Georgia Divorce Basics
In Georgia, divorces can be extremely simple, or very complicated. The factor that determines how difficult a divorce is going to be is how much you and your spouse can agree upon. Disagreements cost money and can lead to a very expensive and drawn out divorce.
“Grounds” for Divorce in Georgia
In Georgia, the court recognizes 13 separate grounds for divorce. The main grounds most couples use is saying that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” This is most often referred to as a “no-fault”. In a no-fault divorce, neither you nor your spouse will have to prove who is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. All you have to show is that in your opinion, the marriage is broken and cannot be repaired.
Other common grounds, called “fault divorces” is when one spouse accuses the other of some type of misconduct that are considered grounds for divorce according to Georgia law. That misconduct can be adultery, desertion, physical or mental cruelty, mental illness, alcoholism, or conviction of certain crimes.
The person who is found to be at fault for the breakdown of the marriage in a fault divorce case, may not be entitled to alimony.
Being Served with a Complaint for Divorce
If you’ve been served with a Complaint for Divorce by your spouse you should seek the advice of an attorney immediately. The Complaint must be answered in writing within 30 days and that answer filed with the court.
This is your opportunity to dispute any claims your spouse made in the complaint. You can admit the allegations, deny the allegations, or admit some and deny some. You can also file a counterclaim and sue your spouse for divorce.
The court will assume that if you haven’t filed an answer to the complaint within the 30 days that you agree with all the claims made by your spouse.
Cost of a Divorce
If your divorce is simple, and you and your spouse have agreed on most of the issues, then your divorce should be less expensive than a couple who can’t agree on anything.
Some attorneys charge a low flat fee for a simple divorce, or charge by the hour for more complicated divorces. Legal fees can add up rapidly when your lawyer has to spend a lot of time preparing to go to court, spending a lot of time in court for hearings, and their travel time to and from the courthouse. Your attorney can charge you for the time he spends on the telephone with you as well.
Use of a Georgia Divorce Attorney
In Georgia, you can get divorced without an attorney by filling out a Complaint for Divorce and Settlement Agreement and filing it with the court.
The Settlement Agreement states specifically how property is going to be divided, debts are going to be paid, and who will pay court costs, etc. The people who work in the courthouse are not allowed to give you advice on how to complete these forms; only a GA divorce lawyer can do that.
If you do not complete these documents properly, they may not be able to be enforced at a later date.
If you have children under the age of 18, there are very specific rules about what language must be included in the Settlement Agreement, and what should be included in the agreement regarding any minor children. If you use an attorney, they can protect your rights, and that of your spouses.
An attorney can only represent one side in a divorce. It would be highly unethical for an attorney to represent both the husband and wife in a divorce.
Once the Complaint for Divorce and Settlement Agreement are filed, the judge may grant the final divorce decree in as little as 31 days.
If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, a divorce case could last months or even years in some cases. If the 31 days has passed, and you and your spouse come to an agreement, once the agreement is filed with the court, the judge will review it and approve it. Until your divorce is final, you are considered to still be legally married.
If you can’t wait the 31 days, the judge may hold a hearing to temporarily decide some matters such as who will pay the mortgage and other household expenses. The judge can also order that neither party is allowed to sell or otherwise dissolve any assets that belong to you and your spouse, and may also temporarily decide who will get temporary custody of the children, visitation, and child support issues.
Filing for Divorce
The proper place to file for a divorce is in the Superior Court in the county the defendant lives in. This means that if you live in one county, and your spouse is residing in a different county in Georgia, you should file the divorce in the Superior Court of the county your spouse resides in.
If your spouse has left the state of Georgia, you can file it in the county you live in. If your spouse has been out of the state for less than six months, of if your spouse agrees, the case can be filed in the county you live in.
If you and your spouse still live together, you can still file for a divorce. However the court will require that you and your spouse be legally separated, which means that you are no longer having sexual relations with your spouse.
You file for a divorce in the state that you live in, no matter where you were married. In Georgia, the law requires you to be a legal resident for at least 6 months before you file for a divorce. The court will still hear your divorce case even if one of you lives in another state. However, the person who lives in a state other than Georgia, can petition the court to have the divorce case moved to the state they live in.
Who Finalizes the Divorce
You must appear in court for your divorce to be made final. A judge will issue the final divorce decree in all types of divorces. In a contested divorce, judges and juries will handle any money issues, and the only the judge will decide any issues surrounding any minor children.
For example, if you can’t decide on child custody or visitation rights, the judge will make that decision. If you can’t agree on the amount of child support to be paid, either a judge or the jury can make that determination.
Either you or your spouse could ask for a jury trial if some form of agreement cannot be reached between you and your spouse. The decision by a judge or jury is final, but can be appealed to a higher court.
Some couples file a separate maintenance lawsuit instead of a divorce lawsuit. In this type of case, all the issues that would normally be taken care of in a divorce are resolved, except the couple stays married.
Some couples choose a separate maintenance arrangement in lieu of a divorce for religious reasons, or because of specific legal issues, such as the need for medical insurance.
A separate maintenance lawsuit can help some couples resolve very complicated legal issues, but the couple does not end up divorced and neither person can remarry unless they go back to court to seek a divorce.