Georgia has one of the lowest divorce rates in the United States. According to a 2021 CDC study, there were 2.2 divorces per 1,000 people in the Peach State or 23,000 of the 10.8 million people residing in Georgia at the time.
Despite this lower divorce rate, Georgia has a robust and supportive legal framework for people contemplating divorce: the process can even be relatively simple, as far as legal proceedings go, if the divorcing couple agrees on the main points of the divorce. Depending on your case, the entire process from filing your uncontested case to receiving your final judgment and decree of divorce can be done in just over a month.
You Can File Divorce With a Spouse Outside of Georgia
For divorce complainants with spouses outside of the state’s jurisdiction, Georgia allows you to file a complaint against a nonresident spouse in your county of residence. This divorce jurisdiction law lets Georgia residents divorce without having to cross state lines.
There are some drawbacks to this in certain rare instances, but it’s still very useful to be able to separate yourself from a non-resident spouse without going through the hassle of traveling and learning the divorce procedures of another state.
Remarry Immediately After a Divorce in Georgia
The fact that you can remarry immediately after a divorce is also a plus since some states provide for a waiting period between the final judgment of divorce and remarriage.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Georgia
First off, Georgia only legally recognizes divorce and annulment of marriage; legal separation is not a concept in Georgian courts.
The closest alternative to legal separation is to apply for separate maintenance. The spouses basically go through the motions of a divorce — determining alimony, setting custody, and living separately — but they remain legally married at the end.
Both divorce and annulment are ways to end a marriage. However, divorce is different in that it declares a marriage gone and done when the court decree is issued, whereas an annulment retroactively ends the marriage when it started. Annulment is rare in Georgia, usually reserved for marriages that are void under the law.
Is Georgia a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Georgia provides for a no-fault cause for divorces, specifically that the marriage is irretrievably broken with no reasonable hope of reconciliation. This is a catch-all term for different reasons one might have for wanting to end their marriage.
If you do choose this cause, state laws require that you wait 30 days before a court can grant your divorce.
How to File for Divorce in Georgia
Filing for a divorce in Georgia generally just takes three steps: filing a complaint for divorce, serving a copy of the divorce complaint to your spouse, and finally working through the hearing or trial for the divorce decree.
There are typically additional steps or documents you need to file, depending on your county’s court rules, and your divorce attorney can guide you through those.
Filing a Divorce Complaint
First and foremost, you need to file a divorce complaint with the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county where you or your spouse have lived for at least six months.
The divorce complaint needs to state the reason why you want the divorce and what you want the court to decide on, such as spousal support and child custody.
Some courts may require you to file additional documents alongside your divorce complaint, such as:
Verification, signed and notarized.
Domestic Relations Standing Order.
Affidavit of Poverty, in case you can’t afford court filing fees.
Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit.
Child Support worksheets and parenting plans for divorces with children.
The Georgia State Government recommends working with an attorney when filing for divorce to determine what documents you need to file and stay on top of court dates throughout the process.
Take note, state laws are worded in such a way that you can file for divorce or have a complaint filed against you even if you or your spouse isn’t currently a resident of Georgia. The only requirement is that either you or your spouse has lived for at least six months in the state before filing the petition.
The downside to one of the spouses living outside of Georgia is that the court cannot award child support or property in another state if they cannot get personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state spouse.
Georgia’s Long Arm Statute does provide for some legal recourse: courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state spouse if said spouse maintained a matrimonial domicile in the state or if they resided in Georgia at any point before the divorce proceedings. Courts will interpret this law strictly but in the interest of serving justice.
Serving the Divorce Complaint
After filing with the Clerk of Court, you need to legally serve your spouse with a copy of the divorce complaint. This can be done by either the sheriff or a qualified individual called a process server.
Sheriffs and qualified organizations with process servers charge fees for the complaint-serving process.
The receiving spouse can and should file an answer with the court, kicking off the discovery phase of the divorce, where parties gather information required to resolve the case. If negotiations are unsuccessful, a trial or hearing will be held where a judge will make the decisions.
Prior to trial, though, Georgia courts are authorized to order divorcing spouses to attempt to solve their issues through state-approved alternative dispute resolution programs.
The respondent spouse, the one who received the divorce complaint, may also file a written demand before trial for a detailed statement of facts about what caused the divorce.
Divorcing Parents Seminar
Independent of the state-approved alternative dispute resolution programs, some counties in Georgia require parents to attend a seminar before continuing with the divorce process. This seminar generally teaches divorcing spouses about the impact divorce has on minor children.
Depending on the jurisdiction, divorcing spouses may be scheduled to attend separate seminars. A certificate of completion is awarded after the seminar, which will be filed with the Clerk of Court as an additional divorce document.
Failure to attend the seminar may result in the delaying of the resolution in your case or an unfavorable judgment in matters such as child custody and support.
In-Court Divorce Proceedings
After service of the divorce complaint and completion of court-ordered pretrial programs, the trial or hearing process can begin.
Contested divorces, where the respondent spouse files an answer to the complaint, undergo court trials where the divorcing spouses and their legal counsel can hash out their differences and decide on — with assistance from the court — important matters such as property division, alimony, visitation rights, and child custody.
If the respondent spouse fails to file an answer, or if both spouses are in agreement with the terms of the divorce, then that’s what is called an uncontested divorce.
Uncontested divorces undergo hearings where the court decides on the terms of the divorce or accepts the settlement or agreement between the divorcing spouses.
Either way, the court will render a final judgment of divorce containing the details discussed throughout the in-court proceedings once all matters are settled.
How Property Is Divided in a Georgia Divorce
Georgia is an equitable distribution state, which means that the marital property is divided equitably between the divorcing spouses.
Marital property, in this case, means all the assets and debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Not included in this classification are property acquired before the marriage, acquired through inheritance, , and gifts given solely to one spouse. It is important to discuss with an attorney any property that was owned prior to the marriage, because it will likely have a separate and marital part. This is also true for businesses that were owned prior to the marriage and operated during the marriage.
It is up to the court to decide how to equitably distribute the marital property, but most courts generally take into account factors such as the financial capabilities of both spouses, the duration of the marriage, the contributions of either spouse to the family unit, and whether the award for such marital property is made alongside an award for permanent alimony.
As for the actual process of dividing property in a divorce, it usually follows these steps:
Stocktaking - The assets and debts acquired or made by both spouses during the marriage are noted and accounted for, and their values are calculated to facilitate the distribution process later on.
Appraisal - Assets and debts are appraised as either marital or separate property. This can be done during the inventory process, but disputes might arise between the spouses regarding the status of certain assets or debts that might require court intervention or alternative dispute resolution methods.
Division - The assets and debts are divided between the spouses according to the court’s discretion and the factors mentioned earlier.
Georgia Divorce FAQs
So far, we’ve covered the legal framework of getting a divorce in Georgia. The following sections will answer some questions prospective and current divorcees ask about the process.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Georgia
If you’re considering a divorce, there are several nonprofit and government organizations that exist to help facilitate the divorce process. These organizations provide services ranging from legal assistance and representation to educational materials covering divorce and divorce-related topics.
Some of the following resources also provide psychological support services during and after the divorce process, such as supervised visitation services and family counseling.
GLSP represents low-income Georgians living outside of metro Atlanta in most counties throughout the state. It aims to provide pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford them and promote equal opportunities for justice regardless of financial circumstances. The organization also develops and distributes educational materials covering topics such as elder abuse and surviving domestic violence. Prospective clients can reach GLSP by phone at 1-833-457-7529.
This is a charitable organization that provides individuals and families with mental support and healing services. It hosts support groups for divorced parents, survivors of narcissistic abuse, and children with separated parents. It also maintains a network of mental health professionals for people looking for individualized programs, ranging from family therapy sessions or reunification therapy for broken families to court-ordered evaluations of parental fitness with regard to child custody.
The Georgia Division of Child Support Services first implemented the Fatherhood program in 1997. The program’s primary aim is to help noncustodial parents achieve self-sufficiency through employment training programs and government-backed emotional wellness courses. Its secondary aim is to promote emotional, parental, and financial involvement of the noncustodial parents in their children’s lives by giving the parents a head start at reforming themselves for the better through its employment and mental health services. The group can be contacted at 877-423-4746, option 3.
DC4K is the children-oriented version of DivorceCare. DC4K support groups provide children of up to 12 years old with a safe space to work through their emotions during and after their parents get divorced with the aid of video materials and structured playtime. Support groups typically go through 13 topics at a rate of one topic per week, with topics ranging from exploring the daily dilemmas of children with divorced parents and how to learn to accept them to learning how to develop new relationships with their parents post-divorce. Interested individuals may reach out to DC4K by dialing 800-489-7778.
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June Lynn, Esq.Reviewer
June Lynn is a divorce attorney and mediator in Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia. The Lynn Law Firm specializes in providing expert divorce services; they can handle the most complicated legal matters and the most important custody cases. Visit: https://www.lynnlawga.com/