The Cooling-Off Period
Alabama imposes a cooling-off period of 30 days from the day you file for divorce, so under the very best of circumstances, the process isn't over until this time elapses. As a practical matter, few spouses can divorce in less time than this, but the state wants to make sure that if you have a change of heart a few weeks after you file, you can pull the plug on the proceedings.
Time to Respond
The waiting period overlaps to some extent with the amount of time your spouse has to file an answer to your complaint for divorce. This, too, is 30 days, and if your divorce is contested, it might take this long for your spouse to respond. After you file, you must arrange to serve a copy of your complaint on your spouse. If your divorce is amicable, he can go to the courthouse and sign for a copy. If it's not, and if he won't voluntarily accept service, you'll have to send the paperwork to him by certified mail, or arrange to have the sheriff or a private process server deliver it. These options take a little time, so the 30 days your spouse has to answer the complaint does not begin running until he is actually served.
If you and your spouse agree about issues of custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, and property and debt division, you can incorporate those terms into a settlement agreement and submit it to the court while you're waiting for Alabama's cooling-off period to elapse. Unless the agreement is grossly unreasonable, the judge will sign off on it and include its terms in the divorce decree. If you submit it before the waiting period expires, the judge can sign it soon after this 30-day period. Allowing a little time for the logistics of serving your spouse and creating a settlement agreement, you could realistically be divorced within a couple of months after filing your complaint. If your spouse does not respond to your complaint at all after the waiting period and his 30 days to respond both elapse, you can ask the court for a default decree because he hasn't participated in the proceedings.
Contested divorces in most states can take a year or more, and this is true in Alabama as well. The court usually assigns a trial date for your case several months away as soon as your spouse files a response to your complaint. In the interim, Alabama law requires that both parties engage in mediation or a pre-trial conference before your matter can go to trial. It's not uncommon for trial dates to be postponed because they're set so far in advance – both spouses, their attorneys or even the court may not be available on a date that seemed to work earlier. After trial, you may not receive your decree for a while longer – the judge typically must reach a decision after reviewing the evidence and transcripts, then write the decision in an order.