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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in Georgia
Civil annulments or divorces are legal processes by which couples can dissolve their marriages in the Georgia Superior Courts. Both methods terminate a marriage but while a divorce ends a valid marriage, an annulment declares a marital union void, like it was never formed. In Georgia, the process for divorce and annulment, including pleading, service, and court procedure is the same. However, before any court of law can issue an order granting a divorce or annulment, certain legal grounds must be met. These grounds present the key difference between these processes. Because while anyone can easily obtain a divorce decree by stating an adequate reason, annulments in Georgia are rarely granted and only in specific situations upon showing considerable proof.
What is a Georgia Divorce Decree?
A Georgia divorce decree, also known as a final judgment, is a court document that contains the terms of a divorce and responsibilities of divorcees thereof, including spousal support, child custody, child support, property division, visitation, and debt allocation. Typically, a divorce decree does not take effect until it has been signed by a judge and the original document filed with a Clerk of Superior Court in the county of divorce. In general, divorce records are maintained by the offices of these clerks, and while in some U.S. States only the spouses involved, their lawyers, or the judge have access, these documents are open to the public in Georgia.
The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.
What is an Annulment in Georgia?
Simply put, an annulment voids a marriage contract. As stated earlier, it is quite uncommon for annulments to be granted by the Georgia Courts, but when a decree of annulment is ordered, the effect is that it returns married persons to their original status: single or unmarried, as legally, the marriage did not happen. There is a caveat, however: a decree of annulment does not relieve spouses of joint responsibilities (properties and debt) or criminal charges elicited by the marriage. Though divorce records, certificates, and decrees are available to be inspected or copied by certain parties or the public, annulment records are not. This is because the presence of a record will undermine the purpose of an annulment: which is to treat a marital union as if it never existed. The law regulating annulment in Georgia is O. C. G. A. §§ 19–4–1, et seq.
Annulment vs Divorce in Georgia
Certain legal grounds must be established before a divorce or annulment decree may be issued by the Georgia courts. These grounds are among some of the differences between the two processes. Others include limitation of periods to file a claim and within which judgment can be ordered, availability of court records, and alimony.
A marital union may be annulled if it is legally invalid from the point of inception and if the petition for annulment is based on the following reasons:
- Both spouses are closely related. For example uncle and niece, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild.
- One party possessed an unsound mind (mentally incompetent or incapacitated) at the time of union
- One party was underage (not up to 16 years of age) when the marriage union was entered
- The marriage was entered into forcefully or by duress
- A party was fraudulently induced to consent to a marriage
- A spouse was already legally married at the time of the marriage
In cases where there is a child of marriage or child to be born because of the marriage, it is not possible to file a petition for annulment of that marriage in Georgia. Rather, under O. C. G. A. § 19–4–2, an individual can file for a divorce, provided the grounds for divorce are met. Furthermore, when the petitioner is a minor or mentally incompetent, the petition for annulment can be filed by a next friend (an individual who is not a legal guardian but who represents the petitioner).
The legal procedure (pleading, service, and procedure) for divorce and annulment in the courts is the same. As such, plaintiffs are required to have been living within the state for at least 6 months before filing a petition in court. Where the plaintiff is a nonresident, such person’s spouse must meet the same requirement. Plaintiffs in active military service must reside within the state for at least a year. Typically, a decree of annulment can be granted at any time, provided a minimum of 30 days have elapsed from personal service and no objections or answers have been filed by the other spouse.
An annulment decree issued in Georgia not only nullifies a marriage contract, but can divide mutual debts, decide property rights, and order temporary alimony upon the petitioner’s request. Once this decree is issued, the marriage is invalidated and individuals can remarry.
Per O. C. G. A. § 19–5–3, there are 13 grounds for divorce in Georgia, Although, twelve of these reasons are based on the fault or behavior of one spouse, the thirteenth is Georgia’s no-fault divorce ground—irreconcilable differences. By stating this reason, both parties jointly admit that the marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be fixed. Hence, a divorce decree is issued by the court as no one can be blamed for the marriage’s failure. The other 12 reasons are as follows:
- Intermarriage between closely related persons
- Mental incompetence or incapacity
- A marriage entered forcibly, fraudulently, or under duress
- Wife pregnant for another man (if unknown)
- Willful desertion for 1 year or more, other than military service
- A conviction for moral turpitude crimes (vile and immoral offenses) where the prison sentence is at least 2 years
- Frequent intoxication
- Cruel conduct/treatment
- Mental illness with no likely recovery
- Frequent drug abuse
The more commonly used grounds for divorce in Georgia are adultery, cruelty, desertion, and irreconcilable differences. As with annulment petitions, a petition for divorce in Georgia can only be filed in a Superior Court once the requirement of living in the state for 6 months has been met. Furthermore, Georgia law does not provide a timeframe within which spouses must be separated before filing for divorce. Unlike annulment, the court may award permanent alimony, which can only be requested by parties with valid marriages. There are no restrictions placed on divorced persons indicating a length of time before remarriage.
No matter the type of marriage dissolution, consulting a lawyer on the facts or circumstances of a case is advisable, particularly in cases involving children, settlement, or valuable assets.
Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce In Georgia?
Generally, no. With annulment cases, there is the matter of litigation to ascertain that a marriage is truly illegal, which can skyrocket costs. Also, the amount of money spent to obtain an annulment can increase in contested cases, and when several disagreements or concerns must be addressed before a decree can be entered. It may be advisable to file for divorce if there will be difficulty in proving the grounds for annulment to save costs.
What is an Uncontested Divorce in Georgia?
For a divorce to be uncontested in Georgia, spouses must be on the same page as regards their divorce and all related marital concerns. Issues that may arise in uncontested divorces mostly involve children (custody, support, visitation), spousal support, assets (marital property), and liabilities. Usually, uncontested divorces do not need to go to trial before a final decree can be issued.
Where to Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in Georgia
Litigants whose divorces are uncontested and meet the residency requirements must file a Complaint for Divorce and other paperwork with the court to begin divorce proceedings. Additional forms that must be filed include:
- Case Initiation Form, otherwise known as the Domestic Relations Case Filing Information Form (available from the Clerk of Court)
- Domestics Relations Financial Affidavit
- Standing Order
- Acknowledge of Service and Summons
- Consent to Try
- Settlement Agreement (signed by both parties before a notary)
- Affidavit of Poverty and Order on Affidavit of Poverty (these forms may be used by indigent persons who cannot afford the filing and service fees)
During a court hearing, the following forms are necessary to complete a case:
- Domestic Relations Case Filing Disposition Information Form
- Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce (Settlement Agreement)
- Georgia DHR Report of Divorce, Annulment or Dissolution of Marriage and Child
Enforcement State Case Registry Form
Local Superior Courts, including Cobb and DeKalb County courts, provide some of these forms or complete form packets online, as well as detailed instructions for completing and filing the forms. Up-to-date divorce forms and packets are also obtainable from the county Family Law Information Centers (FLIC) and the Clerk of Court’s office. A divorce packet includes all forms required for a case and is commonly used by persons who want to file divorces themselves.
The forms listed above to be used by persons without children in a marriage. When there are minor children, an additional document titled, Seminar brochure: “Children Cope With Divorce” must be filed.
Once an uncontested divorce is finalized, the records are open to the public at the Clerks of Superior Court offices and sometimes, online, unless sealed by the court. Divorce records may be sealed upon showing of a justifiable reason or good cause that continual public exposure of a record will cause injury to one or both parties of a case.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in Georgia?
In line with Georgia’s law authorizing public access to divorce decrees, requests for plain or certified paper copies may be directed to the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the divorce case was heard. Divorce records are maintained by the Clerk Offices and are accessible through mail and walk-in services. There is no uniform request form provided at the state level to make these requests. Rather, a copy request form may be found on a county court’s website, along with a fee schedule, addresses, and contact information for requests. Alternatively, when this form is not available, records may be requested in writing with a case number and substantial description of the record (names of parties, the title of the record, type of copy). Interested persons may, as well, contact the appropriate Clerk’s Office for request procedures. It should be noted that fees and payment methods vary by county.
Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.
How Do I Get a Georgia Divorce Decree Online?
Some Georgia Superior Courts have individual databases offering remote public access to divorce decrees. When online access is available, members of the public may search for records with a case number or name (last, first, middle) to obtain or print results. Personal information including names, addresses, dates of birth, gender, and more, as well as the status of a case, are also accessible.