How does the divorce process work?
Learn the steps to file for divorce in Georgia.
Step 1. Before Filing
Before you file for a divorce, you and your spouse must be considered separated in a legal sense. Even if you live in the same house with your spouse, you can still be considered separated as long as you are not:
- Sharing the same bedroom with your spouse
- Having a sexual relationship with your spouse
- Intending to continue a marital relationship with your spouse
Step 2. File for Divorce
If you initiate the divorce, you are the plaintiff. For a fee, you will file a document called a "complaint." If you receive a divorce complaint, you are the defendant (or respondent).
Because Georgia offers no fault divorces, only one party needs to convince a court that the marriage is beyond repair. This means you can get a divorce even if your spouse refuses to acknowledge your complaint or sign any papers.
What are the residency requirements for filing a divorce in Georgia?
The party filing for a divorce, known as the plaintiff or petitioner, must be a resident of Georgia for at least six months before filing a petition for divorce. A nonresident plaintiff may file a petition for divorce if the spouse, the defendant, has been a resident for six months.
Where do I file?
You will file your complaint with the Superior Court of the defendant's county of residency.
If the defendant recently moved to another county within Georgia or out of the state of Georgia, you may file the complaint in your own county of residency if that county was also the domicile of your marriage prior to the defendant moving.
Additionally, with the defendant's consent, you may file your complaint in your county of residence regardless of whether the defendant moved out of the state of Georgia or not.
Once filed, the county sheriff will serve a copy of the complaint to the defendant.
What should my complaint say?
Most experts on family law highly recommend that you hire an attorney to help you prepare and file your complaint. Your complaint sets the tone for the entire divorce process. If you miss important details or fail to provide adequate reasons for initiating a divorce, you will hurt your chances of achieving your financial goals and the outcome you want for your family. Your complaint also establishes the proper jurisdiction and venue for your divorce and includes information about your marriage regarding:
- Present living arrangements
- Children of the marriage
- Grounds you are seeking for divorce
When you assemble the information needed for your complaint, your attorney will also discuss strategy with you and help you with the often tedious paperwork involved with filing for a divorce.
Is there an advantage to being the plaintiff in a divorce?
If there is a trial, there is a technical difference in that you get to speak first and speak last through each phase of the trial.
The plaintiff usually gets to drive the process.
For some there is an emotional significance to being the plaintiff or the person having to request relief versus the defendant.
How do I respond if I am the defendant?
You need to respond to the complaint within 30 days and do one of the following:
- Accept the terms of the divorce
- Object to the reasoning behind the filing
- Agree to the divorce, but object to the grounds
You (and preferably your attorney) will cover similar information in responding to the complaint as you would if you served the complaint. You may also consider issues of child support, spousal support, and child custody during a temporary hearing.
Step 3. Collect All Relevant Information During a Discovery Process
Once a divorce is filed, you're now on to the tedious but necessary step of information collection for the discovery process. From this point forward, the time a divorce takes depends upon if it's contested or uncontested.
What if I go through a contested divorce?
When you and the defendant cannot resolve your differences prior to filing for a divorce, you will go through a contested divorce. Contested divorces usually cost more and take a lot longer. That's because the process slows down as details about property division, alimony, child custody, and child support are sorted out.
As you build your case, you and your spouse will:
- Collect information about each other
- Ask each other questions
- Respond to whether certain statements are true or false
- Take testimony from witnesses
After collecting all of this information, you are now ready for trial.
What happens while I wait to go to a final hearing?
Either of the spouses may request a temporary hearing. A temporary hearing resolves the issues of child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, debts, and possession of real and personal property on a temporary basis until the final decision can be made. The judge will issue a temporary order that applies until the time of the final trial. The temporary order may also prohibit one party from interfering with the other party or the children and prevent the transfer and selling of assets.
Step 4. Present Your Information at Trial to a Judge
The judge at the final trial decides questions of child custody and visitation. The judge alone or a 12-person jury (if one of the parties has requested) will resolve all of the financial issues of the marriage, such as division of property, division of debts, alimony, and child support. At the final trial, both spouses present evidence by their own testimony and may call other witnesses. At this point, both sides can argue their case and make any final points about the evidence. After hearing any opposing arguments, the judge or jury will decide on a proper divorce settlement. Both parties must adhere to the judge's mandate, although you may appeal the decision through filing a motion.
Know that this motion is filed with the same presiding judge who heard the original arguments, and he or she will either grant or deny your motion. However, you also have the right to file an appeal to another court. Once you sign the final mandate, you are legally required to follow the orders that the judge gave pertaining to all of your post-divorce activities.
Speak with a Caring Divorce Lawyer or Family Law Attorney
As you can see, a lot of preparation leads into what is a very simple procedure—a judge hearing both sides and making a decision. That preparation and strategy is the most important part of the process, and that's why you need an experienced family law attorney to help you.
At Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor, we are here to help you in your divorce case. Give our caring attorneys a call at (678) 971-3413 or schedule a consultation.