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Georgia Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
If a party does not have an attorney, he or she can apply for a divorce pro se, which can be done easily if the divorce is uncontested. Forms and instructions can be found in the Clerk's office or the courthouse law library. A few courts have a specific pro se section to help.
The spouse filing for divorce and completes the Complaint for Divorce, is the plaintiff or petitioner. The other spouse is the defendant or respondent.
The complaint states that one spouse has been a resident of the county for at least six months, and states a legal reason for the divorce: either a no-fault divorce, in which the marriage is irretrievably broken; or a traditional fault divorce, based on one of 11 fault grounds.
Other issues, such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support and alimony, can also be identified in the complaint.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
Filing means the plaintiff or petitioner has given the Complaint to the Clerk’s office of the Superior Court in the county of filing. The clerk dates and time stamps a copy of the signed complaint and returns a copy with a date stamp and notation showing that it has been filed with the court. A copy then goes to the respondent spouse.
Many Georgia counties have a domestic relations or family law self-help department to help with filing (not legal) questions.
Serving the Documents
Service of Process is the legal way to give the Complaint for Divorce to a Spouse. The sheriff or another process server gives the divorce papers to the other spouse, which is called "service of process." There is also a fee to have the Complaint served.
Once the server has delivered the Complaint, he or she must then return to the court clerk and make note in the court docket that the defendant has been served.
If the defendant agrees, the spouse or his or her attorney can simply accept service. The acceptance of service of the complaint must be in writing, signed by the spouse, and notarized by a notary public. The clerk’s office should have a form called an Acknowledgement of Service, which is used for this method of service.
In Georgia, a party can also agree to be served by e-mail, but he or she must file a Notice of Consent to Electronic Service with the court. Usually it is easier to have them complete an acknowledgement of service.
If the other party refuses to accept service, the clerk may send the complaint by certified mail, and use the return of the certification as proof that he or she received the complaint.
A missing spouse can be served by publication, which requires the plaintiff or appellant to sign an affidavit for the court saying that he or she cannot find the spouse and stating the last place he or she lived. The superior court clerk can help in service by publication.
Disclosing Financial Information
The county may require certain financial disclosures in connection with filing. The information may include the following: income, assets and liabilities, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, personal financial statements, and any other documentation containing financial information that the other spouse or the court should know before the divorce is finalized.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
When the spouses agree on all major issues - such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support and alimony - they can file for an uncontested divorce. They need to prepare and sign a settlement agreement and state that all issues raised in the complaint have been resolved.
After the Complaint for Divorce is served on the other spouse he or she may file an answer. If not, the divorce is considered to be uncontested. If there are no issues to be decided (such as child custody, child support, division of property, etc.) then the court schedules a hearing where the judge makes a final decision.
If the divorce is contested (when the or she files the Answer), the court may schedule the case for a temporary hearing or a trial.
Courts have different schedules for trying divorces. The court may require that the parties attend mediation.
Finalizing the Divorce
A divorce in Georgia can be granted as soon as 30 days after the date of filing. However, the final decree will not be granted until all the issues including child custody, child support, alimony and property division have been resolved. A complicated and contested divorce can take years to become final.
In a Georgia divorce, the mother is not automatically given custody of the children. The judge considers the best interests of the child. The court considers the age and gender of the child, the child's relationship with each parent, and the ability of each parent to take care of the child. Sometimes, the court will allow a child over 14 years old to choose who he or she will live with. Visitation rights are usually given to the parent who does not get legal custody.
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