How to File a Divorce in Georgia
How to File a Divorce in Georgia
Getting divorced in Georgia is similar to getting divorced in most other states. A divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for divorce, you or your spouse must be a resident of Georgia for at least six months. If you live in Georgia, you will file in the Superior Court in the county where you live. If you don’t meet the residency requirement, you will file in the county where your spouse lives.
The most simple procedure is for an uncontested divorce, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about all issues. You begin by preparing a document called a Petition for Divorce, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets (and your agreement regarding any children). These documents are filed with the court, and copies are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, where the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce, and justify severing the marital relationship. Georgia, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and several traditional fault-based grounds. To get a no-fault divorce in Georgia you need to state in the Petition for Divorce that “the marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken.” If this no-fault ground is used, the court may not issue the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce until at least 30 days after your spouse is served with the Petition for Divorce.
In most cases, there is no reason to use any of the fault-based grounds, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof. Georgia’s fault-based grounds include force, duress, or fraud in obtaining the marriage; adultery; desertion for one year; imprisonment for more than two years for “conviction of an offense involving moral turpitude”; habitual intoxication or drug addiction; cruel treatment that threatens life, limb, or health”; and incurable mental illness.
A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. The question of property and debt division may be determined by a judge or a jury. The Georgia legislature has not provided any guidelines, so this matter is left to the discretion of the judge or jury.
Alimony in Georgia
According to Georgia divorce law, alimony may be awarded according to the needs of the party seeking alimony, the other party’s ability to pay, and any “evidence of the conduct of each party toward the other.” Alimony is prohibited if the cause of the separation of the parties was adultery or desertion by the party seeking alimony. In any case where alimony is sought, the court must look at evidence of the cause of the separation, even if the no-fault ground is used. Unless the Final Judgment states otherwise, alimony ends if the spouse receiving alimony remarries.
If granted, the amount of alimony will be determined by considering the following factors:
- the standard of living established during the marriage,
- the duration of the marriage,
- each party’s age, and the physical and emotional condition,
- each party’s financial resources,
- the time necessary for either party to acquire education or training to find employment,
- each party’s contribution to the marriage, including services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party,
- the financial condition of the parties, including assets, debts, and earning capacity, and
- any other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper.
Child Custody in Georgia
If there are any minor children, the judge (not the jury) will make a custody determination. This involves determining how the child’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made about the child’s welfare. The judge will require a parenting plan to outline the terms of custody. You and your spouse may submit one parenting plan if you are in agreement. Absent an agreement, each of you will have to submit a proposed parenting plan. Unless the judge orders otherwise, the plan must include various provisions, including:
- where and when a child will be in each parent’s physical care, for each day of the year,
- transportation arrangements for how the child will be exchanged between the parents,
- an allocation of decision-making authority to one or both of the parents,
- that a parent with physical custody will make day-to-day and emergency decisions,
- that both parents will have access to all of the child’s records and information
- if either party is in military service, there may need to be special provisions taking into account changes in the details of the custody arrangement mandated by certain deployments
- If the child has reached the age of 14, the child has the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live, unless the court determines that living with that parent is not in the best interests of the child. If the child is between the ages of 11 and 14, the judge must consider the child’s wishes as one of many factors, but need not follow the child’s wishes.
In addition to considering the child’s wishes, in the judge may consider the following factors:
- the love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties between each party and the child,
- the love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties between the child and any siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings, and the residence of such other children,
- each party’s capacity and disposition to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue the education and rearing of the child,
- each party’s familiarity with the child and the child’s needs,
- each party’s capacity and disposition to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care,
- each party’s home environment,
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity,
- the stability of each party’s family unit, and the presence or absence of each parent’s support systems within the community to benefit the child,
- each party’s mental and physical health,
- each party’s involvement in the child’s educational, social, and other activities;
- each party’s employment schedule, relating to the ability to care for the child,
- the child’s history, and home, school, and community record, as well as any health or educational special needs,
- each party’s past performance of, and future ability for, parenting responsibilities,
- each party’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent,
- any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem,
- any party’s criminal history, or history of family violence or child abuse,
- any evidence of substance abuse by either parent, and
- any other factor the court determines to be relevant.
Child Support in Georgia
A decision must also be made about how the children will be financially supported. This almost always comes down to one parent paying money to the other. Georgia child support is determined by reference to the Georgia child support guidelines that may be found at Georgia family court website.
A party’s maiden name or prior name may be restored.
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