ALABAMA FAMILY LAW

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Alabama Property Division

All but the simplest Alabama divorces involve issues of property division. When addressing property division issues, the courts also consider the allocation of marital debt. The most commonly encountered division issues involve real estate, personal property and debts. In some marriages, there may be more complicated issues, such as the division of business interests. With longer marriages, retirement assets may also be subject to division. Whether your marital assets and liabilities are simple or complex, their division must be addressed in a divorce. An experienced Alabama divorce attorney can advise you regarding any property division issues. The greater the value of assets, the more your need for legal advice increases. The Burleson Firm, located in Birmingham, Alabamam, can answer your questions and assist you in any county in the state.

Division of Marital Property

The courts are only concerned with the division of “marital” property. Marital property generally means property obtained during the marriage. Property acquired before the marriage or obtained by gift or inheritance is normally excluded from division. However, there are circumstances when these types of property can become marital property due to the actions of the parties during the marriage. If such property is used for the benefit of the marriage, the court may treat it as marital property. It is the job of the Alabama courts to distinguish marital from non-marital property if the parties cannot agree. Determining whether property is subject to division can sometimes be a complicated process. When the parties cannot agree on the character of the assets, the help of a competent Alabama divorce lawyer is needed.

Once the court has determined which assets are marital property, the court must then divide that property according to Alabama law. Some states divide such property equally, but Alabama does not. Alabama law requires the courts to order a division of property that is fair to the parties given the circumstances of the divorce. The court may look at such factors as the length of the marriage, the fault of the parties in the divorce and the value of the property each spouse will receive. The court may also consider the future economic prospects of each party and how much each party contributed to the care of the property. The court will also review any prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements that may exist. Certain types of property can increase the complexity of the divorce and require special consideration. Some of these types of property are listed below.

Division of real estate

Many couples buy a home to live in during their marriage. This home is known as the marital residence and is often the major asset of the parties. An Alabama court may deal with the marital residence in one of several ways. The court may order that the marital residence be sold and the equity divided by some percentage between the parties.

On the other hand, the court may order a life estate or temporary possession of the marital residence to one spouse until the occurrence of a specific event. For example, the court can award the marital residence to the custodial parent until the youngest child becomes an adult. The court may order that the marital residence be sold at that time. An Alabama court may also allow one spouse to buy the other spouse’s interest in the marital residence or award the entire residence to one of the parties. Due to the significance of this asset, it is wise to get competent legal advice from an experienced Alabama divorce lawyer regarding real estate issues.

Division of retirement assets

Retirement benefits can present special difficulties in an Alabama divorce. Alabama law provides specific requirements regarding the division of retirement benefits. An Alabama court may not award a party any part of the other spouse’s retirement assets unless the parties have been married for at least ten years. Alabama law determines the length of the marriage as of the date of the filing of the divorce, not the date of the trial or final judgment. If you file for divorce after nine years and eleven months from the date of your marriage, you are not entitled to an interest in your spouse’s retirement. If you got married at least ten years before you filed the divorce, you may receive up to fifty percent of the present value of your spouse’s retirement. This retirement must be a vested interest acquired by your spouse during the marriage. In Alabama, you are not entitled to any retirement assets accumulated before the date of the marriage.

Assuming that you are entitled to an interest in your spouse’s retirement benefits, there are many complicated issues to address. There is more than one method of distribution that the court can apply to divide the retirement assets. There are also many different types of retirement plans that have different rules regarding distribution issues. Often, a special order is required to effectuate the distribution of a retirement plan. This type of order is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO (pronounced “quad row”). A qualified domestic relations order is very technical.  All QDROs must meet the requirements of the retirement plan in question to be effective. Therefore, it is best to get the approval of the retirement plan administrator before obtaining the order. The accuracy and effectiveness of a qualified domestic relations order is challenging to achieve. The proper preparation of a QDRO requires an experienced Alabama divorce attorney.

Division of business interests

Whenever a party to a divorce owns an interest in a business, their spouse may be entitled to compensation for some portion of the value of that interest. In the case of privately owned businesses, disputes over the valuation of the party’s interest in the business may arise. The valuation of a business is complex. Methods for evaluating businesses involve predictions of future earnings. Because of this complexity, an expert witness is often necessary. Future earnings can be affected by many factors. Future predictions can never be made with absolute certainty. Due to this uncertainty, different experts can arrive at different results. An experienced Alabama divorce attorney can help you demonstrate to the court that your expert’s valuation is reliable. A proper valuation can help you get the division that you want.

Division of marital debts

Along with the division of assets, an Alabama court must also address the division of marital debts. Marital debts, like marital assets, are generally acquired during the marriage. In determining the division of debts, the court looks at factors such as who incurred the debt and the nature or purpose of the debt. However, a party will not always be held responsible for a debt simply because that party caused the debt. Typically, if a party receives an asset in a divorce, that party will be required to pay any outstanding debt. When addressing the division of debts, an Alabama court may also consider such factors as each spouse’s individual wealth and expected financial prospects after the divorce.

Contact The Burleson Firm

From a central location in Birmingham, Alabama, The Burleson Firm has helped families in Alabama with divorce issues for over twenty years. If you are thinking about filing for divorce or you believe that your spouse may be planning to do so, you need legal advice on how to better protect your interests. Let The Burleson Firm schedule a no-obligation conference with a serious Alabama divorce lawyer to answer your questions about property division issues. Our law firm can assist you with obtaining a divorce in any county in Alabama.

For a free phone consultation, call us at 1 (205) 795-2033.

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