An Introduction to Georgia Divorce Procedure
It is no secret that, unfortunately, approximately half of the marriages in the United States end in divorce. And although some states require long waiting periods prior to the divorce action being finalized, a divorce may be obtained in Georgia as quickly as thirty-one (31) days after the divorce action is filed.
In Georgia, there are basically two types of divorce actions, uncontested and contested divorces. In order to obtain an uncontested divorce in Georgia, both parties will have to agree as to all issues pertaining to the divorce (e.g., custody of the minor children, division of assets and joint debts, visitation of children, child support, etc.).
The divorce action must be filed in the County in which the Defendant resides, if the Defendant resides in the State of Georgia. If the Defendant resides outside of the State of Georgia, the divorce action may be filed in the County in which the Plaintiff resides. Prior to the filing of a divorce action, the Plaintiff must have been a resident of the State of Georgia for six months.
Typically, in an uncontested divorce, the attorney will prepare the Complaint for Divorce, a Settlement Agreement, a Disclaimer of Representation (if only one party is represented by legal counsel), a Consent to Trial after thirty-one (31) days, and an Acknowledgment of Service. If the Defendant is willing to permit the divorce action to be heard in the County in which the Plaintiff resides, and the parties do not both reside in the same county, then the attorney will prepare a Waiver of Jurisdiction for the Defendant to sign.
And if there are minor children born of the marriage, the attorney will also prepare a Child Support Addendum, Permanent Parenting Plan, a Child Support Worksheet, and both parties will be required to prepare financial affidavits and attend a parenting seminar. The typical grounds for an uncontested divorce is that the marriage is irretrievably broken, meaning there is no possibility of reconciliation.
Once all of the above documents are prepared prior to filing, the attorney can request a trial date as early as thirty-one (31) days from the date the documents were filed, and the Defendant is not required to appear in court.
Service by Publication
In the event that the Plaintiff does not know the whereabouts of his or her spouse, a diligent search must first be initiated to attempt to locate the spouse, and an affidavit of diligent search must be filed at the time the Complaint for Divorce is filed. Additionally, a notice must be placed in the local legal organ (newspaper) for the County in which the Plaintiff resides. After the expiration of sixty (60) days from the date of publication, the attorney may request a trial date to conclude the divorce action.
A contested, as the name implies, is a divorce action in which all of the issues are not agreed upon or resolved prior to filing the action. In this instance, the attorney will file the Complaint for Divorce in the County in which the Defendant resides (if within the State of Georgia), or in the County in which the Plaintiff resides (if the Defendant resides outside of the State of Georgia).
In the Plaintiff’s Complaint, the Plaintiff will make his or her allegations and state the issues for the Court to resolve. The Defendant must then be served by the County Sheriff’s civil process office or a private process server who is authorized to make service of process in that County.
Once the Defendant is served, he or she has thirty (30) days in which to file an Answer. If the Defendant is seeking relief from the Court, in his/her Answer, it will be necessary for the Defendant to include a Counterclaim.
Typical issues in a divorce action include: custody of the minor children, child support, division of assets, attorneys fees, alimony, joint debts, etc. And the grounds for divorce may vary.
On the issue of alimony, the Court tends to address this issue on a case-by-case basis, considering the totality of the evidence presented. Neither party is automatically entitled to alimony. And depending on which judge the case is heard before, the Court’s ruling can vary widely. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon the party seeking alimony to make out a good case.
Length of Contested Divorce Action
Unlike an uncontested divorce action which may be completed in as little as thirty-one (31) days, contested divorces can last from several months to several years, depending on the complexity of the divorce action and the will of the parties. Typically, if the parties are intent on making the other party suffer, the conclusion of the divorce action can be delayed substantially.
Mediation is available to the parties should they so desire to mediate the issues of their divorce action. In fact, some courts will require that the parties go to mediation. A mediator is an independent, neutral party who listens to the issues and concerns of each party and attempts to help the parties reach an agreeable resolution. In the event that some, but not all issues are resolved in mediation, then a mediation agreement will be signed by the parties as to those issues that were resolved. The remaining unresolved issues will be determined by the Court at trial.
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