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How to File For Divorce in Georgia
Under the laws of Georgia, marriage is a legal contract. And like all contracts, marriage is subject to dissolution, i.e., divorce, when parties fail to fulfill obligations or have disputes regarding rights and domestic relations. When one spouse or a couple decides to file for divorce, the case typically begins in the Family Court division of Georgia Courts. The length of a divorce case may be as short as 45 days in uncontested divorces or as long as three years in protracted contested divorces. Without a doubt, divorce is not a trivial issue. Thus, an individual who is considering divorce must be armed with sufficient information to ensure that he/she gets a fair judgment in time and does not rack up legal fees in the process. The divorce rate in Georgia stands at 8.0 per 1000 residents, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Georgia?
Not necessarily. After Georgia adopted the no-fault ground for divorce in 1973, any party filing for divorce will receive one if he/she shows that domestic relation is no longer possible and that reconciliation is off the table. Intending divorcees may file on thirteen grounds per OCGA § 19–5–3. Some of these include mental incapacity, marriage under duress, adultery, and premeditated desertion. A divorce filing apart from these grounds mentioned in Article 3 is not acceptable in Georgia.
Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?
Granted, hiring a divorce attorney can be very expensive. An intending divorcee filing on no-fault grounds—and without contest—can easily file and receive divorce without an attorney if he/she carefully reads and follows court procedures. However, apart from contested divorce, there are several reasons an intending divorcee should consider hiring an attorney. First, the attorney is a legal buffer between the client, the estranged spouse, and the legal system. Besides, the attorney is the client’s voice of reason in a divorce proceeding that can quickly get emotional or complicated. He/she has the legal training and experience to handle the nuances that arise when getting a divorce, e.g., custody battles and financial agreements.
How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Georgia?
Before filing for divorce in Georgia, there are a few things to note. First, Georgia laws require that one or both parties must meet residency requirements. Either party must reside in Georgia for at least six months before filing the petition ( OCGA § 19–5–2).. Intending divorcees relocating for divorce will also need a lawyer licensed in Georgia—unless they are going pro se. With these known, the process for filing for divorce now depends on whether the filing is contested or uncontested.
- Uncontested Divorce: Any divorce where both spouses agree on the grounds for divorce as well as issues regarding divorce settlements. Uncontested divorce in Georgia is completed in five steps viz:
- Drafting agreements: Here, both parties prepare a mutual agreement regarding child custody and support as well as the division of assets and liabilities by following court guidelines. The clerk of courts will provide these guidelines upon request.
- Filing court papers: Here, the individual completes court forms and submits documents including the petition, agreement, and affidavits to the clerk of courts.
- Service of Process: Although the divorce is uncontested, court procedures require that the petitioner serve the defendants with copies of the document filed. The court will deny the petition if the petitioner does not follow the SOP guidelines in OCGA § 9–11–4.
- Schedule a Hearing Date: After filing court papers and serving the defendant with copies of the petition, the petition must contact the Clerk of Superior Court to set a hearing date. The statutory hearing date is no less than 45 days from the date of filing, except in extenuating circumstances and by agreement. The intending divorcee can complete this step over the telephone.
- Hearing: On the hearing date, both parties appear in court; the judge will review the documents submitted and consider any additional information from the parties. Once everything is in order, the judge will issue a divorce decree.
- Contested Divorce: Refers to a divorce where parties do not agree on the grounds for divorce or issues regarding divorce settlement, child custody, and other matters before marriage dissolution. The process for a contested divorce is not much different from that discussed above except that the court is responsible for making decisions regarding contested issues.
- File a petition: Skipping the process of drafting an agreement, the intending divorcee should complete the necessary court forms and submit a petition for divorce with the clerk of courts.
- Complete the Service of Process, i.e., notifying the other party regarding the petition for divorce and providing him/her with copies of the documents filed.
- Schedule a Temporary Hearing Date: The petitioner contacts the clerk of courts to set a temporary hearing date, which must be at least ten (10) days from the date of filing. Setting the temporary hearing date is best accomplished by completing and submitting a Rule Nisi form along with the petition (see sample form). The defendant will get notified during the service of process. The temporary hearing day is when the judge will grant temporary relief or adjudication regarding the crux of the contests. The judge may also order the spouses’ participation in mediation pending the final hearing. Suffice to say that this step in a divorce proceeding is best done with help or counsel from an attorney.
- Schedule Final Hearing: After the judge’s temporary ruling, the petitioner must schedule a date for the final hearing with the clerk of courts. Georgia laws require that final hearing be scheduled at least six months after the temporary hearing.
The court will hold a jury trial for contested divorce if one of the parties requests it. However, the jury only decides the division of financial assets and liability; only the presiding judge can give a verdict regarding child custody. Bearing in mind that the steps enumerated above are only summaries on how to file for a divorce. Nothing replaces advice from a professional and established court rules of procedure. Also, the clerk of courts can only provide the intending divorcees with court forms and official resources. The clerk, or any court staff for that matter, cannot provide legal advice.
How to File for Divorce in Georgia Without a Lawyer?
Georgia state judiciary provides legal resources for partners or spouses looking to represent themselves in a divorce proceeding. Furthermore, the judiciary directs individuals looking for information regarding self-representation in family law cases to this resource.
How Does Georgia Divorce Mediation Work?
Mediation in divorce proceedings is a form of alternative dispute resolution. The process helps intending divorcees who do not want a protracted divorce but cannot agree on certain divorce matters such as property division, child custody and support, and alimony payments. Dependent on the jurisdiction where the divorce was filed, intending divorcees may use independent mediation or fulfill a court-ordered mediation.
Usually, the mediator is a retired judge, attorney, or individual trained and certified in the act of conflict resolution. The mediator is a neutral party who has no legal grounds to make final decisions or judgments; he/she only helps arrive at a mutual agreement based on objective reasoning. Mediators in Georgia regularly receive supplemental training as required by the Supreme Court.
In contested cases, the judge will order participation in mediation before the final hearing. Depending on the court, there may be an approved list of mediators or the intending divorcees may have to find an independent mediator. Where the court has an approved mediator, the services are usually subsidized or even free.
How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in Georgia?
Mediation happens in sessions involving one or both spouses at the same time. Depending on the degree of complicated disagreements, spouses may have to attend several sessions spanning days or even months. Once a mutual agreement has been reached, however, the case goes before the judge on a scheduled date. In this case, the judge issues a divorce decree after reviewing the terms of the settlement and confirming that the couple is on the same page on all matters. When mediation fails, the case will still go before the judge on the scheduled date. However, granting a divorce decree will take longer, especially if the case involves a jury trial.
Are Divorce Records Public in Georgia?
Under the Georgia Open Records Act, Georgia divorce records are available to the public at the time of finalization. However, divorce records that contain sensitive information such as information on minors, details of financial agreements, and bank statements are not available to the public. The court may also redact identifying information about victims of domestic violence. Besides, if the court grants a petition to seal divorce records on grounds that outweigh the public right to the records, those records will not be available to unauthorized requesters.
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 the person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent of 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 Georgia Divorce Records?
Anyone can access case information and divorce records that are not sealed by statute or court order. Many counties, e.g., Fulton County and Forsyth County, make court records available online. To access and request divorce records in person or by mail, however, the requester must visit/write the office of the Clerk of Courts during business hours. The clerk’s office will provide an estimate for associated costs. Use the Georgia court locator to find the specific court that adjudicated the case.
Regardless of the means of request, all requesters must provide the necessary information to facilitate the search. These include the party’s full name, the date of filing or finalization, as well as case number. The name of the presiding judge and the attorney may also help narrow down the search. Meanwhile, for divorce verification letters, the public requester must contact the State Office of Vital Records.