How to File for Divorce in Georgia
Getting divorced is not nearly as simple as getting married, in Georgia or any other state. Divorce requires spouses to figure out details like marital property, spousal support, and child custody. It's also an emotionally stressful time in most instances, particularly when minor children are involved. The first step in getting divorced is to learn as much as you can about how the process works in your state.
Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in Georgia
The process of filing for divorce in Georgia will depend on if your case is uncontested or contested. Uncontested means more than you and your spouse both agree to the divorce. In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse have worked out, or are able to work out, all of the issues involved such as division of marital property, child custody and support, and alimony.
If you and your spouse disagree on any of these issues and need the court to intervene, it is called a contested divorce. A contested divorce almost always takes more time and costs more money to resolve because you need assistance from the court and other professionals such as lawyers and mediators.
If both spouses agree on the terms of the divorce, then it may be granted in as quickly as a month or so. However, there is a 31-day mandatory waiting period between the filing of the divorce and the date a Final Order and Decree of Divorce may be granted. A Georgia divorce can take several months to a couple of years when the terms are disputed.
One thing that's important to remember is that a divorce may start out as uncontested and become contested, especially when it comes to working out details like a specific parenting plan or the amount of alimony to be paid. A divorce can also start out contested and then become uncontested through successful negotiations, mediation, or other out-of-court settlement methods.
The Georgia Divorce Process: Overview
The process below is the general procedure for a contested divorce in Georgia. More information about the uncontested divorce process is included in the table below.
The Complaint for Divorce
Generally speaking, those filing for divorce in Georgia will (usually through their attorney) complete a form that is essentially a legal "complaint for divorce." This form describes the current living situation, an overview of shared debts and assets, arrangements made for children (if applicable), and problems that led to the divorce filing. The complaint for divorce also details what you want the outcome of the divorce to be.
People seeking divorce must specify one of 13 different grounds for divorce in order for the court to grant the divorce. The most common ground for divorce in Georgia is "irreconcilable differences," which is not based on conduct but rather incompatibility. The remaining grounds for divorce in Georgia are based on conduct or fault, including:
- Intermarriage by people within the prohibited degrees of kinship
- Mental incapacity at the time of the marriage
- Impotency at the time of the marriage
- Force, menace, duress, or fraud in obtaining the marriage
- Pregnancy of the wife by a man other than the husband at the time of the marriage (and unknown to the husband)
- Adultery during the marriage
- The conviction of a crime of moral turpitude that results in a prison sentence of two years or longer
- Habitual intoxication
- Cruel treatment
- Incurable mental illness
- Habitual drug addiction
Because Georgia is not a no-fault divorce state, the court can take fault into account when deciding issues like property division, child custody, and alimony, so make sure you choose your grounds for divorce wisely.
Where to File for Divorce
Before filing for divorce in Georgia, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months. You file the complaint in the Superior Court of the county in which you reside, or your spouse's county of residence if you do not meet the residency requirements.
You will be required to pay a filing fee to the county Superior Court, unless you cannot afford to pay and you qualify for a fee waiver. Usually, the divorce filing fee is around $200.
Serving Your Spouse
After you have filed the complaint for divorce in the appropriate county, your spouse has to be "served," which informs them of the divorce proceeding and what steps they have to take. There are two ways that you can serve your spouse and give them notice of the divorce in the state of Georgia:
- If you believe your spouse will agree to accept the service, you can mail the paperwork and ask your spouse to sign an Acknowledgment of Service form in front of a notary. Your spouse then provides you with the Acknowledgement of Service and you file it with the court.
- If you don't think your spouse will agree to acknowledge service, you can ask the sheriff or a private process server to serve your spouse. There is a small fee that you will have to pay the sheriff or process server. The sheriff or process server then provides you with an affidavit of service that you provide to the court, which verifies that your spouse has been given notice of the divorce.
Once service is complete, your spouse has 30 days to file an “answer" in the divorce. The answer provides an outline of their response to your complaint and what they want from the divorce.
Your spouse can also cite a defense for the grounds alleged in the divorce complaint. The defenses to divorce in Georgia are:
- Prior existing marriage
If your spouse does not file an answer to the divorce complaint within the allotted 30 days, they waive all rights to be notified of any future notices regarding the case, including the time and place of the trial. A final judgment can be made without their knowledge or involvement.
However, the respondent spouse retains the right to defend themselves at any time prior to the entry of the judgment because Georgia does not offer default judgments in divorce.
The next phase of the divorce process in Georgia involves discovery. This refers to the process of obtaining and providing information that is important to the divorce process, such as financial information and sworn statements and admissions. The investigative discovery process can be formal or informal, depending on the case.
Formal discovery can get very expensive and time-consuming, which is why most people choose the informal option.
Most divorce cases involve efforts to settle the disputed issues outside of court. These efforts may include mediation, arbitration, or a settlement conference. These methods of alternative dispute resolution are aimed at avoiding an expensive and time-consuming trial. Most divorce cases are able to reach a settlement through one or more of these methods.
If an agreement can still not be reached on all divorce issues, then a trial will be set. In Georgia, a divorce trial may take place in front of a judge or a jury. After trial, the judge will issue a Final Order and Decree of Divorce. Going to trial is usually very expensive and requires significant attorney's fees and related costs.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce in Georgia?
You are not required to have an attorney's help to file for divorce in Georgia.
That said, in most divorce cases, it's advantageous to work with an experienced attorney, who will know the process inside and out. This is especially true if your case is contested, your spouse has a lawyer, or your case involves significant assets or minor children.
It is also a good idea to have your divorce agreement reviewed by a divorce lawyer even if you and your spouse agree on everything. This ensures that you aren't missing anything and that your rights are protected.
You should look for a divorce lawyer in your area who you feel comfortable with and who supports your goals. It might take meeting with a few different lawyers to find someone who is a good fit. Find a lawyer near you:
Many divorce lawyers offer free initial consultations where you can ask them questions and learn about the types of cases they typically handle.
Georgia Divorce Laws at a Glance
Additional details about the divorce process in Georgia can be found in the following table.
Georgia Code section 19-5-2 et seq.
|Information Required for Divorce Petition||
At any time before the divorce trial, the respondent may file a demand for a detailed statement of facts supporting the purported grounds of the divorce filing.
In an uncontested divorce, the parties are able to reach a settlement on all divorce issues either through negotiations, mediation, or another process outside of court. They complete a Settlement Agreement, which is filed with the court with other required documents.
A hearing may or may not be required to finalize the divorce, depending on the county you filed in, whether you filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and based on the judge's discretion.
An uncontested divorce can be granted as soon as 31 days have passed since the respondent spouse was served or signed an acknowledgment of service.
|Legal Separation||Georgia does not recognize "legal separations," but the state does allow for a "separate maintenance action" as an alternative to divorce. In a separate maintenance action, the same issues can be resolved as would be in divorce, from property division to child custody. Later, the parties can decide to file for divorce and use the separate maintenance agreement as the basis for their divorce settlement agreement.|
|Restoration of Prior Name||
In all divorce actions, a party may request to restore their maiden or prior name. When a court grants the divorce, they will include the name restoration in their judgment or decree.
|Disqualification of Alimony||
A party shall not be entitled to alimony if it is established by a preponderance of the evidence that the separation between the parties was caused by that party's adultery or desertion.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Georgia Divorce Process: Related Resources
- Georgia Divorce Laws
- Georgia Marital Property Laws
- Georgia Child Custody Laws
- Georgia Child Support Guidelines
- The Divorce Process: Do's and Don'ts
Filing for Divorce in Georgia? An Attorney Can Help
Divorce is a difficult process, not just in terms of legal filings and time spent in court but also from an emotional perspective. In most cases, you will want to retain the services of a divorce attorney, especially if the other party has representation. Get started today by meeting with an experienced Georgia divorce lawyer.
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