If one spouse fails to answer a divorce petition in Georgia, it will not stop the divorce process from moving forward. It can instead create negative consequences for the supposed respondent.
If you’ve been served divorce papers by your spouse, you must file a legal document called an Answer within 30 days to protect your rights. On the other hand, if you’re the petitioning spouse and your husband or wife refuses to file their response, the court may grant the divorce in your favor.
If your husband or wife has filed for divorce, they must “serve” or formally deliver the documents to you. This gives you an opportunity to respond to the items in the complaint, such as alimony and child custody, for example. If you ignore the complaint or fail to file your reply within 30 days, you waive your right to be notified about the case.
Normally, a responding spouse will be notified by the court about scheduled hearings, other court dates, and the judge’s decision. But if you have failed to reply, the divorce proceedings will move forward without notice to you. You likely won’t be able to participate in the trial and thus won’t have a say in divorce decisions. The court can even grant the final divorce decree without your knowledge.
Without your involvement in the divorce process, the court is more likely to favor the requests in the divorce petition. In addition, if the petitioning spouse has allegations about you such as adultery, it will be harder for you to defend yourself if you don’t raise your arguments in a formal Answer. Get the help of a divorce attorney if you have trouble defending yourself from an unfair divorce complaint.
If you’re the divorce petitioner (the one filing for divorce), you must first ensure that you’ve served the documents properly to your spouse. You need to follow a service method recognized by the court.
Typically, you’d have the Sheriff’s Office or a private process server hand-deliver the papers to your spouse. If you can’t locate your spouse after diligently searching, you’ll have to ask the court to allow you to serve by publication, which means you’ll publish the divorce notice in a newspaper.
Once service is completed, your spouse has 30 days to file their Answer. If they fail to do so, you can request the court for a divorce “by default.” The term “default divorce” generally means that the divorce petition is granted in favor of the petitioner because the respondent has failed to reply. However, Georgia does not officially grant a default divorce. What it does allow is the continuation of the divorce process with only one spouse participating.
To continue the process, you’ll need to present additional papers to the judge, showing that you have done all you can to notify your spouse of your divorce complaint. You may need to submit an Affidavit of Diligent Search. If your spouse simply refused to sign the papers upon service, the Sheriff or process server must sign their own affidavit to swear that the service was done properly.
The judge will review all the evidence and schedule a judgment hearing. Note that throughout this whole process, your spouse still has the right to defend their side by submitting pleadings to the court, as long as the judge has not yet entered the court’s judgment. But if your spouse does not participate at all, the judge will likely make decisions favoring your divorce petition.
Whether you’re the petitioner or the respondent, the process of divorce can be riddled with complications. You’ll want to take concrete steps to protect your rights and interests. If you’re in north-central Georgia, contact Attorney Sharon Jackson, one of Gwinnett County’s most trusted divorce lawyers. For over 20 years, she has assisted numerous spouses in complicated divorce cases, securing fair results for them.
Schedule your consultation with Attorney Jackson. Call (678) 909-4100 today.