Divorce is never an easy decision to make, but when it becomes the necessary next step for you, your spouse and your family, it is important to understand how the process works and the requirements for divorce in Georgia.
In Georgia, the process of divorce involves several steps and can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the complexity of the case.
Filing for Divorce in Georgia
Divorce is the legal termination of a marriage between two people.
To obtain a divorce in Georgia, you must file a Complaint for Divorce, also known as a petition for divorce, in the county where you and/or your spouse have lived for at least 6 months.
One spouse must have been a resident of Georgia for at least six months in order to file.
The petition must include the grounds for divorce, as well as any other relevant issues you want the court to address, such as child custody and support arrangements, property division, and alimony.
Once the petition is filed, the other spouse must be served with a copy of the petition and a summons.
Your spouse then has 30 days to respond to the request if he or she is a Georgia resident, 60 days if a US resident living outside of Georgia, or 90 days if they live overseas.
A failure to respond means that the court will proceed with the divorce as long as the service of process is in order. This situation is known as a judgement of default divorce.
Once you file for divorce, there is a required 30-day waiting period in Georgia. This is intended as a “cooling-off” period just in case the couple decides to change course and reconcile.
Discovery and Settlement Negotiations
After the initial filing, the next step in the divorce process is discovery.
This is where both parties exchange information about their assets, debts, income, and other relevant information. Discovery can be done through formal or informal methods, such as written questions, requests for documents, and depositions.
Once discovery is complete, the parties may engage in settlement negotiations to try to resolve any outstanding issues.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the case will proceed to trial.
Trial and Final Judgment: Divorce Cases in Georgia
If the case goes to trial, both parties will present evidence and testimony to the court.
The judge will then make a decision on all outstanding issues, including child custody and support, property division, and alimony.
The judge will issue a final judgment, which will be binding on both parties.
If either party is unhappy with the final judgment, they may be able to appeal to a higher court. However, appeals are generally only granted in cases where there was a legal error or misconduct by the judge or one of the parties.
Grounds for Divorce in Georgia
When you file for divorce in Georgia, you must choose one of thirteen statutory grounds for divorce. They are:
- Intermarriage by persons within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity.
- 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, unknown to the husband.
- Adultery in either of the parties after marriage.
- Willful and continued desertion by either of the parties for the term of one year.
- The conviction of either party for an offense involving moral turpitude, under which he is sentenced to imprisonment in a penal institution for a term of two years or longer.
- Habitual intoxication.
- Cruel treatment, which shall consist of the willful infliction of pain, bodily or mental, upon the complaining party, such as reasonably justifies apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health.
- Incurable mental illness.
- Habitual drug addiction.
- The marriage is irretrievably broken.
No-Fault vs. Fault Divorce
Note that ground thirteen, which states that “the marriage is irretrievably broken,” is quite broad and does not require fault on the part of either spouse.
This is known as no-fault divorce, and it means that if your marriage is no longer working and cannot be saved, you have met the requirement for divorce.
Filing for divorce under ground thirteen eliminates the need to prove fault on the part of either spouse.
Filing for a no-fault divorce can streamline the divorce process and eliminate the burden associated with proving fault in a divorce.
Some couples choose the no-fault ground for divorce – even if misconduct did occur – in the interest of expediency or privacy.
Choosing any of the other twelve grounds for divorce requires that the conduct or fault be proved in court.
A divorce judgement on fault grounds may have implications for alimony, custody, child support and visitation, so consider your options carefully when deciding how to file.
Requirements For Divorce
The only real requirement for a Georgia divorce is that one of the thirteen grounds for divorce listed above has been met – and demonstrated – and that the divorce filing procedure is done properly.
Georgia does not require a period of separation before filing for divorce and both parties do not have to agree to the divorce or agree on certain terms for it to proceed.
That means that a divorce may be granted even if only one spouse wants it and even when the spouses cannot agree on the terms.
Different Types of Divorce
There are several different kinds of divorce in Georgia — fault and no-fault divorce filings, contested and uncontested divorces, cases that get fought out in court and those that are negotiated beforehand.
Here’s a rundown of some common divorce types and what these specific terms mean:
- No-Fault Divorce: Divorce where no fault has to be proven by either party. The marriage is simply determined to be irretrievably broken, even if only one spouse thinks so.
- Fault Divorce: When any of the first twelve grounds for divorce in Georgia (listed above) can be proved in court, a divorce on fault grounds will be granted.
- Uncontested Divorce: Both parties agree to the divorce and on issues concerning asset division, child custody, child support and spousal support.
- Contested Divorce: The parties do not agree and rely on attorneys, mediators or a judge to settle points of difference so the divorce can proceed.
- Collaborative Divorce: Collaborative divorce is an agreement where both spouses and their attorneys agree to hash out the terms of the divorce without going to court. This saves time and money for all parties, although litigation may be required if no settlement can be reached.
- Mediated Divorce: Similar to collaborative divorce, but with lawyers playing a minimal role. Both spouses meet with a mediator to negotiate the terms of divorce, saving attorney fees and court costs in the process. Usually followed by divorce proceedings with at least some legal representation.
How Long Does a Divorce Take?
There are many factors that influence how long a divorce will take in Georgia.
In theory, an uncomplicated, uncontested, no-fault divorce in Georgia may be completed in as few as 31-60 days. This includes the required waiting or cooling-off period of 30 days required under Georgia law.
The reality is usually somewhat longer due to things like spousal delays in responding, court delays, etc. You can usually expect an uncontested divorce to take anywhere from a few months to a year, all told.
A contested divorce requires more and longer steps in the process, including discovery, motions filed and heard by the court, and things like custody evaluations when kids are involved.
You should expect to wait anywhere from 6 months to well over a year for a contested divorce. That timeline may be considerably longer if the disagreements between you and your spouse are difficult to resolve.
Know that things like custody disputes, spousal stalling or malfeasance, asset valuation for high net worth divorces, and other factors can seriously lengthen how long it takes for a divorce.
Avoid Delays by Hiring an Experienced Divorce Lawyer
The best way to ensure your divorce gets done as quickly as possible is to hire an experienced divorce attorney to handle it.
An expert divorce lawyer can ensure your divorce filing is done properly, enlist experts where necessary and have the court intervene if your spouse is not cooperating.
They can also advise you on how to streamline the process and make things go more smoothly during this difficult time.
Contact a Georgia Divorce Attorney
Do you need expert advice on pursuing a divorce? Speights Law is here for you.
Call us at (770) 479-1500 to set up a confidential consultation and find out everything you need to know about the process. Our family law attorneys have years of experience helping Cherokee County families, and we can help you, too.
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.