Divorce in Georgia can be straightforward if it is uncontested, but most often, marital issues make the process more complicated. Here is a primer on the steps you need to take for a Georgia divorce, and the common issues you may have to deal with.
Before you can file for divorce in GA, you have to meet the state’s residency requirement. You or your spouse must have been a Georgia resident for at least six months, and you must file your divorce in the county where your spouse resides.
Georgia also requires valid grounds for divorce. Grounds for divorce in Georgia are any of the following:
Fill out the initial divorce forms available from your county’s Superior Court. Most of these are downloadable from the court’s website (for example, the divorce packet of the Gwinnett County Superior Court is available here). These papers require extensive information, including your financial details and parenting plan (if you have children). Take your time to provide complete and accurate info.
When you’re done, file the forms with the court clerk. Filing fees may apply.
How do you serve divorce papers in Georgia? Upon your initial filing, the clerk will give you the papers to be served, including the Divorce Petition, the Summons, and any Standing Orders. You must then serve these papers one of a few methods. The most common method of service is to have the Sheriff’s Department deliver the papers on your behalf. Alternatively, you may hire a private process server. If your spouse cannot be located, you will have to serve by publication, which is publishing the Summons in a newspaper where you filed the divorce.
Your spouse will generally have 30 days to respond to the divorce papers in Georgia. In their response, they will agree or disagree with the items you expressed in your divorce petition. If they agree to all the items and raise no dispute, your divorce will be an uncontested divorce. You and your spouse can then sign a Settlement Agreement, submit it to the judge, and wait for final approval.
However, most divorce cases are contested. Spouses have disputes over matters such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. If your spouse’s response expresses disagreement, the court will schedule a trial for your divorce.
If your spouse fails to post their response within the 30-day deadline, you may request the court for a default judgment, which means all the items in your divorce petition could be granted in your favor.
Along the way, you will have various engagements to attend, depending on your case. Do you have to go to court for a divorce in Georgia? If your divorce is uncontested, you may only need to attend at the Final Hearing for the judge’s official divorce decree. An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, may involve temporary hearings and depositions before the Final Hearing.
You must also show up at out-of-court engagements required by the judge or by law. For instance, Georgia requires almost all divorcing parents to complete a parenting education class. Judges are also inclined to require mediation before a divorce trial begins. Majority of mediated divorces result in an agreeable settlement, eliminating the need for a costly and lengthy trial.
In Georgia, your official divorce decree will be given at the Final Hearing. Georgia law requires a minimum of 30 days’ wait before a divorce is granted, starting from your date of service. Even if your divorce is uncontested, you and your spouse will still need to go through the 30-day waiting period before divorce finalization.
On the other hand, a contested divorce takes longer because disputed issues have to be resolved. Many couples find a faster resolution via mediation, but if this process does not work, the case will proceed to trial. In general, a litigated divorce can take several months to finish, with some cases stretching over a year.
Common expenses in a divorce include paperwork fees, mediator fees, and lawyer fees. Filing costs depend on your county. In Gwinnett County, for example, the initial filing fee is $214, subject to change at any time. Also prepare for service fees: service by sheriff typically costs $50, while using a private service firm will cost higher. Some of these paperwork fees may be waived if you meet your county’s waiver requirements.
If your divorce goes through mediation, you and your spouse will have to split the mediator fees. Most mediators charge by the hour, with bills normally totalling between $3,000 and $7,000.
Having an attorney is not required in a GA divorce, but it is crucial if you wish to protect your interests and get fair outcomes. Divorce lawyers usually have an initial retainer fee against which your hourly fees will be charged.
Georgia does not adhere to a 50-50 split of marital property. Instead, it embraces equitable distribution, which means property will be divided fairly according to each spouse’s resources, needs, and other relevant factors.
Only marital assets and debts will be divided. Some assets and debt may be considered your own separate property, which you will get to keep upon divorce. In general, property is considered marital (divisible) if it was acquired during the marriage. Separate properties are those you obtained before marriage, or as an inheritance or personal gift.
If one party is seeking spousal support in a GA divorce, the judge will look into factors relating to the needs of the requesting spouse, the other spouse’s ability to pay, and each spouse’s conduct towards the other.
However, if the requesting spouse committed adultery or desertion, thereby causing the divorce, that spouse will be barred from receiving alimony.
There are two types of child custody in Georgia: legal custody pertains to the decision-making authority that a parent has over their child, and physical custody refers to the in-person time that a parent has with the child. One parent may be granted sole legal or physical custody, or both parents may share these parenting rights in joint legal or physical custody.
Georgia child custody is decided by a judge, who takes into account numerous factors for the child’s best interests. These factors include:
When determining the best arrangements for child-rearing, the judge will consider the parents’ parenting plan. Divorcing parents with a minor child are required to submit a parenting plan, where they propose child-rearing arrangements such as:
Can the child decide which parent to stay with? In Georgia, minors age 14 and above have the right to select the parent to live with, unless the court finds that the child’s choice is not in their best interests. If the child is between 11 and 14 years old, the judge need not follow their preference but must consider their wishes as to which parent to live with.
In Georgia, the non-custodial parent (the parent with less share of custody) will typically have to pay child support to assist the custodial parent. However, this doesn’t mean that the judge can just set a percentage of one parent’s income to pay as child support.
The computation of child support amount is based on the Georgia Child Support Guidelines (O.C.G.A. §19-6-15), which calculates using the Income Shares Model. Each parent’s income is factored in so that child-rearing costs can be distributed proportionally. Many other factors are also entered into the child support worksheet.
If you are considering divorce in Georgia, it is best that you consult a lawyer for legal guidance and the protection of your rights. In Gwinnett County and other Atlanta Suburbs, Attorney Sharon Jackson is a highly trusted divorce lawyer who has effectively helped hundreds of spouses obtain positive divorce outcomes.
Call Attorney Jackson today at (678) 909-4100 to schedule your consultation. You may also contact her through our online form.
Attorney Sharon Jackson LLC
175 Langley Drive, Suite A1
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
Phone: (678) 909-4100
Fax: (678) 281-0482