Making the decision to get a divorce can be wrenching and difficult. But once you’ve made that choice, you face an entirely new challenge: navigating the legal process.
To the uninitiated, that process itself can be confusing, frustrating, and stressful, on top of the difficult emotional challenges that go along with divorce.
Every divorce is different, and the process may vary depending on the type of divorce you get. But if you’re just getting started, here’s a general idea of what to expect at all phases of the divorce timeline.
Starting the Divorce Process in Georgia
To legally file for divorce in Georgia, either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for a minimum of six months. The spouse who lives in Georgia will file for divorce by filing relevant documents at the clerk’s office in their county’s Superior Court.
There are 13 established reasons you can seek a divorce in Georgia, and one of those is “irretrievably broken,” which is Georgia’s version of a no-fault divorce.
This is typically the easiest path to divorce in Georgia, but depending on your situation, there are strategic reasons you may want to pick a different cause.
Your petition is also the place to note all the requests you’re making about how to divide your assets and property, alimony, child support, and more.
Even at this early point in the process, a lawyer’s help can be invaluable. You’ll benefit from expert guidance on which documents to file, and how best to fill them out so that your divorce goes as smoothly as possible.
When you file the documents at the clerk’s office, you’ll be asked to pay a fee. You’ll receive a case number – hold on to that. You may need it in the future.
Informing Your Spouse
While some couples come to the decision to divorce together, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can file for divorce without your spouse consenting or even being aware.
But your spouse does need to be informed that you’ve filed for divorce. The notice may be sent by certified mail, personal delivery, the sheriff or marshal’s office in their town or it can be published in the paper if you can’t locate your spouse.
Once your spouse has been legally informed, they have 30 days to file an answer to your petition, either contesting it or saying they agree.
If they don’t respond by the deadline, they basically give up their right to contest what you’re asking for in your petition and the court may move forward on the assumption that they agree.
If that happens, there will be more documents to file—your lawyer can help with that—but your divorce will likely move quickly from here out, and you could receive everything you asked for by default.
But let’s assume that your spouse does want to be involved in the process—and answers your petition in a timely fashion. And let’s say they have some objections to the terms you asked for in your petition.
In Georgia, before divorcing couples go to court, they’re required to try to hammer out their differences in mediation. This is where, hopefully, most of your issues will get resolved, including division of assets, alimony, child support, and more.
During mediation, you and your spouse will sit down with a third-party mediator and negotiate a settlement (you can also do this in separate rooms, with the mediator taking messages between you, if you prefer).
A lawyer isn’t required for this process but it’s strongly encouraged. While the mediator is there to help the negotiations move forward, your lawyer is there specifically to advocate for your rights.
Going to Court
The goal of mediation is for both parties to agree independently to the terms of your separation. If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, you may have to take your case before a judge.
Going to court is often considered the last-resort option for divorcing couples. It is usually more time-consuming and expensive than mediation.
However, for some divorcing couples, the clarity and finality of a judge’s decision can be a necessary and welcome end to a protracted period of strife.
In divorce court, your lawyer will defend your interests, call witnesses, and show evidence for the claims and requests you’ve made. Your spouse’s lawyer will do the same.
The judge will make decisions about your division of property and assets based on the evidence and if children are involved, the best interests of the child. Then you’ll be granted a divorce.
Filing an Appeal
Unlike in mediation, which is designed to produce an outcome both parties agree to, you generally have to abide by the judge’s decision in court even if you don’t agree to it.
But if you really feel the judge’s ruling was inappropriate, you may have the option to appeal it, either by modifying the certain terms of the divorce, or changing the entire decree.
Not everyone qualifies to file an appeal, and there are strict filing deadlines. If your divorce was agreed by mediated settlement, you’re less likely to qualify to file an appeal, because it’s assumed that both parties initially agreed to the terms.
The process can be complex, so it’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible if you want to appeal the outcome of your divorce.
Need Help Navigating Your Divorce? Call Us Now.
We understand how difficult this time is for our clients, and we have the knowledge and expertise to get the best outcome possible for you in starting this new phase of your life.
If you need an expert guide in navigating the steps of divorce, give us a call at (770) 479-1500 for a free, confidential consultation.
Amanda Speights is a co-founder and lead family law attorney at Speights Law, PC in Cherokee County. She is an experienced family law lawyer who handles an assortment of domestic cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, appeals and other types of litigation in the state of Georgia. To contact Amanda, please visit our contact page.