Uncontested Divorce in Georgia
Introduction and Guide to Uncontested Divorce
This article presents an overview of getting an uncontested divorce in Georgia. Learn about filing requirements, the divorce process, property division, Parenting Plan, Settlement Agreement, and more.
Are you ready to file for uncontested divorce or perhaps still contemplating filing divorce? There are many things you need to know before filing for a divorce. Before filing, understanding the divorce process, defining your objectives, and having a plan to get through this life-changing event is important. Divorcing is rarely without some stress, proper planning can make the process less chaotic.
Uncontested divorce with children? If you have minor children you need to take time to learn specifically the laws for filing uncontested divorce with children. Matters of child custody, child visitation, child support, and co-parenting need to be thoroughly developed to provide the best possible life for the children caught up in the divorce.
What outcomes should you expect? The unique aspects of your situation will sculpt your divorce process, strategy, and results. Arrange a consultation with a divorce lawyer when you’ve gathered your thought on what you want to happen. In a consultation, a lawyer will provide you with answers to your questions. They will offer expert opinions about potential outcomes from your particular situation.
No Fault Divorce is an option in Georgia thanks to one of the 13 Legal Grounds for Divorce being irretrievably broken. This legal ground recognizes a mutual agreement that the marriage has failed, but does not place specific blame on either party. A recent article on the WomensLaw.org website includes the statement, "The judge can grant you a "no-fault" divorce in Georgia based on the marriage being "irretrievably broken," which means it’s impossible to fix it."1
Are you wondering about a legal separation? In Georgia, there is no official legal action known as legal separation. The comparable option in Georgia is to have a family law attorney file a separate maintenance agreement.
How long does it take to get an uncontested divorce?
The State of Georgia has a waiting period of 30 days from the time divorce papers were served. So, technically finalizing your divorce could be done in 31 days. In reality, completing an uncontested divorce without children takes 2-4 months, however; an uncontested divorce with minor children normally takes 4-8 months. The amount of time it takes ultimately comes down to how much litigation is required, especially when it comes to property division, child-related matters, etc.
To minimize the amount of time it takes to get divorced, the GeorgiaOnlineDivorce website offers some advice. "Reach a full agreement concerning essential matters such as child custody and support, property division, and alimony. Provide correct and detailed information about all the parties to the case and your agreement in the forms. Follow the proper filing and serving processes, as well as arrange the hearing as soon as the waiting period is over."2
The Divorce Process
The Basic Requirements
Being a Georgia resident for at least six months is a requirement to file for divorce. You also need to complete and file specific documents with the Clerk of the Superior Court in your home county.
Another requirement is that you must be able to cite at least one of the 12 legal grounds for divorce in Georgia
Hiring a Divorce Lawyer
Although hiring a lawyer is not required, most people hire a divorce lawyer to prepare and file divorce papers (Petition for Divorce). The first step is having a consultation with a local divorce lawyer to discuss the situation. Assuming there is a verbal agreement to proceed, the law firm will move you through the client on-boarding process. This is usually a very simple and straightforward process.
Agreement and Retainer
Signing an agreement with a law firm is the point where you officially hire a divorce lawyer. They will also ask you to make a retainer payment. (The retainer is an amount of money from which the law firm will make monthly deductions to cover legal expenses.) Some legal firms offer payment plans enabling the divorce top be more affordable.
Filing for Uncontested Divorce
Having now formally hired a law firm, the first task in the process is to prepare and file the Petition for Divorce. Your divorce attorney needs basic information to complete the initial filing. Generally, this includes:
- Full legal names of, and contact info for, you and your spouse. A copy of your government issued ID (i.e., driver’s license, etc.)
- If applicable, names of minor children living in your home.
- Citing at least one of the 12 legal grounds for divorce in Georgia.
Your divorce lawyer will complete the paperwork to file the Petition for Divorce. Next, you lawyer will formally submit the papers to the Clerk of Court’s office in your home county. The Clerk of Court creates a case number and assigns the case to a judge.
Serving Divorce Papers to Your Spouse
When the Petition for Divorce has been accepted by the county your lawyer will make arrangements to have the divorce papers served (delivered) to your spouse. Subsequent to your spouse being handed the divorce papers, they have 30 days to respond to the Petition. Typically, the spouse will hire a lawyer to prepare and file the response with the Clerk of Court.
Whether your spouse hires a lawyer or manages their own divorce, your lawyer will then be able to identify who to contact to move forward. From here, your lawyer can begin the steps and tasks of the divorce process in Georgia.
Steps and Tasks
Negotiating Terms of Divorce
To begin the real work, your lawyer will communicate with the opposing counsel (or spouse if they do not hire a lawyer) to get an idea of their demands. Your lawyer will advise them of your demands. Each lawyer will speak with their respective clients and continue on with litigation. It is normal to have a few areas that need to be discussed such as equitable division of property, child visitation schedules, etc. Using established norms and open communication these issues usually can be settled fairly easily.
If there are problematic issues your lawyers may suggest trying divorce mediation to reach agreement before filing for divorce. Why try mediation early in the process? An article on the DivorceNet.com website states simply, "Many Georgians facing the end of their marriage find that mediation can help reduce the cost and conflict of divorce. "3
Your lawyer will periodically contact you with developments and questions. Don’t expect daily updates as it takes time to negotiate terms and get answers from the other side. Keep in mind that you’re paying for every hour of work. Therefore, it is advisable to not flood your lawyer with unnecessary phone calls, emails, or office visits.
The Initial Hearing
Depending on your situation, there may be a need for an initial hearing. If this is scheduled, both parties and their attorneys will attend the hearing. The general purpose of the initial hearing is to deal with specific matters that exist during the divorce process.
Ideally, your lawyers will have worked out temporary terms and submit them to the court for approval. If everything meets the court’s approval you may not be required to attend an ititial hearing.
If the lawyers cannot show that the spouses have made an agreement on any item(s), you will probably have to attend a hearing to answer any questions the judge may ask. In the hearing, the judge will make decisions on unresolved items. Ideally, things are somewhat settled ahead of time and the proposed arrangements go through the court’s review with no hassles.
Typical things which may be identified and formalized in temporary orders include:
- determining which person gets to live in the marital home and which person must live elsewhere. (It’s not common, but spouses can live in the home home during their divorce process.)
- determining the monthly amount of any child support payments.
- determing the monthly amount of any spousal support payments.
- determining who gets temporary possession/use of vehicles, bank accounts, etc.
Helpful Tip: You may want to keep a copy of temporary orders on your person and/or in your vehicle. Sometimes an angry spouse will call law enforcement to file a complaint, or cause a disturbance at your home or during child visitation. Handing the court order to the police can bring the situation to a proper end. The result is avoiding problems from officers not knowing who to believe.
Property Division (Equitable Division)
Georgia is not a community property state. Divorce laws in Georgia are based on both parties having equitable interest pertaining to marital property. In a Georgia divorce, marital property is awarded based on the court’s perception of equitable distribution. Equitable Distribution does not mean a 50/50 split of property.
Among the factors considered for each spouse are their current income, earning potential, investments, savings, and retirement funds. All marital property (property acquired during the marriage) is subject to division. This includes homes, vehicles, land, furniture, and more.
Spousal Support (Alimony)
Under Georgia family law, spousal support may be ordered, but typically only when a long marriage comes to an end. However, spousal support can be ordered as rehabilitative or permanent.
Rehabilitative alimony provides a short-term remedy allowing a spouse to get back on his or her feet and obtain gainful employment.
Permanent alimony exists for a length of time, often until the death of the recipient. This is generally an option only when the recipient spouse cannot work.
Adultery nullifies any ability to get court ordered Spousal Support.
The Final Hearing
When both sides agree to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the lawyers can schedule a final hearing. This is an in-court appearance of both parties with their lawyers. The judge makes a final review of the Settlement Agreement and confirm that all requirements are met. An example is parents completing the required Parenting Seminar in a divorce withwhich involves minor children.
As part of the hearing, the judge may order a person to complete an anger management class, substance abuse program, etc. When the judge completes their review, and approves the stated terms of the divorce, it will be granted (approved). At this point you are officially divorced.
Wrapping Up Your Divorce
When the judge signs-off on the papers the court will immediately send the signed documents to the Clerk of Courts office. The judge will end the proceeding, and both parties may then leave the court room. Typically the final divorce decree is available for pickup within minutes of being received by the court’s clerical office. You can obtain a copy of the final divorce decree at no charge.
Helpful Tip: As mentioned above regarding the Temporary Orders, keep a copy of the Parenting Plan in your vehicle and readily available at your home.
Uncontested Divorce With Children
In addition to the other information provided, if your divorce includes minor children, this section is for you. The following section touches on topics for uncontested divorce with children. Use the links to visit pages with more information on Parenting Plans, child custody, child visitation, child support, and the required Parenting Course.
The Divorcing Parenting Plan
A Parenting Plan is required by the state of Georgia for every divorce with minor children. Aspects including custody (legal and physical), visitation, and how children are to be raised should be included in the Parenting Plan. Generally speaking, the Parenting Plan can be prepared any way you and your spouse choose to craft it. However, Georgia Parenting Plan laws must be met in order for the judge to approve the Plan. A divorce court judge has authority to change any aspect of the Plan.
Georgia has a very fair approach to awarding child custody. Fathers have equal footing to mothers when arguing for custody of their children. Typically, both parents can maintain an active role in the lives of their children regardless of how custody is assigned.
Can minor children choose with which parent they want to live? Per the child custody laws in Georgia, "In all custody cases in which the child has reached the age of 14 years, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live."4
Physical Custody This term refers to where the child will physically reside and addresses the parenting time allocated between parents. The primary physical custodian is the parent having the child for the majority of time. This term is interchangeable with "visitation" and refers to where the child will reside for part-time, generally a lesser amount of time than that of the parent with primary physical custody.
Legal Custody This term refers to rights given to parents to make important decisions concerned with raising the child, which includes healthcare decisions, religion, extracurricular, and education. It also permits a parent to have full access to information. Legal custody can be awarded as Sole or Joint.
Sole Custody is the condition where the court awards both legal custody and physical custody permanently to one parent. Under this situation the parent with sole custody has all the rights and obligations of the child. The other parent normally has visitation. This is a rare event as Georgia law promotes a meaningful and significant relationship with both parents. This type of custody is generally reserved for extreme parental problems such as physical or substance abuse.
The parent having court ordered visitation or parenting time typically gets weekend visits and perhaps a couple of weeks in the summer school break. There are no minimums or maximums as to the amount of time a non-custodial parent is allowed.
If parents cannot reach agreement on a visitation schedule the court will set the schedule. Parents are better suited to make family-friendly agreement versus a court decisions
In amicable post-divorce relations the parents are agreeable to sharing custody beyond what is stated in the Parenting Plan. This is beneficial for children to be able to do things like attend family birthday parties, share holidays, or go to other special events with the non-custodial parents.
In Georgia, parents are legally obligated to provide financial support for their children. Georgia has a formal system for how to calculate child support in Georgia. Basically, the formula applies a set base amount for the number of children. The non-custodial parent is assigned a percentage of that number which is the equivalent of their percentage of the couples combined income.
The court may deviate from the normal amount for unique circumstances such as couples with special needs children or when the income of a parent is unstable due to personal injury, etc.
Developing your Settlement Agreement should include provisions for more comprehensive support of your children. A best practice is considering support payments or developing accounts for: special medical care, tuition, and extracurricular activities (sports, music lessons, school trips, etc.)
Divorcing Parent Seminar
The Divorcing Parent Seminar is a requirement for both parents getting a divorce. This is a one-day class that covers the challenges and best practices for co-parenting after divorce. Your lawyer can advise you of the contact in your county. Calling to obtain schedule information and register for your seminar is easy.
Common Problems During Divorce
During the uncontested divorce process there may be conflicts and problems. These issues may be accidental or unpreventable, or they may be deliberate. In any event, there are ways to address and resolve issues. Among the most common issues people experience during a divorce are:
Stalking & Domestic Violence
The strongest pro-active action is to obtain a Temporary Protective Order (TPO), which is effectively a restraining order. Conversations between lawyers can create a collaborative effort resulting in the offending party stopping their improper actions.
Failure to Pay Support
The strongest action is filing a motion for contempt. This puts the matter before a judge to decide on the appropriate action. Possible outcomes are an official reprimand, fines, jail time, and garnishment of wages. Sometimes, before filing a motion, a conversation between lawyers can result in a conversation with the offending party to stop their actions.
Failure of Respecting Visitation
The strongest action is filing a motion for contempt. This puts the matter before a judge to decide on the appropriate action. For instance, the offender may be subject to a formal reprimand, fines, jail time, and loss of privileges. Sometimes, before filing a motion, a conversation between lawyers can result in a conversation with the offending party to stop their actions.
Travel and Relocation with Children
A spouse with custody may announce their intention to relocate to another state. Sometimes one of the parents may announce they want to take the children out of the United States or on an adventure that may seem dangerous. In these situations you need to contact your lawyer to discuss potential legal remedies.
Unsavory Behaviors Affecting Children
During a divorce it is not uncommon for a parent to conduct themselves in a less than ideal manner. Moreover, some of these behaviors can be considered detrimental to the safety and welfare of minor children. Common problems include "excessive partying," overnight stays of non-family members, and general failure to provide proper care for minor children. In these situations you need to contact your lawyer to discuss potential legal remedies.
Making It Through A Divorce
Going through a divorce can be stressful and frustrating. Trusting your lawyer, remaining calm, and avoiding mistakes in how you conduct yourself are the top things you need to do. If you start dating, harass your spouse, or otherwise act out, you will complicate your divorce. Some bad behaviors can negatively affect child custody and visitation decisions. Spend less time thinking back, and more time thinking forward. It may not be an easy transition but you will make it to a new beginning.
Changing Your Settlement Agreement
Life moves on and everyone’s situations change. Often, these life changes make certain areas of your Settlement Agreement difficult or impossible. Common life changes are loss of employment, substantial decrease in income, remarriage, relocation of residence, and health or medical matters. Changing the terms in your Settlement Agreement or Parenting Plan is done via a Divorce Modification.
Time Restrictions to Make Changes
Georgia laws allow for an individual to petition the family law courts to formally make changes to the current Settlement Agreement. A person may request changes only once in a two year period. For example, on the day your divorce is made final you will have to wait two years before requesting changes. If you wait many years to request a change, approved or not, you will have to wait two years before again requesting changes.
Other than the two-year requirement, there are really no restrictions on filing for a modification. Additionally, if your ex-spouse files for a modification, it has no bearing on the timetable for you to file a request for modification.
What Should You Do Now?
Now that you have a better understanding of the divorce process it may be time to contact a divorce lawyer to discuss your specific situation. If so, call 770-956-1400 to arrange a confidential consultation.
Learning about the divorce process often starts with talking to divorced people you know and reading online content. Laws change, assumptions are made, and it’s easy to become misinformed. We urge you to arrange a consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer to discuss your situation and get accurate information.
CREDITS and FOOTNOTES
- 1 Staff Writer, "Georgia Divorce", November 3, 2021, Available from WomensLaw.org
- 2 Staff Writer, "How Long Does a Divorce Take in the State of Georgia? ", August 3, 2021, Available from GaOnlineDivorce.com
- 3 E.A. Gjelten, "Guide to Divorce Mediation in Georgia ", DATE, Available from DivorceNet.com
- 4 Staff Writer, "CHAPTER 9 – CHILD CUSTODY PROCEEDINGS", May 14, 2019, Available from Justia
- Photo by NoName 133, available at Pixabay