When a couple is getting divorced, every single item and aspect of the previous marriage has to be sorted out by the courts. Legally speaking, the courts must turn the 1 household that existed during the marriage into the 2 separate households of each former spouse. Among the many considerations that must be considered, a universal one is property division, specifically Alabama property division.
No divorcing couple should attempt the process of property division in the courts without the guidance of a licensed attorney who works in these cases. Property division laws can be complex, vary from state to state and lawyers have the proper training and experience to tell the judge what a divorcing spouse wants or needs from the property division.
Property Division Divorce Laws in Alabama
The purpose of Alabama property division laws is to make sure that marital property is allocated to each spouse based on a number of factors determined under Alabama state law. Alabama marital property is divided under the considerations of Alabama case law but the trial court judge receives great discretion when converting Alabama marital property into separate Alabama divorce property.
Alabama is an equitable distribution state. This means that with regard to Alabama divorce assets, anything the spouses acquired prior to a marriage usually will not be included in Alabama divorce assets or Alabama divorce property. The only property that comes into the court's distribution is that which is legally classified as property of the marriage subject to Alabama case law.
What is Considered Marital and Non-Marital Property?
Marital property consists of joint items acquired during a marriage as well as separate items that were brought into a marriage and converted into marital property. Some examples of marital property are:
- Joint checking/savings accounts
- Separate property of a spouse that is placed into a joint checking/savings account
- Real estate owned by both spouses
- Gifts from one spouse to the other
Non-marital property is property that each spouse had before the marriage or acquired individually without including it into the marital property. Some examples of non-marital property are:
- Separate checking/savings accounts created before the marriage
- Stock certificates owned by one spouse before the marriage
- Separate Inheritances
- Any property classified as this under an agreement between the parties
Dividing Assets and Debt
After the court decides which property is available for distribution, the next step is property valuation. The final step is the allocation of marital property.
Under Alabama case law, the court considers a number of factors in dividing assets and debt. Some of these are:
- The marriage's length and the parties' station in life during the marriage
- The parties' future prospects
- The parties' ability to maintain their current standard of living
- The parties' value & type of property owned
Using statutory factors, judges decide how a marriage's assets should be divided. Here is a list of the most common property items and the most common allocation scheme used.
- Cash: Divided equitably among the spouses.
- Example 1: A joint savings account has $9,000. The court would most likely determine a proper allocation to each spouse
- Example 2: A joint savings account has $5,000. One spouse contributed $4,000 and the other contributed $1,000. The amount may be divided equally or be more balanced if the $1,000 contributor has fewer assets than the $4,000 contributor.
- Retirement Plans: Divided based on the
duration of the marriage at the time the benefits accrued, looking at the
present value of the plan and/or survivor benefits.
- Example 1: A spouse got benefits in a retirement plan after working for 25 years and was married for 20 of those years. The ex-spouse would be entitled to a portion of the retirement plan that was acquired during the marriage.
- Example 2: A spouse has an unvested retirement plan. No division takes place until the plan is payable to the spouse who has it.
- Vehicles: Divided based on the values at
the date determined by the court. May be
sold or given to a spouse outright.
- Example 1: A boat is owned by one spouse. The boat may be sold with the proceeds to be given to a poorer spouse or the boat may be given to one of the spouses outright.
- Example 2: A car has a shared title. The car may be sold with the proceeds going to each spouse equally or the car may be given to a poorer spouse.
Determined based upon each spouse's health, availability of alternate insurance
payments from martial income.
- Example 1: One spouse has covered the other under employer provided health insurance. The other spouse is in poor health and could not afford alternate health care coverage. The court may order the first spouse to continue covering that spouse for a set time and/or award money to the ailing spouse to get new coverage.
- Example 2: One spouse has a life insurance policy where the ex-spouse is to get survivor benefits. The ex-spouse would be entitled to a portion of the payment for the premiums as determined by the court.
Settling Disputes in a Divorce Case with Property and Asset Division
If a former spouse is being uncooperative or you want to change the division, you may go back to court to seek enforcement or modification. The trial court will then decide how to proceed.
The trial court's determinations will not be changed by a higher court unless there was an abuse of discretion. This is extremely difficult to prove.
Help From an Alabama Property Divorce Lawyer
Having an Alabama property divorce lawyer is key to getting the fairest and most equitable result in the property division phase of a divorce. The lawyer can provide professional guidance, keep one informed of likely outcomes and help a divorcing spouse present the best arguments and presentation to the trial judge handling the divorce.