Whether you plan to hire an attorney or go it alone, filing for divorce in Georgia can be a daunting prospect if you go into it unprepared. Understanding the procedural basics can put your mind at ease and help you prioritize important issues in your case. Do keep in mind that one spouse must live in Georgia for at least six months before filing for divorce to satisfy the state's residency requirement.
Georgia offers 13 grounds for divorce, one of which is claiming the marriage is irretrievably broken, which is the typical 'no-fault' ground. The other 12 grounds for divorce include:
The spouses are too closely related
If one spouse is mentally insane when the couple got married
If one spouse was coerced or fraud occurred at the time of the marriage
If the wife was pregnant with another man's baby when the couple got married
If one spouse deserts the other for a year or more
Imprisonment of one spouse for two years or more
Physical or mental abuse
Incurable mental illness developed after the marriage
Addition to controlled substances
How to File
The Judicial Branch of Georgia provides residents with step-by-step instructions for filing a divorce. Depending on your circumstances, not every step will apply to your case. Once you have decided to file your divorce, you must:
- File your Petition in the appropriate county. Georgia law requires that all divorce petitions include the respondent's last known address, a statement affirming that the petitioner meets state residency requirements, the date of the marriage and the separation, the names and birth dates of each child (if any), the grounds for divorce, and the income and property of each spouse.
- Serve the Petition on the opposing spouse. In Georgia, you can serve the other person by having the sheriff or a private process server deliver them in person. If your spouse agrees to the divorce, he or she can also waive the service requirement.
- If your spouse contests the divorce, he or she has 30 days to file a response.
The Judicial Branch of Georgia website also notes that a divorce can be granted no earlier than 31 days from the initial divorce papers.
Georgia follows the equitable distribution rule of marital property division. Georgia law doesn't specify any particular factors the court must consider when dividing the couple's assets. Instead, Georgia courts rely on prior case law to guide their decisions.
Couples can also work out an agreement between themselves regarding how they want their assets divided. In most cases, the court approves it. To most people, this is more desirable than having a judge decide these important issues on their behalf.
Georiga courts consider the following factors when deciding how much alimony to award the recipient spouse:
- Each spouse's contributions to the couple's marital assets, including either side's contributions as a homemaker
- The length of the marriage
- Each party's finances
- The couple's ages and emotional health
- The value of each side's separate property
- Each spouse's ability to earn an income
- The debts of both parties
- The standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage
- The length of time it will take each spouse to gain enough education to obtain gainful employment
There are also three types of permissible alimony awards in Georgia: permanent, periodic, and rehabilitative.
Permanent alimony lasts until the recipient dies or remarries. Permanent alimony doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of cash payments. In some cases, courts order one spouse to allow the recipient the use of the paying spouse's property, such as permitting the recipient to live in a home owned by the paying spouse.
Periodic payments are typically made on a monthly or biweekly basis and last for a definitive duration. The court retains the ability to modify the award if the parties' financial cirumstances change later on.
Rehabilitative alimony is usually awarded when one spouse needs time to become financially independent. This situtation occurs most often when one spouse has been out of the work force for an extended period of time.
The state prefers that parents share custody of their children. Additionally, each parent must provide financial support for the kids.
Unless one parent lives out of state or is abusive, the court will generally give each parent equal time with the child. Most parents prefer to establish their own visitation schedule. If they can't agree, the court makes one on their behalf. If courts must decide, they consider the following factors:
- The relationship between the child and each parent
- The child's relationship with any siblings
- Each parent's ability to love and care for the child and general awareness of the child's needs
- Each parent's lifestyle and the condition of his or her home
- Whether a child has lived in a stable home previously
- Whether each parent has a support system to help care for the child
- Each parent's involvement in the child's school and activities
- Each parent's work schedule
- Any special needs of the child
- The child's home, school, and community situation
- Each parent's history of performing parenting responsibilities
- Each parent's willingness to encourage the child to be affectionate toward the other
- Any recommendation from a guardian ad litem
- Any hisotry of family violence or abuse of the child
- Whether either parent has a history of abusing illegal substances
In Georgia, both parents must contribute financially to their child's support. Under Georgia law, child support is calculated according to an income shares model of child support calculation. The court adds the mother's and father's incomes together. The court then awards support based on the number of children and how much each parent contributes toward health insurance and child care expenses for the child. You can calculate your support obligation by using Georgia's child support calculator.
In many cases, the hardest part of divorce is making the initial decision to go forward. The State Bar of Georgia publishes an informative divorce pamphlet designed to educate the public about the basics of Georgia divorce. If you're still on the fence, reviewing the nuts and bolts of the legal process can help you decide whether you're emotionally and financially ready to proceed.