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Q.  What is an arraignment?

A.  An arraignment is the initial step in a criminal prosecution.  At an arraignment, the defendant appears before the court (judge), the charges are read (or the reading may be waived and it frequently is waived), and the defendant enters a plea of either guilty or not guilty.

Q.  If I am driving and I am stopped by a law enforcement officer,  must I allow him/her to search my vehicle?

A.  No.  The police can search your vehicle without your permission only if they have probable cause that you have committed a crime. Never volunteer your vehicle for a search.  Likewise, never submit to an unwarranted search of your house or apartment.  A law enforcement officer should have a warrant signed by a judge before searching your home.  Further, even if there is a warrant, you can request that the officer wait while you contact your attorney for additional advice.

Q.  What is an annulment?

A.  An annulment nullifies or makes the marriage void.  Unlike a divorce, an annulment establishes that marital status never existed in law.  The grounds for annulment are limited by law.  To have the relationship annulled, the complaining party must allege either incest, bigamy, or insanity, or that the marriage resulted from fraud perpetrated on the complaining party.

Q.  Are there residency requirements to obtain a divorce in Alabama?

A.  Yes.  One of the parties must have been a resident of the state for no less than six months prior to filing the divorce.

Q.  When there are minor children of the marriage, is their custody automatically awarded to the mother?

A.  No longer do we apply the "Tender Years" doctrine.  Courts now determine custody based on the best interest of the child.  There are many factors in determination, but the court makes protection of the child's interest its priority.

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