Family Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How does the divorce process work?
Each divorce is different for every family. While a wide variety of issues have to be addressed in any divorce, most divorce cases involve resolution of the following matters: child custody and child support, spousal support, equitable division of marital property, equitable distribution of marital debt, assignment of separate property to the person who can prove that it is his or hers, and payment of attorney’s fees. Here, at Vickers and White, we will sit down and review the specific issues that your divorce case will entail and develop a strategy that effectively addresses each of your unique issues at no charge.
How long does it take to get a divorce?
The quickest way to be divorced is to resolve any and all issues between you and your spouse and to execute any and all of the required paperwork before a case is ever even filed – what is referred to an “uncontested divorce.” Once the documents required in an “uncontested divorce” are filed, the State of Alabama, pursuant to § 30-2-8.1 of the Alabama Code, imposes a 30-day waiting period before the Court can enter the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce. In other words, a divorce may be entered in as few as 30 days. At Vickers and White, we will prepare and file all the requisite documents with the Court for a flat fee. Feel free to contact us regarding a free consultation or to inquire as to the fee involved.
For “contested divorces” (meaning they are not formally settled prior to being filed), the timeframe will be significantly longer, and an exact end date cannot be calculated with specificity. Factors that impact how long these “contested divorces” take to resolve include the county in which the case is filed, the actions taken by you and by your attorney, the actions taken by your spouse and by his or her attorney, whether a Guardian ad Litem and/or other experts are involved in the case, and how your assigned judge handles his or her particular docket. Not only do contested divorces last longer, but they can also be very expensive due to the amount of time and paperwork that is involved. At Vickers and White, we will work both with you and your spouse’s attorney to achieve the best and most expedient resolution of your case, whether this involves negotiating with opposing counsel in order to avoid the necessity of going to trial or trying your case before a judge.
Do I have to live in Alabama to file for divorce here?
When the defendant is a not a resident of Alabama, the other party to the marriage must have been a bona fide resident of the State of Alabama for at least six months prior to any divorce complaint being filed.
What are the grounds for divorce in Alabama?
In Alabama, the law recognizes twelve grounds for granting a divorce. The grounds are:
- Crime against nature;
- Habitual drunkenness/drug addiction;
- Incompatibility of temperament;
- Mental incapacity/insanity;
- Irretrievable breakdown;
- Violence/cruelty; and
- Non-support and separation.
Do I have to go to court to get a divorce?
Whether or not you must appear in court usually depends upon whether either party wishes for temporary (“pendente lite”) relief that cannot be resolved by agreement and whether either party wishes for final relief that cannot be resolved by agreement. Most cases are settled out of the courtroom on both a temporary and final basis. Typically, a judge is willing to receive an affidavit swearing that the marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no hope of reconciliation or there exists such a complete incompatibility of temperament that the parties can no longer live together, and that the agreement between the spouses and related documents should be incorporated into any Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce that is entered by the Court.
What is mediation?
Mediation is one method of settling your case in a more amicable fashion and without the unpredictability and cost of resolution of your family disputes in the courtroom. The mediator is not a judge; he or she facilitates the settlement process by meeting with both parties in separate rooms and determining, by traveling between the respective sides and conveying offers between them, whether a settlement can be reached. In some Alabama counties, mediation is required before the Court will set your divorce action for a final hearing. Our family law attorney has extensive experience in advising clients throughout the mediation process so you are able to make the most informed decision when deciding whether to resolve your case in this manner.
How is child support calculated in Alabama?
Judges calculate child support in Alabama based on the Child Support Guidelines (found in A.R.J.A. Rule 32) and in the form of an “income share” model of a child support worksheet where each party’s percentage contribution to the parties’ combined gross income is the basis for the child support calculation. The most recent child support worksheet form (Form CS-42) can be found here and the schedule of child-support obligations can be found here. The mathematical formula used to calculate child support takes into account prior child support orders for other children, health insurance costs, child care costs, and alimony payments. However, under certain circumstances, the settlement agreement by the parties or the final order of the Court can deviate from the amount set out by the guidelines. Our family law attorney can collect the necessary information from you and provide you with an idea of how much child support you might be owed or what amount you might owe your spouse, depending on the eventual outcome of your case.
What happens if my former spouse’s income goes up or down?
Both child support and periodic alimony are modifiable based upon a change in either party’s income and/or financial circumstances. The Child Support Guidelines specifically state that, if after application of the guidelines there is a 10% difference in the existing support and the recalculated amount, then there is a rebuttable presumption that the support should be modified. Child support is also modifiable based upon a change in the needs, conditions, and circumstances of the child. After a consultation, our family law attorney can advise you on whether you might be entitled to a modification and the process that entails.
What is legal custody?
The term “legal custody” encompasses each parent’s right to information about his or her child and concerns decision making regarding the child. When parents have joint legal custody, they are under a duty to notify and communicate with each other about issues concerning their child.
What is physical custody?
The term “physical custody” refers to the legal arrangement governing where a child will physically be during weekdays, weekends, holidays, and summer vacation.
Can a child custody and visitation arrangement be modified?
Initially, before a court will consider modifying an existing child custody arrangement, the parent seeking the change must show that a material change affecting the child’s welfare has come about since the most recent custody determination. The standard applied by the Court when making a decision regarding a change in custody depends on whether the parties currently share joint custody. Where the parties share joint legal and physical custody, the appropriate standard is the best interest of the child. When one party has previously been awarded sole physical custody of the child by the Court, then the McLendon standard applies. In Ex parte McLendon, the Alabama Supreme Court set the standard that a court must apply when one of the parties to the divorce proceedings seeks to modify custody at a later date. There are three requirements that must be met:
- The positive goods brought about by the modification must more than offset the inherently disruptive effect caused by uprooting the child;
- The parent seeking the custody change must show that he or she is fit; and
- The change of custody must materially promote the child’s best interest and welfare.
Once our family law attorney has been provided with the facts of your individual case, she can help you determine whether you might satisfy the requirements for a child custody modification.
Criminal Law Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How should I choose a criminal defense lawyer?
If you are accused of a crime, your defense is extremely important. There are many attorneys to choose from. You should choose a criminal defense attorney who is highly experienced and willing to fight for their clients. Your lawyer should be knowledgeable, helpful, and willing to take the time to fully explain things to you so that you can make the most informed decision. At our firm, both criminal defense attorneys have comprehensive experience as both prosecutors and defense lawyers, which provides them with significant insight in determining the best strategy for your individual case.
What type of cases does your firm handle?
Our criminal defense attorneys handle all types of criminal cases – from non-violent misdemeanor crimes to murder. They frequently represent clients in federal, state, and municipal court. No matter the seriousness of the offense, it is always best to have an experienced attorney fighting on your side.
What should I do following an arrest?
The first thing that you should do after you have been arrested is to ask for a lawyer. Exercise your constitutional right to remain silent until you have consulted with an attorney and have one present with you at any interview with law enforcement authorities.
What should my attorney be doing once he has been hired?
Once you have retained counsel to represent you in your case, there are several essential steps that your attorney should begin to undertake. These include:
- Helping you and your family arrange bail;
- Developing both a short-term and long-term strategy for your unique case;
- Explaining the elements of the crime you have been charged with;
- Discussing the potential punishment if convicted; and
- Reaching out to the prosecutors to obtain discovery and discuss any potential plea offers.
What is an arraignment?
After criminal charges are filed, you will have a court appearance called an arraignment. At your arraignment, you will be told what charges you are facing and you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. You will also be provided with additional court dates for status hearings and your trial date.
What is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?
Misdemeanors are lesser offenses that are punishable by no more than one year in jail. Felonies are more serious criminal charges that can result in large fines, more than one year in prison, and additional penalties. Sometimes, our experienced lawyers can successfully negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf to have felony charges reduced to misdemeanors.
What is pre-trial diversion?
Pre-trial diversion is a program offered primarily to first-time offenders that allows defendants an opportunity to have the charges against them dropped. This program involves appearing in court, providing drug screens, attending rehabilitation and/or victim impact classes, paying fines and costs, and other similar requirements. To enter into a diversion program, you must first enter into a “conditional” guilty plea, admitting to the crime. If you complete the diversion program, this guilty plea is removed and your case is dismissed. However, if you are removed from the program, then the plea becomes final and the terms of the sentence are imposed. After a consultation, our criminal defense attorneys can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for pre-trial diversion and whether that is something that should be pursued.
What is an expungement?
An expungement allows a criminal charge on a person’s record to be removed if certain requirements are met. Only charges can be expunged, not convictions. Criminal charges that qualify for expungement include non-felony charges (a misdemeanor criminal offense, a violation, a traffic violation, or a municipal ordinance violation) and non-violent felony charges under certain circumstances.
A non-felony charge may be expunged if one of the following criteria are met:
- The charge was dismissed with prejudice;
- The charge was no billed by a grand jury;
- The defendant was found not guilty of the charge; OR
- The charge was dismissed without prejudice more than two years ago, has not been refiled, and the defendant has not been convicted of any other felony or misdemeanor crime, any violation, or any traffic violation, excluding minor traffic violations, during the previous two years.
A non-violent felony charge may be expunged if:
- The charge was dismissed with prejudice;
- The charge was no billed by a grand jury;
- The defendant was found not guilty of the charge;
- The charge was dismissed after successful completion of a drug court program, mental health court program, diversion program, veteran’s court, or any court-approved deferred prosecution program AND more than one year has passed from the successful completion of the program; OR
- If the charge was dismissed without prejudice more than five years ago, was not refiled, and the defendant has not be convicted of any other felony or misdemeanor crime, any violation, or any traffic violation, excluding minor traffic violations, during the previous five years.
- Additionally, ninety days must have passed from the date of dismissal with prejudice, no-bill, acquittal, or nolle pros and the charge has not been refiled.
It is advisable that you hire a lawyer who is experienced with expungements to assist you in the drafting and filing of your Petition for Expungement due to the technical requirements involved in the process. Contact our experienced attorneys to determine whether your criminal charge qualifies for expungement.