Alabama Family Law: An Overview
Alabama’s family laws ensure fair treatment for you and your family members if an issue arises. They also protect your family’s and the community’s best interests.
Alabama family laws are complex and a family lawyer’s advice and assistance can be very helpful when navigating family courts. If you have a family law matter, such as divorce, domestic violence, child custody, etc in Alabama it can be critical to contact a family law attorney in a city near you right away.
Alabama Marriage Requirements
Alabama has liberal marriage laws compared to other states. The restrictions on obtaining a marriage certificate/marriage license in Alabama are:
- Minors under 16 years of age cannot marry.
- Children between the ages of 16 and 18 (age of majority) may marry with the consent of their parents or guardians.
- You can marry first cousins without restriction.
- You cannot marry the following:
- Great grandparents
- Stepparent or step-child as long as the marriage is in place which creates such relationship
- Alabama has a time of marriage requirement after getting a divorce: you must wait 60 days finalizing your divorce before remarrying.
- You don’t have to be an Alabama resident to marry, though some counties may enforce a local residency requirement.
- You can’t have a proxy marriage (i.e., when a third party performs the ceremony in place of the bride or groom).
- Same-sex partners are able to have a legal marriage pursuant to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling which ruled prohibitions on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Alabama Prenuptial Agreements
When you and your partner are planning your marriage, the last thing on your mind is the marriage ending. But a prenuptial agreement can prevent conflict between the two of you if you divorce. You can think of this agreement a lot like insurance—it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
One advantage of a prenuptial agreement is that it makes it clear who owns what property in the event of a divorce or legal separation. That clarity makes dividing the property easier. First, it would be best to determine what you and your partner owned individually (separate property) before you married.
Second, it would help if you decided how you want to divide the property you acquired during your marriage, known as marital property/marital assets. For example:
- Real property
- Debts (such as credit cards)
An Alabama prenuptial agreement may also include other provisions, such as for alimony award or alimony payments. But be aware that there are some matters a family court must decide. So, any provisions dealing with these matters are unenforceable if you include them in the agreement. For example:
- Child support arrangements
- Child Custody agreements
- Visitation rights
Adoption in Alabama
Alabama’s family laws permit adoption. To adopt, you must meet statutory requirements and complete an extensive adoption process. During the adoption process, parental rights are terminated as to the child’s biological parents.
Your family may adopt minor children (age 18 or younger) of any physical or mental condition. Children aged 14 or older must provide written consent for adoption.
In certain situations, you may adopt an adult.
The adult must also be either totally and permanently disabled or intellectually disabled. They must also consent in writing to the adoption unless they have an intellectual disability.
Any adult or married couple may adopt.
An Alabama adoption lawyer can help you navigate the state’s adoption process.
Child Custody Laws in Alabama
Child custody matters are often a major source of family law litigation and can be a part of a divorce or legal custody case between unmarried parents in family courts.
It is important to understand legal custody vs physical custody. Legal custody of a child/children is either joint custody or sole custody. In joint custody, both parents are legal custodians and are able to make major decisions on behalf of their minor children. In sole legal custody, one parent is the custodial parent and they make all the major decisions on behalf of their children and the other parent is the non-custodial parent. Major decisions generally include major healthcare decisions, where a minor child goes to school, where the minor child resides, and what religion, if any, in which the minor child is raised.
Alabama also has joint physical custody or sole physical custody in child custody battles. It is more common to have some sort of joint physical custody situation as this is how parents share time with their children. Even in a sole legal custody situation, the non-custodial parent likely has visitation rights (or some physical custody) with the minor children.
While Alabama child custody laws prefer joint legal custody, but a physical custody (visitation schedule) does not necessarily mean an equal physical custody schedule.
It is also important to note that family courts in Alabama base child custody determinations on the “best interest of the child”. Factors a court may consider are (but not limited to): domestic violence between the parents (married parents or unmarried parents), the child’s wishes, the ability of the parents to work together and cooperate with one another, and the ability of each parent to foster a positive relationship between their child and the other parent.
Alabama’s family laws, including child custody and divorce are complex and confusing. Consult with an Alabama family law attorney to help you understand the law and protect your and your family’s legal rights.