing for marriage don't always consider what will happen to their property in the event the marriage ends. Alabama law dictates how the courts divide property in divorces in the state. These laws establish not only what property gets divided, but also how the courts must distribute it. Always seek the counsel of an Alabama attorney if you need legal advice about Alabama divorce law.
Basic Property Distribution
Alabama distributes property in a divorce on the basis of "equitable distributions." In an equitable distribution of property, the court seeks to give each spouse a fair share of all the property, both assets and debts, that the couple owns. This does not mean that each spouse gets half of all property. The court can take into account facts and factors as it deems appropriate in each divorce case, and there is no set of property distribution guidelines.
Alabama courts consider two types of property in a divorce: separate and marital property. In general, either spouse gets to keep separate property, while marital property is subject to equitable distribution. Separate property is typically that which either spouse acquired before the marriage or inherited during it. However, some separate property can become marital property. For example, if a wife inherits a home but the husband invests money repairing it, improving it or paying the mortgage, the court may consider it marital property.
Alabama property settlements can also be determined by the terms of a prenuptial agreement into which the spouses entered. Alabama requires that prenuptial agreements be in writing. Other than this general requirement, the couple can agree to any terms they choose. The couple can, for example, predetermine that all property, either marital or separate, is distributed equally at divorce. Even though Alabama law does not impose this requirement, the court will accept these terms as long as the prenuptial agreement is valid.
Unlike child support or alimony orders, Alabama courts do not generally change or modify property settlements after making the order. In general, a property decree is final after 30 days have elapsed, unless the error is a clerical one or the court's order is ambiguous or unclear. Otherwise, the court cannot change the property settlement even if either spouse experiences a significant change in circumstances.