DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance often necessary
Initial Filing Fee: Varies from county to county but around $200
In Georgia there is no form of legal separation or disillusion of marriage, there is only divorce. Other states offer different forms of divorce for couples, but in Georgia there is only one truly “legal” way to end a marriage. That being said, the state does require that the couple be legally separated when they file for divorce. This only means that they sleep in different rooms and/or are no longer having marital relations. You can file a petition for “Separate Maintenance” to the court if you wish to still be married but apply for alimony and child support. This is the only loop-hole that has popped up in the Georgia books when it comes to divorce.
After deciding to file for divorce there are many steps you should take in order to keep the expense of the divorce down as well as make it as easy as possible. Leading up to any type of court case like this it is advisable to keep track of your finances, including keeping a monthly budget. This will help you when it comes to the division of assets and helping to decide what type of support you may require or be forced to give. Georgia is not a community property state like other states. Marital property is what must be divided and that is anything that has been acquired during the life of the marriage with the exception of inherited property.
Step 1: Make Sure Georgia is the Correct Place to File
You may get a divorce in Georgia as long as one spouse has lived in the state for the past six months or if it was the last domicile of the marriage. If you are living out of state and want to file in Georgia, it needs to be because that was the last domicile of the marriage. Otherwise you should look into your filing rights in the state where you currently reside.
Step 2: Verify Your Grounds for Divorce
In Georgia you can obtain a no-fault divorce or an “at fault” divorce. The no-fault divorce does not have to be agreed upon like it does in other states. If one spouse simply refuses to live with the other this is an example of a no-fault divorce stating that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” There are 12 grounds for at fault divorce in the state at which point you do have to prove some sort of wrongdoing.
• Adultery (this includes being unfaithful either in a heterosexual or homosexual way)
• Desertion (leaving)
• Mental or Physical abuse
• Marriage between person who are too closely related
• Mental incapacity
• Impotency at the time of the marriage
• Force or fraud in obtaining the marriage
• Pregnancy unknown to the husband at the time of the marriage
• Conviction and imprisonment (for certain crimes)
• Habitual intoxication or drug addiction
• Mental illness
You may file for any one of these grounds or file as a “no-fault” divorce at any time. An uncontested divorce in Georgia will only take 31 days. If there are any problems with the division of property, finances or children it can drag on for months or years.
Step 3: File the Complaint
You must fill out the complaint and file it with the county of the superior court where you or your spouse resides. Typically you do it in the county where your spouse resides for the ease of serving the proper paperwork. This complaint covers your present living arrangements, names the children of the marriage, lists the assets, lists the debts and the specific reason you are seeking a divorce. You do not have to live apart but you are supposed to be legally separated at the time of filing. This simply means you need to either be sleeping in separate rooms and/or not having marital relations.
At this time you can also request a Rule Nisi hearing if you believe your spouse is going to contest the divorce. This allows the judge to give a temporary order regarding custody, child support and property rights until the divorce can be finalized.
Step 4: Serve the Defendent
There are two ways to go about getting the “defendent” served in Georgia as unlike other states it does not have to be done by the sheriff. If you can get your spouse to sign the “Acknowledgement of Service” on the Divorce Petition then you are done. This lets the court know the defendent does not need to be served. If the spouse refuses to sign the paperwork or you would rather not ask, then you must pay the court fee so the sheriff can serve the papers to your spouse. In this case you need to provide the superior court with one copy and the original and keep a copy for yourself. If otherwise, you should provide the copy to your spouse, keep a copy and give the original to the court.
Step 5: Allow for the Defendent to Answer the Complaint
The defendent will either decide to challenge the divorce or will agree to it. You must wait for this to be filed. The defendent has up to 30 days to contest the divorce on cause or make claims of their own. If nothing is filed by that time the divorce is considered uncontested and will go through on the 31st day. If you do not know where your spouse is, you simply have to post a notice in the paper according to the laws of the county about the divorce filing and wait the 30 days for a response.
Step 6: Attempt for a Joint Resolution
This is the easiest way to get everything you want as quickly as possible. You do not have to go to court if you and your spouse can agree. It is best if you can put this in the original divorce complaint, but if you speak after the filing and come up with a reasonable division of assets and children you can file it with the court and avoid a hearing. This allows the divorce to move through uncontested and it will be complete within 31 days from the filing of any ammendments.
Step 7: Attend Hearing if Required
After the date has been set for the hearing you must attend. This is when both sides will present their case and it could require further review or you might have a divorce decree that day. Be sure to bring all your relevant paperwork including updated financials and any records you have been keeping regarding the children.
Step 8: Receive Your Decree of Divorce
Once the divorce is final you will receive a decree of divorce and this means everything is over. All the items must be divided up as specified and you have to stick with any custody and support requirements the document lays out. Custody can be revisited again later, but the divorce is final.