Your Complete Guide to Getting a Divorce in Georgia

by Lauren Cook-McKay | Last Updated: October 8, 2021

Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives

 

‘Til death do us part, for better or worse' but let's face facts, marriage isn’t an easy thing. Sometimes, two people once in love find themselves in a situation where it’s a tough decision to stay married.

Divorce isn't something most people plan for, but sometimes it is unavoidable. In the United States, almost 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. The event can be traumatic as it is, but with the correct information, it can be a smoother process.

While the emotional toll is quite personal, a clear understanding of the process mitigates the legal and financial sides to divorce, along with knowing what you want from the process and how to be your best advocate.

We've collected the information for you to help ease the transition as you obtain a divorce in the state of Georgia.

picture of getting a divorce in georgia

Types of Divorce in Georgia

Divorce isn't always a straightforward process. There are many factors to consider when filing, such as assets, alimony, child custody and support, and whether you can agree with your former spouse. There are two main types of divorce in Georgia.

  1. Uncontested divorce
  2. Contested divorce

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce occurs when you and your partner agree on the terms of the divorce. When there are no disagreements, the process is much simpler. Both parties agree to everything before filing for divorce, and the court does not need to arbitrate any decision.

If you and your spouse can work out a mutually agreeable settlement, you’re on your way to getting a quick and inexpensive uncontested divorce.

For one to obtain a divorce in Georgia, only two things are required. One is that you have lived in Georgia for at least six months (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-5-2.) The other is that you must have grounds for divorce (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-5-3).

Georgia has “fault” and “no-fault” grounds for divorce. There are 13 allowable grounds, including:

Only “the marriage is irretrievably broken” is viewed as a “no-fault” judgment for divorce. The rest assume fault in one party. To get divorced on “at fault” grounds, you must prove that one of the above is valid within the marriage.

A private investigator could help provide evidence to support claims of wrongdoing, as evidence contributes to decisions regarding child support and custody, division of assets, and alimony.

Regardless of the grounds, you need to decide if you want to file pro se (without attorneys) or with legal representation. Then, you'll file a “Complaint for Divorce,” or “Petition,” with the court. Whoever files the paperwork is listed as the “Plaintiff” or “Petitioner,” while the other spouse is the “Defendant” or “Respondent.”

Forms for divorce complaints vary if you have children. With children involved, they are more complex because you must reach custody agreements as well. You can get paperwork from your county's website or the court clerk at your county's Superior Court. You can also use a DIY service to fill out the forms.

When you are ready to file, take the paperwork to the Superior Court Clerk in the county where you live. To find where to go, take a look at the Find My Local Superior Court page online.

The court will charge filing fees, but you can request a waiver if you have financial hardship by filing an “Affidavit of Indigence” or “Poverty Affidavit” with the court. The court will determine if you meet the requirements to waive the fees.

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Uncontested divorces save you time and money
  • Drama free way to end the marriage
  • These divorces tend to process quicker
  • You can avoid taking the divorce to trial
Cons
  • Requires the ability to navigate the divorce process
  • If domestic violence is involved, a contested divorce is safer
  • Neither spouse can demand additional spousal support or child support unless the other agrees.
  • Both spouses give up the right to appeal the terms of the divorce in the future.
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Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is one where both partners disagree on the division of assets or other terms of the divorce. This disagreement could be any small or large detail from the separation of your lives. The term contested means that the parties involved are adversarial and that negotiations must take place.

Adversarial doesn't necessarily mean angry, ugly, or violent, however. Any disagreement that needs a mediator leads to a contested divorce. Some of those disagreements could be:

A contested divorce takes much longer than an uncontested divorce because the court needs to review all data and evidence regarding the disagreement. It is not a quick decision.

In Georgia, a contested divorce is like any other lawsuit. The process includes filing and answering the complaint, discovery, motions, hearings, mediation, and potentially a trial. A contested divorce is expensive and time-consuming, so it is beneficial to use a mediator if possible.

Despite one spouse potentially wishing to remain married, divorce happens if a complaint for divorce is filed. The opposing spouse can contest the divorce, but an unwilling party does not need to remain in a marriage without their consent.

When mediation does not resolve the differences, you'll need to have hearings. Your attorney will work with you to prepare your case and schedule the hearings with the court.

Both sides present evidence to the court supporting their claims regarding the complaint (divorce request). Over a series of hours and even days, the court determines how to divide assets and the divorce terms.

Other hearings that take place include the determination of child custody and spousal support. If children are involved, and the disagreement is over who should have custody or the balance of custody, a guardian ad litem might get involved.

A guardian ad litem advocates for the children, not on behalf of either parent, to determine what is best. This process involves investigating both parents, sometimes a psychological evaluation, and other information to determine the best placement for any child/children.

Some factors Georgia divorce courts consider for custody include:

Each of those factors helps the court determine which parent should be the custodial parent. This process takes time and can delay the final divorce ruling.

The more contentious the divorce, the longer it takes to reach a solution.

The purpose of the court is to determine what is equitable or fair for all parties based on all evidence provided. With a contested divorce, the court uses the best judgment to resolve disagreements.

Because of the depth of detail involved in a contested divorce, it is best to hire an attorney rather than represent yourself (pro se). While a good family attorney is expensive, not hiring one could cost even more in the long run.

Whether contested or uncontested, a hearing determines the divorce outcome, and the judge issues the divorce decree making it official. Once the marriage dissolves, both parties lead legally separate lives.

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • You can fight for what you feel you deserve
  • If you and your spouse can not get along, this will help move through the process with 3rd parties
Cons
  • You may have to go to trial
  • These types of divorce tend to take much longer
  • It's more expensive than uncontested or simplified divorces
  • Typically more stressful
Key Takeaways
There are two types of divorce in Georgia: uncontested and contested. They each have potential benefits and challenges, so it is best to consult an attorney for more information.

Residency Requirements In Georgia

To file a complaint for divorce in Georgia, one spouse must reside in the county where you intend to file for at least six months immediately before filing. Military personnel can file in the county where they hold permanent residency, even if stationed outside of Georgia at the time of filing.

Only one spouse must qualify for residency to file for divorce in Georgia. The residency of the other spouse is irrelevant. Once you file the complaint, you can move anywhere, though it is easier to remain in the county where the filing exists.

You'll file the complaint in the Superior Court where you or your spouse currently reside. Because divorce laws are state-specific, you must prove residency. If you're not a resident, but your spouse is, you can still file in the county where your spouse lives.

Suppose either party has not lived within a Georgia county at any point within the immediate six months before filing the complaint for divorce. In that case, the marriage is ineligible for divorce proceedings within the state of Georgia. If that's the case, you must wait until you've gained residency or return to your former state to file.

Key Takeaways
To file for divorce in Georgia, you or your spouse must be a resident of your county for six months before filing. You can file in your or your spouse's home county in Georgia regardless of current residence in the military.

Grounds for Divorce in Georgia

Georgia recognizes two types of grounds for divorce: no-fault and fault. Because of the no-fault option, you can file and obtain a divorce without any proof of wrongdoing. There are 13 grounds for divorce allowed in Georgia:

While these reasons offer many ways to obtain a divorce in Georgia, it is essential to note that all “fault” grounds require proof and have their own timelines and requirements for meeting the burden of proof.

If experts need to provide feedback, evaluations, and evidence, the process takes even longer. Sometimes, a spouse needs to delay proceedings due to incarceration, hospitalization, or time in rehab. As long as both parties meet all deadlines, the court allows ample time for response.

Key Takeaways
While you can file a no-fault divorce in Georgia for an irretrievably damaged marriage, 13 grounds for divorce are also recognized. Whoever files for divorce decides which grounds to claim.

Using a Georgia Divorce Attorney

In Georgia, you don't need to hire a divorce attorney. You can file pro-se to represent yourself. This might work well if you're filing an uncontested divorce and want to save on legal fees, but if your divorce is at all complicated, an attorney makes sure everything is done right.

Pro-se isn't necessarily a wrong choice, if you're knowledgeable about the law and divorce procedures or have reached an agreement with your spouse, filing pro-se could shorten the process and certainly lower your out-of-pocket expenditures.

However, if there are children or substantial assets, it is best to consider hiring an attorney possibly even if the divorce is uncontested. An attorney trains for years to ensure all forms are filed correctly, so they'll keep the process smooth and easy. Accidentally misfiling or improperly filling out a form delays the proceedings and can cost more in court fees.

What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?

Not all lawyers are alike. Law is a broad topic, and the more specialized your attorney is, the better they'll do at representing your case. Many factors contribute to a good divorce attorney, and while finding the perfect lawyer might not be possible, considering these factors is essential.

You'll want a lawyer who has experience in family law. A new or young lawyer doesn't necessarily mean they'll be bad at representing you, but if you hire a new attorney, try to choose one with an experienced firm. The combined experience within the firm provides solid support for your lawyer should they find themselves uncertain.

Hiring an estate or education lawyer to manage your divorce might be better than nothing at all. Still, their lack of familiarity with family law can be detrimental to your case. Finding the best lawyer in the field gives you an advantage because your spouse will have to settle for second-best.

Communication is critical, both in style and inflection. A lawyer who can speak with command and clarity presents your case to the court strongly and understandably. They will spend a lot of time communicating with your spouse's attorney and needs to do so effectively.

Written and verbal communication are essential skills, and a good lawyer will take detailed notes from your conversations and all calls with opposing counsel. Organization is critical.

Look for an attorney with good listening skills, accurate recall of information, and who can clearly articulate your needs without fear of speaking in public. They will take command of the courtroom during litigation, and their presence represents you personally.

Alongside communication skills is the need for good people skills. Divorce is a tricky and highly emotional situation. If your divorce is contentious, your lawyer needs to be able to remain calm, collected, and professional at all times. Being able to defuse a situation is essential, too.

Intelligence and the ability to research necessary details for your divorce are vital. Analyzing all facts, records, and discovery (information and evidence related to your complaint) are parts of developing your legal strategy. Knowing all aspects of the case and how to represent them in your favor best will be necessary.

Logic and good judgment often affect decision-making during a divorce proceeding. Your attorney needs to consider all holes in your spouse's argument and find ways to problem-solve creatively when new facts come to light. They need to think quickly in surprise situations.

Finding an attorney who is wholly committed to your case and your success is the most crucial part. A person can have all the other qualities – intelligence, creativity, communication skills – but if they aren't firmly in your corner, they aren't suitable for you. It's okay to shop around and interview a few attorneys before hiring someone.

How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney

Now that you know what to look for in an attorney, it is time to find one. Often, word of mouth is the best place to start. If friends or family have used an attorney for their divorce, they'll have recommendations for who to hire or avoid.

Your budget impacts the decision, too. While the filing fees are relatively consistent, lawyers have different hourly rates and retainer requirements. Cheaper isn't always better, but neither is the most expensive automatically the best.

When discussing your divorce budget, aim high. Expect it to cost more than you think it will. Especially if it is a contentious divorce, things come up that change the amount of time your lawyer spends on the case or if you need to file more information with the court.

Make a list of all lawyers in your area who specialize in divorce. Look them up online, read reviews, and ask around for references. Read testimonials from their clients, and look for any red flags.

Check out the State Bar of Georgia website for a search of lawyers in your area who specialize in divorce. This tool is incredible because it will tell you if someone accepts new clients, offers a free initial consultation, how long they've been in the Bar Association, and if they're in good standing.

If an attorney isn't in good standing with the Georgia Bar Association, move on to one who is. The Bar Association keeps meticulous records of attorney conduct and complaints, and their recommendation for good standing is incredibly valuable.

Once you've made your list, call their offices for an estimate on cost and ask if they offer a free initial consultation. After you have gathered all the information, decide who is your first choice and schedule an appointment.

Your initial consultation can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You'll explain the situation, why you want the divorce, whether you foresee any contention or disagreement, and what your hope is for the process.

Ask your interview questions and get a feel for whether this attorney is a good fit for your needs.

If you don't feel comfortable with them at this appointment, it is acceptable to move on and schedule a consultation with another attorney. This person is working on your behalf, so you must be comfortable and confident in their ability.

Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys

As with any job you're hiring for, interviewing your divorce attorney is a necessary step. This happens at your initial consultation and determines your next steps. Interviewing an attorney before hiring them gives you an idea of what to expect from their work.

Do you specialize in divorce, and how long have you been handling divorces?

You want a specialist because the law is incredibly intricate. A specialist has the best training to understand the details in your case. Knowing their experience tells you how comfortable they are. If they are new, that's okay, but ensure they have the support of their firm if they get stuck.

What is your communication process?

You know they have other clients, but how often will they contact you? How long will it take to return a call? Do they prefer to communicate by email? If you want someone to get back to you faster, you may need to pay a higher fee for exclusivity.

Some attorneys will return calls the same business day, while others may take a day or two to call you back. Make it clear what you expect and what they can provide, so there is no misunderstanding later.

What strategy would you use for my case?

While they won't know the specific details just yet, a general idea of their approach will tell you if you're compatible. Do they want to remain professional and polite, or are they willing to get into the trenches? Make sure your style matches theirs.

How do you charge?

Some lawyers have a flat rate, while others charge for every phone call and email separately. Will they charge for work their secretary does at a different rate, and how do they charge for meetings with opposing counsel? Do they use paralegals, and how does that charge factor into your retainer?

What other charges should we expect?

Will they hire private investigators? Do they need a guardian ad litem? Will there be psychologist or physician appointments? They can't predict every expense ahead of time, but an experienced attorney generally knows what to expect based on past cases.

Who else in the firm will work on my case?

Sometimes paralegals or new attorneys consult on cases. It is nice to know who will have access to your confidential information.

It is also essential to know if most of the work will be done by associates or paralegals because your attorney may be less familiar with the case if they're working off briefs and documents prepared by other people.

Do you use mediators?

Sometimes a mediator can help speed up the process and keep the court fees lower. They aren't necessary for a divorce but have a different skill set than an attorney.

What is the estimated cost for my divorce?

While this question is difficult to answer, an experienced attorney will know how much will be involved. Keep in mind an estimate is not a final bill, and there may be more charges.

How do you think the case will turn out?

Does the attorney believe you have a strong case and a good chance of getting the terms you request? The less contested the divorce, the more likely a judge will simply rule on the terms as-is, but sometimes a judge will change the terms to be fairer to both parties.

Tell me about yourself.

Getting to know your lawyer as a person without being too personal is part of building your working relationship. The type of person they are should match your values, at least on some level.

Is the Initial Consultation Free?

Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation, but it is not required. Be sure to ask before you schedule your consultation.

If the consultation has a cost, sometimes they'll offer a reduced cost or allow you to apply it toward your retainer if you hire them to represent you.

If the cost of the divorce is prohibitive, Georgia Legal Aid might be able to help you find an attorney at a reduced cost or through the Pro Bono Project of the State Bar of Georgia.

Is the Meeting Confidential?

Yes. Meetings with an attorney are considered privileged. Even if you choose not to hire them, they cannot discuss your appointment with anyone else. At no point can an attorney break privilege unless someone is in imminent danger.

If you decide not to hire them, they cannot work for your spouse either because it is considered a conflict of interest. Their knowledge of confidential information from your meeting could affect their work for your spouse, which is why attorneys will not take the case for the other spouse.

Pros of Using an Attorney

An attorney's knowledge is far greater than anything you might find online or on your own. Their experience and expertise are invaluable. Some of the benefits to using an attorney include:

Cons of Using an Attorney

There aren't many reasons not to use an attorney, but it is essential to consider all sides. The cons of using an attorney include:

Key Takeaways
Choosing an attorney is a long and personal process, so be sure you know what you're looking for before hiring someone. You can file your complaint pro se if you choose.

Filing for Divorce in Georgia

Once you know you meet the requirements for residency and if you're filing a no-fault, fault, contested, or uncontested divorce claim, you're ready to file.

Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

Prepare your forms beginning with the “Complaint for Divorce.” The person filing the complaint is the “plaintiff” or “petitioner,” and the spouse is the “defendant” or “respondent.” Be sure to fill out the form appropriately.

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Filing Your Divorce Forms

Send your form to the Superior Court clerk's office in the county you're filing. Once you give them your signed copy, they'll return a copy to you with a date stamp, showing the date you filed the form.

Serving Your Spouse

Once you've filed the forms, you need to provide a copy to your spouse. This is called “serving” the complaint. You can do this in several ways.

Your spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint. If they do not respond, it becomes “default,” and the divorce can continue without their participation.

Failure to respond means they waive their right to receive future notices, including the time and place of the trial, entry of judgment, and notice of any decisions. This misstep on their part could mean your spouse is completely unaware that you are now divorced.

Financial Disclosures

You and your spouse must adequately disclose all assets to the court so the judge can distribute them equitably between the parties. The information you'll need to disclose includes:

Steps to Filing for Divorce in Georgia

Filing for divorce is easy as long as you pay attention to deadlines and fill out forms without errors. The litigation process can be complex, but the process itself is straightforward.

  1. You or your spouse must meet the residency requirements for the state.
  2. You must have grounds for your divorce – either one of the 13 allowable at-fault grounds or the no-fault ground of an irretrievably broken marriage.
  3. File all papers with the court and serve your spouse.
  4. When your spouse receives the divorce papers, they can respond that they agree and proceed with an uncontested divorce or file a response that they disagree, which prompts a contested divorce. If your spouse fails to respond, the judge can issue a default judgment in your favor.
  5. Division of assets, child custody, and child support are then settled. Once these issues are resolved, the divorce is finalized.
Key Takeaways
There are many parts to the paperwork for filing for divorce, so be sure you're filling it out correctly to save the time and expense of re-filing.

Online Divorce in Georgia

Online divorce services are an increasingly popular way for those looking to complete their divorces cheaply. Online services are a method of preparing divorce documents that’s much less expensive than going through the traditional route of using an attorney.

In essence, online divorce services are similar to platforms like TurboTax that help you complete your tax forms efficiently.

Rather than reading through complicated and unclear legal language, you can answer questions in simple English about your family, financial, and relationship situation.

Then, your online divorce software will output out the completed documents ready for you to file with the courts. In fact, some online services will even take care of it for you, so you don’t have to handle court proceedings.

So, rather than going through all the difficulty and confusion of filling out your divorce forms yourself, the online platform will guide you through the process in an easy-to-understand way. Not only that, but you can also save a lot of money while bringing this chapter of your life to an end.

How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in Georgia

Unfortunately, not everyone can get a divorce using an online provider, as there are some preconditions for getting a divorce online.

The most significant barrier to using an online divorce service is that people who are pursuing a contested divorce cannot complete their forms online. Rather, you must be seeking an uncontested divorce after agreeing to a settlement with your spouse or partner.

This rule results because contested divorces feature issues that are too complex to be run through a standard online questionnaire, while uncontested divorces are often a matter of filling in the proper forms correctly.

Best Online Divorce Services
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Do You Still Need to Go to Court?

Yes. First of all, you will still need to file the divorce forms, which you can do by mail or by going into court yourself.

Secondly, there will still be a hearing to finalize the divorce, which you’ll have to attend if you submitted the complaint and have the option to attend if you are responding to the complaint.

Key Takeaways
Online divorce services are an inexpensive option for couples getting an uncontested divorce, but they aren’t an option for those with a contested divorce. We recommend 3StepDivorce learn more >>

How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce in Georgia?

Even if you've considered divorce for a long time before finally deciding to file your petition, there are still potential issues that could drag it out longer. Georgia has a mandatory waiting period of 31 days from the date of the complaint before the judge will make a judgment.

Other factors that affect the timeline include:

While you may agree on most of the divorce terms, the terms in dispute require time to discuss and negotiate. The court schedules negotiations when convenient for all parties and their attorneys, so finding a date for meetings can be complex.

Litigation within the court could be needed if you cannot agree upon the terms and conditions. The judge will hear evidence from both sides and expert witnesses.

These hearings can take months to schedule, depending on court schedules and the availability of witnesses.

Beyond that, the availability of court dates is outside anyone's control. If the court is busy, it could be months before there is time available for your divorce proceedings.

Overall, the process will take no less than 31 days but could take many months, depending on how everything aligns. An uncontested divorce will take far less time.

Complications of a Contested Divorce

Many factors affect the process of a contested divorce. The division of assets, custody of children, alimony, and child support require meetings, negotiations, and mediation. Some parts may take less time than others, but the entire process can last several months.

In some cases, the judge can delay a decision for other factors or because they want more information. While this doesn't happen very often, it can delay your divorce hearings. Criminal cases take precedence over civil, so your divorce could be moved to a later date if needed.

Regulations and Waiting Periods

If the divorce is uncontested and both parties agree, divorce can be granted any time after 31 days have passed from filing the “Acknowledgement of Service.”

If the service is unanswered, the court can grant the divorce after 46 days from the defendant/respondent served. The exception to this is if there are children involved or there's a court-ordered extension.

Divorce with an unanswered claim is entered by default and leaves the non-responsive spouse with no recourse or say in the divorce decision.

With a divorce served by publication, the divorce occurs 61 days or more after the publication. This delay gives enough time for the defendant/respondent to see and respond to the complaint.

Both parties must complete and present all discoveries within a divorce case within six months from the divorce filing.

Other Factors for Time for Divorce

Many different pieces need to come together to process a divorce. Some of the things that can cause delays include:

Once everything is complete, the court will finalize your divorce and issue a decree. Your divorce then becomes part of the public record.

Key Takeaways
With many factors in the divorce timeline, it can take anywhere from just over a month to longer than a year to finalize it.

Divorce Cost in Georgia

Divorce is not free, and often costs can be expensive. The average cost of a divorce in Georgia is $14,000, most of which is attorney's fees.

Court Fees

The plaintiff, or the person filing the complaint, files the initial filing fee. The fee varies by county but is at least $200.

Attorney Fees

Attorneys in Georgia average approximately $280 an hour. They also charge for paralegal time, hours spent filing and completing paperwork, and research or communicating with the opposing counsel.

When you first hire your attorney, they'll request a retainer or a deposit that can be up to $10,000. This payment ensures they'll be able to work for you for the duration of the claim. However, sometimes costs increase beyond this amount, and once you deplete the retainer, you'll need to pay more.

Litigation Cost

Litigation costs are the fees that happen when you have to go to court for your divorce. These include filing fees, but that's not all.

If your custody agreement is contentious, a judge may order a Guardian ad Litem to argue on behalf of the children. A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a third-party individual whose sole purpose is to determine what is in the children's best interest and present that to the court.

A GAL will charge a separate retainer that you and your spouse both contribute to. They bill to the retainer first, like an attorney, and then charge you and your spouse for any expenses incurred above the retainer amount.

The cost of divorce with custody disputes can climb over $22,000.

If drug testing or psychiatric tests occur, those expenses bill separately and can be more than $2,000 depending on the services needed.

If you need a private investigator to obtain evidence or documents pertaining to your divorce, they charge separately. Private investigator fees vary between $75 an hour and $350 an hour. The more experienced the investigator is, the higher the price, so choosing the more expensive option is often worth it.

Mediation (Reduced Cost)

Mediation is one way to save money on your divorce. Georgia has mediator programs through court order or community-based mediation agencies that may work for you at no cost. Professional mediators charge fees far lower than that of an attorney and help resolve disputes before going to court.

Choosing a mediator isn't a guarantee of an inexpensive resolution, however. Sometimes, even with mediation, spouses cannot reach an agreement. Lawyers get involved, and sometimes litigation and court hearings are still necessary.

Online Divorce Service

Using an online divorce is one of the cheapest ways to get a divorce in Georgia, avoiding the high fees of both attorneys and mediators. If your divorce is uncontested, you can have your divorce complaint prepared online for around $300 on average.

Note that you and your spouse will still need to pay for the fees related to filing with the court and serving the papers.

What We Recommend
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If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.

We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.

Visit 3StepDivorce Read Our Review
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Key Takeaways
Costs vary for divorce, and the key factors include mediation, contested or uncontested if you're hiring attorneys or filing pro se, and other outside services.

Custody Considerations in Georgia

Perhaps the most emotionally taxing part of a divorce is determining child custody arrangements. Both parents often want to remain involved in their child's life, and as long as there is no danger to the child, shared custody is the goal.

Deciding what is best for the children doesn't always align with your preferences as a parent. It is essential to know where you're willing to negotiate and where you stand firm.

Many parents would prefer to be the legal guardian or custodial parent, but work obligations or other life situations often make this less beneficial for the child. It isn't easy to do what is right, but as long as your goal is to protect and care for your kids, the court will decide equitably.

Under GA Code § 19-9-1, each parent prepares and presents a parenting plan. You can do this separately or together if both parents agree. The court will determine when a plan is presented, which the court requires for permanent custody decisions and modifications to existing custody agreements.

If you present an agreed-upon plan, the court won't have much to consider, though they will still evaluate the plan for child welfare.

If the plans diverge too significantly, the judge considers all factors and revises the plan to suit the child's needs, regardless of how it affects the parents.

Several parts are necessary for a parenting plan:

In Georgia, once a child is 11 years old, they are allowed to state a preference for who they want to live with. There is no guarantee that the judge will rule in that parent's favor, but they will consider the child's preference.

A custody order stays in place until the child is 18 years old, or the order is modified by re-filing with the court. Either parent can make the motion to modify the custody agreement, but the judge will require proof of a significant change before making any modifications.

Parents are required to provide healthcare and education to their children until they reach adulthood. If a parent cannot provide this care, the court grants custody to the other parent. Sometimes an unrelated person obtains custody, such as a step-parent.

If one parent has committed a violent crime, they may have visitation rights removed or exceptional circumstances set up to allow them to see the child. In these cases, a visitation order may include:

Key Takeaways
Many factors lead to custody decisions, including current parent involvement and even the wishes of the child.

Child Support Considerations in Georgia

Georgia uses an “Income Shares Model” to determine the amount of child support the non-custodial parent must pay.

Factors in Calculating Child Support

Several factors play into the calculations, and it isn't just a straightforward percentage of income like it used to be. In 2007, Georgia switched from a support range of between 17% and 23% of the non-custodial parent's income to the Income Shares Model. Factors considered include:

In the past, Georgia required the custodial parent to cover all childcare costs, but now they are divided pro-rata by income shares.

Georgia courts allow some deviation from this plan, though, based on the amount of time awarded in the custody agreement. A typical custody plan has a time split of 80/20, so the support agreement matches this.

If the court grants 50/50 custody, they could reduce the financial child support amount to reflect that even split. As with anything else in the custody arrangement, the court makes decisions for the child's best interest.

Key Takeaways
Many factors determine child support, such as the financial ability of the parents and how much time each parent spends with the child. The judge will order a support amount that provides the best care for the child.

Alimony Considerations in Georgia

Alimony, or spousal support, is money ordered to be paid from one spouse to another for financial support. Sometimes this happens during the divorce process only, and sometimes it continues beyond the final judgment.

The goal of alimony is to maintain the marital standard of living or prevent the spouse earning less money from becoming financially unstable. Georgia allows for temporary or permanent alimony.

Alimony can be paid by either spouse, depending on who has the most assets and which spouse is most in need.

Permanent Alimony

Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-4 sets provisions for permanent alimony. Most commonly, permanent alimony is for spouses where the balance of income is significantly skewed. This imbalance happens when one partner earns less or is a stay-at-home parent.

As you navigate the divorce process, it can take more than a year in some cases. Transitioning from a two-income household to a one-income household or from no income to finding a job is overwhelming.

Alimony exists to protect the lower-income partner through this process and allow them to find financial stability and independence.

Permanent alimony ends when the recipient remarries or when the parties return to court to terminate the alimony agreement.

Temporary Alimony

When one spouse transitions into the workforce, they often need additional training, schooling, or simply time to find a job. Temporary alimony has a set a date for ending, usually not long after the divorce is finalized.

Qualifying for Alimony

Before awarding alimony, a judge will determine if the requesting party needs the support and that the other can pay. If both need and ability exist, the judge will consider more factors:

The court also determines alimony based on the grounds for the divorce. If one spouse qualifies for alimony but is the at-fault party, alimony could be reduced or even denied. The court could decide in favor of permanent alimony for the spouse who was the victim of marital misconduct.

Generally, the court sets alimony in monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly payments for the duration of the alimony award. It is often paid via wage garnishment to the family support registry and then distributed to the receiving spouse.

Failure to pay alimony can result in contempt, fines, penalties, liens on property, and even jail time, according to Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-28.

Key Takeaways
Alimony can be permanent or temporary. Alimony helps each spouse to maintain a similar standard of living until the receiving spouse can support themselves independently.

Division of Assets

Georgia recognizes “equitable distribution” of property, which means that the judge will divide all assets fairly but not necessarily equally. They consider which spouse contributed the most to the marriage assets and which spouse has a greater need, among other things.

First, they determine which assets are marital and which are separate properties. Separate property is anything owned by a spouse before the marriage or given to one spouse as a gift from a third party or inheritance.

Marital property is anything acquired during the marriage, including gifts between spouses.

Separate property belongs to the original spouse, and the courts will not divide it between the two spouses in the settlement.

Negotiations for the division of marital property should be part of your initial divorce agreement. If you can't reach an agreement, then the court will divide property as they see fit. Fairness is not always 50/50, though. Factors the court will consider include:

Dividing assets is a long and arduous process, making it costly to leave up to the court. It is often best done via mediation outside of litigation, primarily because you can't make any changes once the court issues their ruling.

Mediation for the division of assets gives you more control over how they are divided and a greater chance of getting what you want from the agreement.

Real Estate

The home you lived in as a couple is considered marital property. A judge will consider factors such as who is the custodial parent, who can afford to maintain the home, and whether you should sell the house and evenly divide the proceeds.

Assuming that the custodial parent can afford to keep the house, the court awards the home to them in the division of assets so that children maintain a stable home environment.

If neither spouse can afford to maintain the home individually, the court will order the house sold and the money from the sale divided up between the two. You can use that money to purchase a new home or for rent.

The judge equitably divides real estate from the marital home, sometimes meaning that one spouse is granted ownership, but sometimes that assets are sold and the money divided.

Retirement Benefits

Retirement benefits are considered marital property for any deposits or interest earned during the marriage. The court also divides assets in a 401(k), IRA, or pension between the spouses.

When the money cannot be liquidated or split easily, the court issues a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, which divides the assets into two separate accounts, one for each spouse. This process is complicated and requires an experienced attorney.

Business

At least part of your business is likely considered a marital asset. Even if the business existed before your marriage, the value of the business probably increased during the marriage, and that value is divisible.

Dividing a business is complex, though. The spouse who runs the business will often be awarded it in the division of assets, but they may owe some money to the other spouse.

An experienced CPA will determine the valuation, and then a lawyer familiar with the business division should assist.

Key Takeaways
The division of assets is complicated. Georgia uses the “equitable distribution” rule to be fair, even if it isn't equal. Hiring a lawyer with experience in this area is essential for maintaining equity in the process.

Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Georgia

Georgia is not a common-law state, meaning that couples cohabitating after 1997 are not granted a common-law marriage. Couples who had created a common-law marriage before January 1, 1997, will still be recognized as such but should consult an attorney.

While you cannot create a common-law marriage in Georgia anymore, they will recognize common-law marriages from other states. If your previous state legally recognized your marriage as common-law before moving to Georgia, that same protection exists once you become a Georgia resident.

Because the laws are tricky and difficult to follow, it is best to consult an attorney if you're seeking a divorce from a common-law marriage.

Key Takeaways
Georgia does not recognize common-law marriages but will honor your common-law marriage from another state.

Alternatives to Divorce in Georgia

Divorce might be the only option for many couples facing the end of their marriage, but it isn't the only thing to consider.

Legal Separation

Georgia doesn't recognize legal separation but instead supports a divorce alternative called separate maintenance. Separate maintenance allows the couple to resolve custody, child support, and alimony much like a divorce, but the spouses remain legally married until they request a formal divorce.

During separate maintenance, the couple is technically still married, though living separately as though they were divorced. Assets cannot be divided in separate maintenance, though.

Part of what makes separate maintenance difficult is that you're still legally married, and therefore all debts and assets acquired during the maintenance period are still considered community property.

It is essential to create a separation agreement that includes the date of your separation and the terms you both agree on for dividing any post-separation debts or properties.

Why Choose Legal Separation?

Many factors play into deciding for a legal separation or separate maintenance versus filing for divorce. If reconciliation is possible, this is a less permanent step toward giving each spouse the time they need to process their decision.

Sometimes, religion dictates that divorce is not an option, so two spouses may separate legally but remain married for their beliefs.

Other times, divorce is necessary, but one spouse has a medical condition and would lose health insurance if no longer married. In this case, it is essential to check with your health insurance company to determine if separate maintenance disqualifies you from health coverage.

Finally, separate maintenance determinations can begin three days after filing, where the divorce takes 31 days. Separate maintenance is a way to immediately sever the legal connection to your spouse while waiting for the divorce proceedings to begin.

Separate maintenance agreements quickly become divorce terms, saving a lot of time and money because you've already decided everything. It can be an excellent step for couples uncertain of their future but want to have terms in place.

Annulment

Georgia courts dislike annulments and require solid evidence that the marriage was not valid or did not exist. If you have children together or are pregnant, you cannot obtain an annulment and must file for divorce.

Civil annulments decree that a marriage never existed. A few grounds for annulment include:

Even considering the above circumstances, you may not obtain an annulment. For example, you cannot get an annulment if you were coerced into marriage due to fraud but chose to stay with your spouse after learning about the fraud. By choosing to stay with the spouse, you effectively waive your complaint.

Work it Out Together

Sometimes couples reach a point in their marriage where things are rocky, but they are unwilling to give up. If you're already looking into divorce, it may be too late to save the marriage. Before you decide to file for divorce, consider whether there are signs of hope and if you want to hold to them.

Some of the considerations experts suggest include:

Seek Counseling

A licensed therapist or couples counselor is worth their weight in gold. There are certainly times when a couple cannot salvage a marriage, but taking the time to talk to a professional about your concerns could be beneficial.

Working through issues with trust, commitment, honesty, and others with a professional will help make you a stronger individual and make it more likely that you can fix your relationship, too.

If you've tried counseling together and it still doesn't work, divorce is still an option, but you won't know if you don't try.
 

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Open Marriage

One of the things that many newly divorced or divorcing couples find is that they are interested in dating right away. They believe that there is someone out there better suited for them than their spouse.

Often, though, that turns out to be untrue. Dating is complex, and sometimes spouses realize they are happier with each other.

An open marriage is not easy. Deciding that you're both allowed to date other people is a big deal, but it might be just the trick to realizing that you and your spouse belong together after all. It could also be the catalyst to realizing that divorce is the right choice and help you know that the decision is necessary.

Parenting Marriage

A parenting marriage exists when a couple stays married solely for the benefit of the children. They cohabitate, co-parent, and base their relationship on their shared sense of parenthood.

This arrangement of a parenting marriage can help provide a sense of consistency and stability for the children because they receive equal attention and affection from both parents. They have one home, and the family is together for every holiday.

The downsides to this arrangement can mean it is more damaging to kids, though. Children are acutely aware of tensions between adults, and as hard as parents try to maintain a positive environment, even the slightest tensions cause problems for kids.

Some of the ways a parenting marriage can negatively impact children include:

It is essential to consider whether you and your partner can genuinely remain neutral and supportive for a parenting marriage to work.

 
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She strongly believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure. Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn here.