If you’re a Georgian considering leaving your spouse, the legal hurdles are surprisingly the least of your worries. Georgia has one of the highest divorce rates in the United States, partly because of the uncomplicated divorce laws in this state.
If you are aware of Georgia’s divorce laws and the general divorce process, you can expect a more successful end to your marital relationship. With that goal in mind, I have created this guide to assist you with the process of getting a Georgia divorce.
Divorce in Georgia Summary
Here is a brief breakdown of everything you need to know to get a divorce in Georgia.
Divorce Petition Requirements
If you want the Georgia courts to consider your divorce petition, you must meet any of the residency requirements listed below:
If you are the spouse filing the divorce petition, you must have lived in Georgia for at least six months before filing. If you are not a Georgia resident, you can only file for divorce if your spouse has lived in the state for at least six months.
How to File A Divorce in Georgia
The first step is to make your claims known to the court and establish your eligibility to proceed with the divorce process. This is accomplished through the preparation of divorce paperwork.
If you file the initial divorce forms, the court will recognize you as the plaintiff in the divorce action, while your spouse will be the defendant.
When submitting a divorce petition in Georgia, you must choose the appropriate county Superior Court as the venue for the divorce proceedings.
The venue of a divorce in Georgia is determined by a few factors.
This step only applies to uncontested divorces.
After your spouse signs the Waiver of Service, they must also sign the Final Decree of Divorce.
In case they don’t sign the Waiver of Service, you must be the one filling out the Final Decree of Divorce, Certificate of Last Known Address, and Military Status Affidavit forms and have them signed by a notary.
As per Georgia law, all is fair in love and war, thus your spouse has the chance to respond to your claim by submitting an Answer.
In this document, your spouse can either confirm or dispute the accusations made in your divorce case.
When you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms of the divorce complaint, a hearing is required. Divorce hearings may occasionally take place at the judge’s discretion.
The plaintiff must notify the defendant of the scheduled hearing date and location if the issues stated in the complaint call for one.
The definitive decision about all facets of the divorce case will be made clear during the final divorce hearing. The judge will consider the evidence and reach a decision after both sides have presented their closing arguments.
The orders issued temporarily by the court may be changed or become final judgments.
This completes the divorce process in Georgia.
Requirements for Divorce in Georgia
It is common for states to have some requirements that qualify individuals for divorce. Usually, divorcing couples must meet a residency requirement to qualify for marital dissolution. Georgia is no different, as the laws prohibit the court from granting a divorce if the residency requirements are unmet. If you want the Georgia courts to consider your divorce petition, you must ensure you meet any of the following residency requirements:
If you are the spouse filing the divorce petition, you must have resided in Georgia for at least six months before you may file the document. If you are not a resident of Georgia, you can only file for divorce if your spouse has lived here for at least six months. A US armed forces member looking to begin a divorce action in Georgia must have served in the state for at least a year.
Moreover, the residency requirements for filing a petition also determine where the filing party will submit the divorce complaint and other forms.
Filing for Divorce in Georgia
Filing for divorce in Georgia is hardly the same experience for everyone who decides to terminate their marriage. Generally, the circumstances leading to the divorce, the type of divorce, and similar factors will direct what forms you’ll need to file and other subsequent actions you may take. Additionally, your spouse may respond to your divorce complaint with a counterclaim, which could lead to unique circumstances.
However, you can avoid the hassle of preparing forms yourself and outsource the filing of the divorce documents to an online divorce service. Otherwise, begin your pro se divorce in Georgia by following these steps:
Step 1: Preparing the divorce paperwork
Preparing the divorce paperwork is how you make your claims known to the court and establish your eligibility to proceed with the divorce process. If you are the party filing the initial forms, the court will recognize you as the plaintiff in the divorce action, while your spouse will be the defendant in the case. The complaint for divorce form is essential in your paperwork. Completing this form with the appropriate and correct information is important. In the complaint form, you will confirm that you meet the residency requirements and provide other information, including your spouse’s details, date of marriage, separation date, divorce ground(s), and other issues.
Note that the complaint for divorce form differs according to the circumstances of each individual. For instance, a plaintiff with no child younger than 18 will file the “complaint for divorce without minor children” form. Likewise, you may need additional divorce forms depending on the circumstances surrounding your divorce. For example, a settlement agreement is only necessary if you and your spouse resolve ensuing divorce matters beforehand. However, an agreement is unneeded in a contested divorce where the court will make such decisions.
Generally, you may need to file the following forms:
- Complaint form
- Case filing form
- Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (DRFA)
- Child support worksheets (divorce cases with children)
- Parenting plan (divorce cases with children)
- Summons and sheriff’s service form
- Settlement agreement
The Georgia court provides basic divorce forms on its website to get interested persons started with their divorce action. All divorce forms necessary for your case are available with the Superior Court Clerks.
Step 2: Venue for the divorce
When filing for divorce in Georgia, you will need to determine the appropriate county Superior Court, which will be the venue for the divorce proceedings.
Under Georgia divorce laws, the venue depends on a few factors:
If your spouse resides in a Georgia county for at least six months, you must file for divorce in that county’s Superior Court.
If you wish to file in your county of residence despite the defendant residing in Georgia, the defendant must agree and sign an acknowledgment form filed in conjunction with the divorce complaint.
If your spouse lives in a different state, you can still get a Georgia divorce if your spouse concurs and signs an Acknowledgment of Service, Venue, and Jurisdiction.
You may contact the Superior Court clerk in the appropriate venue to start the proceedings. Some counties also provide an option to complete your filing online.
Step 3: Serving your partner
After filing the divorce complaint, the clerk will issue a summons with the paperwork. The next step is to notify your spouse of the divorce case by serving them the paperwork and summons. The procedure involves using any legal means to deliver a copy of the divorce papers to your spouse for awareness and an opportunity to respond.
In a divorce action, Georgia law allows the accomplishment of the service of process using any of the following methods:
- The sheriff’s office will deliver a copy of the papers to the home/work address of the defendant.
- The defendant may acknowledge service of process by signing an Acknowledgement of Service form that the plaintiff will file with the divorce complaint.
- If the plaintiff cannot locate the defendant after a thorough inquiry, the plaintiff has to file a Motion for Publication and an Affidavit of Due Diligence.
If your spouse resides in a different state, you can contact the sheriff’s office in the county where your spouse lives. The sheriff of that county can receive a copy of the papers and deliver it to the defendant.
Step 4: Waiting for your spouse’s response
All’s fair in love and war under Georgia law, and this is why your spouse has the opportunity to respond to your claim by filing an Answer. Your spouse can either admit the allegations in your divorce complaint or deny them through this document.
Your spouse can also decide to neither refute nor accept the claims due to the lack of enough information or provide reasons why the allegations are partially accurate or false. Moreover, your spouse can also agree to some parts of the divorce complaint and deny other parts.
Your spouse must file a reply to the divorce complaint within 30 days of receiving the divorce papers. Alternatively, your spouse may also file a counterclaim to turn the divorce action against you by raising new issues upon which they no longer want to be with you.
Step 5: The divorce hearing
A hearing becomes necessary when you and your spouse disagree on the divorce complaint. Sometimes, divorce hearings may occur at the judge’s discretion. If the issues raised in the complaint require a hearing, the plaintiff must inform the defendant of the scheduled date and venue.
The judge may also hold divorce hearings to enable the court to issue temporary orders on divorce matters. Such temporary orders may address divorce matters, such as child custody, visitation rights, alimony, marital property division, or child support. Since these orders are temporary, the decisions may change when the judge pronounces the final judgment.
Step 6: Final judgment and decree of divorce
The final divorce hearing will reveal the conclusive judgment on all aspects of the divorce case. Both sides will finalize their arguments, and the judge will review the case to make a final judgment. Temporary orders may change or turn into permanent court decisions. After pronouncing the final judgment and granting the divorce, the court will issue the divorce decree that ends the marriage. The divorce decree marks the end of your union and relieves you of all marital vows.
If you need help with your divorce . . .
If you’re worried about filing for divorce correctly, I recommend using online divorce services to help with the process. Getting help can guarantee compliance with the legal requirements and ensure your divorce papers are valid upon filing.
To save time, check out my ranking of the seven best online divorce services to assist you with your marriage dissolution.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get a divorce in Georgia?
The duration of your divorce proceeding largely depends on the type of divorce. If you are involved in an uncontested divorce, you can expect to finalize the proceedings earlier than in contested divorces. Georgia law imposes a mandatory waiting period of 30 days after the defendant receives the divorce papers before the judge can grant the divorce. In practice, it is very unlikely to happen this quickly due to the court caseload and other specifics the court must address.
Uncontested divorces may be finalized after the 30-day waiting period has elapsed. Exactly how long after the waiting period your uncontested divorce is finalized will depend on both parties’ willingness to agree on all aspects of the divorce. The judge must also be keen to issue the decree that early, as the law binds the court to explore the possibility of reconciling the spouses.
While the 30-day waiting period does not apply to a contested divorce, it will likely take longer. A contested divorce means a conflict exists between the couple on some or all aspects of the divorce action. Generally, resolving such issues and issuing a final decree may take six months to a year or more. Such issues include child custody and division of marital property.
How many types of divorce are there in Georgia?
There are two types of divorces in Georgia. You can end your marriage by getting either a contested or an uncontested divorce.
An uncontested divorce happens when you and your spouse agree on all the issues in the divorce and work out the details in a settlement agreement. In such cases, each spouse may have an attorney or decide to resolve the matters together. Uncontested divorces are resolved faster since the court does not settle any conflict. However, there is a statutory waiting period of 30 days from the service of the divorce papers before the court can terminate the marriage.
A divorce can get complicated if the spouses are not willing to part on agreeable terms. Contested divorces are more common in Georgia and take longer to resolve, considering the discovery period of up to six months and possibilities of motions filed by either party. The court will also have to decide on some aspects of the divorce, including child custody, alimony, child support, and property division.
Do I need a lawyer to get a divorce in Georgia?
No, you don’t need a lawyer to process your divorce in Georgia. State law does not require you to use an attorney throughout the dissolution process. However, you may decide to get yourself an attorney for your case. Hiring a knowledgeable divorce lawyer can make the difference in a divorce action. A lawyer will ensure compliance with Georgia law and protect your interests if both parties enter a settlement.
On the other hand, you may proceed with your divorce action or respond to one without being represented by an attorney. Georgia law calls this a pro se representation, and you don’t have to worry about the high costs of attorney’s fees. While self-representation allows you to cut legal fees, you cannot dismiss the importance and professionalism of an attorney’s skills in a divorce hearing. For help finding an attorney, read my review of the best online divorce providers in Georgia.
Fortunately, online legal services provide filing and documentation assistance with a guarantee of compliance.
Do I have to prove separation to get a divorce in Georgia?
No, divorcing spouses don’t have to prove separation to get a Georgia divorce. While separation requires divorcing spouses to suspend their marital relations, Georgia courts will grant a dissolution of marriage request without this. However, a divorcing couple must meet the residency requirement before filing for divorce.
Separation is also possible without divorce and is considered a viable alternative to getting divorced. Georgia refers to this as “separate maintenance.” A legally married couple that no longer lives together but has no intention to divorce can decide to get separate maintenance.
Divorce and separate maintenance cases in Georgia have similar steps but different outcomes. Although the court may address custody, spousal support, division of marital property, and similar issues in a divorce during a separate maintenance case, the spouses remain legally married after the finalization. Alternatively, parties in a separate maintenance case can decide on the separation terms by creating a separation agreement, similar to a settlement agreement in a divorce action.
Is spousal fault necessary for the dissolution of marriage in Georgia?
No, an allegation of marital misconduct is not mandatory for the court to dissolve your marriage. However, you must provide legally acceptable reasons to end your marriage in Georgia. These reasons will be the grounds that the court will consider before granting the divorce request. While some states require spousal fault to dissolve the marriage, Georgia allows fault-based and no-fault divorces.
A no-fault-based divorce signifies that neither couple is to blame for the decision. In this case, the filing spouse indicates in the divorce complaint that the marriage is irretrievably broken due to irreconcilable differences. A no-fault ground shows that no side wishes to reconcile, and the relationship is irreparable. No-fault divorces are more common in Georgia.
A spousal fault is a legally acceptable ground to file for divorce in Georgia. However, the accusing spouse must prove the allegations made in the divorce complaint. The filing spouse cannot cite just anything as marital misconduct and expect the judge to hand them a divorce decree. All claims must be among the acceptable grounds in the Georgia divorce laws.
The court will only accept the following grounds in a fault-based divorce:
- Incurable mental illness certified by the court with the help of qualified mental health professionals
- Mental incapacity of either spouse at the time of the marriage
- The conviction and incarceration of a spouse for an offense involving moral turpitude, for a two-year sentence or longer
- Cruel treatment that inflicts bodily or mental pain upon the filing party who considers it a risk to their life, health, or body part
- If another man impregnates the wife without the knowledge of the husband when the marriage is still valid
- The marriage occurred due to coercion, fraud, or a party was under duress to enter the union.
- Deliberate and ongoing desertion by either spouse for at least a year
- Intermarriage by spouses the law considers incestuous
- Habitual intoxication of a spouse
- Any action considered adultery by either party
- The impotence of a spouse
- Addiction to drugs and controlled substances that the state outlaws
However, it’s essential to note that the court may not grant a divorce on the grounds of desertion and adultery if the filing spouse is also guilty or condones the act by conduct. Condonation means forgiveness and cohabitation after the spousal fault took place.
Can I get alimony in Georgia?
Yes, you can get alimony in Georgia. Alimony in Georgia is an allowance paid by someone to their ex-partner for support or maintenance of living standards. You can get alimony if the court decides you need it. The court will contemplate various factors before determining alimony in a divorce case. Before awarding alimony, the court will consider your needs and the financial capability of the paying spouse.
The court will order either temporary alimony or award permanent alimony. Temporary or rehabilitative alimony is short-term to help a spouse attain financial independence. The court may award temporary alimony during the divorce proceeding or for a few years after the divorce. On the other hand, permanent alimony lasts longer and may be in place throughout the lifetime of the awardee. The court may order permanent alimony where a spouse cannot sustain themself to age, physical or mental conditions.
While determining alimony, the following statutory factors will influence the court’s decision:
- The role of each spouse during the marriage, including homemaking, care of children, education, contribution to the career development of the other spouse, and other aspects of the relationship
- The length of the marriage
- If necessary, the estimated time that either spouse can acquire the necessary skills and development to get a job
- Both spouses’ physical and emotional health
- Each spouse’s financial health
- The couple’s standard of living during the marriage
- The age of both spouses
- The situation of each party, including separate property, income capacity, and individual debts
- Other factors that the court deems valid and fair
Note that alimony payments (temporary or permanent) end when the receiving spouse remarries.
Who gets child custody in Georgia?
When a divorce involves a child under 18, the issue of who gets child custody is common. In Georgia, the court decides who gets child custody in a contested divorce. Alternatively, the parents can agree on custody arrangements and visitation rights in a settlement agreement.
Georgia classifies child custody into physical and legal custody, and the child lives with the parent that gets physical custody. Parents can have joint physical custody, or a parent may possess sole physical custody.
Legal custody gives a parent the right to make vital decisions in the child’s life on education, health, religion, and other important matters that may affect the child. Similar to physical custody, parents can share legal custody or have sole legal custodial rights over the child. The party with more custodial rights is usually the custodial parent, while the other party is the noncustodial parent. Georgia law directs the judge to consider the child’s best interest as the foremost priority in a custody proceeding.
The following factors will impact the decision of the court:
- The residential environment of each parent and how well they can care for and nurture the child
- The physical and psychological health of each parent
- The level of emotional connection each parent has with the child
- The ability of each parent to satisfy the child’s basic needs
- The child’s relationship between any biological siblings or step-siblings residing with either parent
- The knowledge of each parent on the child’s health, educational, and social requirements
- The level of involvement of each parent in the child’s education and extracurricular activities
- How receptive each parent is to the other parent’s relationship with the child
- The relative stability of each parent
- Any substance abuse history of either parent
- Experience of any form of abuse or negligence of children by either parent
- Details of the criminal history of each parent
How is marital property divided in Georgia?
For the division of marital property, Georgia adopts an equitable distribution approach. Georgia divides property in marriage into both marital property and separate property. Note that the division only affects marital property, and each spouse will retain ownership of separate property.
The marital property encompasses all property acquired by both parties during the marriage, while separate property is owned individually before the marriage, e.g., inheritance or a gift from someone else.
To equitably divide marital property, the court will consider the following factors:
- Value of each party’s separate property and financial status
- Alimony order during the divorce case
- The income and earning capacity of each spouse
- The behavior of each spouse to the other in the marriage
- Any misconduct of either spouse that caused a dissipation of marital property
- Each party’s future needs, including retirement plans and debts
When trying to get a divorce in Georgia, it is essential that you stay compliant with state divorce laws to avoid complications.
I have made this guide to direct you on how to start a divorce action and also navigate the entire process. I hope it makes this difficult time a bit easier for you.