When Is Property Considered Abandoned After Divorce in Alabama?

Alabama law requires a divorcing couple to divide their marital property in an equitable manner as part of their divorce settlement. But in cases of abandonment – one spouse leaving and ceasing contact with the other – the remaining spouse may have ownership rights to property that is legally abandoned.

If your divorce is based on abandonment or your estranged spouse is otherwise uncooperative, a Leigh Daniel Family Law divorce attorney can help work through the issues involving marital property in a divorce decree. We may be able to help you seek legal possession of other property, including assets in financial accounts, which may, over time, be declared abandoned under Alabama law.

The stress of seeking a divorce can cast a shadow on your outlook for the future. At Leigh Daniel Family Law, we handle the legal paperwork and legwork of divorce proceedings so our clients can stay focused on the positive side of the changes they are making in their life. If you are contemplating divorce in Northern Alabama, contact Leigh Daniel Family Law in Huntsville, AL, for a 30-minute free consultation with one of our associate attorneys.

What Is Considered Abandonment in an Alabama Divorce?

In Alabama, one spouse is said to have abandoned the other if they have left the other spouse without an agreement to the absence. This means the absent spouse is no longer a financial contributor to the marital household, and the couple no longer has marital relations.

To state abandonment as grounds for divorce, the spouse seeking divorce must demonstrate that the other party has been absent from both the marital home and relationship for at least one year prior to the initiation of the divorce.

Alabama requires that marital property shared by divorcing parties be divided equitably between them. Marital property is property acquired during the marriage and does not include property earned or acquired before the marriage by either spouse or received by one spouse as a gift or inheritance during the marriage.

In general, the court is given a broad amount of discretion in determining what is an equitable division of marital property in a divorce. Equitable does not necessarily mean “equal.” It is more a matter of what is fair and proper considering the circumstances of each party.

When a judge considers the equitable division of marital property in a divorce action based on abandonment, he or she will almost certainly take the absent party’s abandonment into consideration.

In a divorce action based on abandonment, we would ask for a client to receive possession of the couple’s:

  • House (especially if there are underage children)
  • Vehicles
  • Furniture
  • Jewelry
  • Clothing
  • Bank accounts
  • Other specific pieces of personal property.

Alabama Abandoned Property Laws

For all practical purposes, you would have possession and use of tangible property left behind by an ex-spouse who abandoned you. But Alabama law addresses how much time must pass before certain types of property are presumed abandoned if left unclaimed by the owner. It includes, in general:

  • Deposits or refunds owed to a subscriber by a utility – one year after the deposit or refund becomes payable.
  • Wages or other compensation for personal services – one year after the compensation becomes payable.
  • Property held by a court, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality – one year after the property becomes distributable.
  • Money or credits owed to a customer as a result of a retail business transaction – one year after the obligation accrued.
  • Property in an individual retirement account, defined benefit plan, or other account or plan that is qualified for tax deferral – three years after the applicable distribution or attempted distribution date.
  • Property held in a safe deposit box or other safekeeping depository or proceeds resulting from the sale of the property – three years after the expiration of the lease or rental period on the box or other depository.
  • Stock or other equity interest in a business association or financial organization – three years.
  • Amounts owed by an insurer on a life or endowment insurance policy or an annuity that has matured or terminated – three years after the obligation to pay arose.
  • Gift certificate – three years after June 30 of the year in which the certificate was sold. If redeemable in merchandise only, the amount abandoned is deemed to be 60% of the certificate’s face value.
  • Money order – five years after issuance.
  • Traveler’s checks – 15 years after issuance.
  • All other property, three years after the owner’s right to demand the property or after the obligation to pay or distribute the property arises, whichever comes first.

Property is unclaimed if, for the applicable period, the apparent owner has not communicated in writing or by other recorded means with the holder concerning the property or the account the property is held in and has not indicated an interest in the property.

How We Can Help with Your Possession of Abandoned Marital Property

Leigh DanielOur experienced Huntsville divorce attorneys at Leigh Daniel Family Law will do everything legally possible to protect your interests in the assumption of property rights and possession of abandoned property after your divorce and in other divorce proceedings. If there are legitimate reasons to modify your Alabama divorce order, we can help you file a petition to do so.

Leigh Daniel has more than 20 years of experience handling divorces in Huntsville and Madison County, Alabama. Speak with Leigh about reviewing your needs and developing a strategy to achieve the outcome you want. To learn more about how we will fight for your rights during this difficult time, contact us online today or call us at (256) 551-0500.


A respected Huntsville family law attorney with more than 20 years’ experience, Leigh Daniel is known for her positive attitude and her skills in the courtroom. She prides herself in the care and compassion that she and her team put into every case. Her goal is to instill a sense of confidence in her clients so they know success is on the horizon. As an author, inspirational speaker, coach, and founder of Project Positive Change, Leigh stays focused on the positive impact she can make on every client’s case.