The first step in the divorce process is the filing of the complaint, also called the petition. The complaint establishes venue and jurisdiction, it outlines the desired outcome of the divorce, and states the grounds for divorce. The most common ground for divorce in Georgia is that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Other grounds can include adultery, cruel treatment, habitual drug addiction, and habitual intoxication, among others. Following the initial step, the divorce process varies depending on what issues are present in your individual case and whether you and your spouse agree or disagree on those issues.
Common Issues That Arise During a Divorce
Division of Marital Assets and Debts – All property acquired by either spouse during the marriage and the increase in value of any non-marital property is presumed marital property regardless of title with some exceptions. Marital assets can include but is not limited to physical property, real estate, investment accounts, retirement and pension plans, and ownership interests in businesses. In Georgia, marital assets are divided equitably, meaning fairly, which is not necessarily equally.
Alimony – Alimony refers to payment from one spouse to another for the purpose of providing financial support. Alimony is typically paid periodically but can also be paid as a lump sum or through a transfer of property, often referred to as in kind alimony. The court will consider a number of factors when deciding whether to award alimony and the amount of alimony including the parties’ financial resources, the time and money that may be required to ‘rehabilitate’ one spouse’s employment ability, the standard of living during the marriage, and the duration of the marriage. Please note that alimony is not available to a spouse who commits adultery. Also, there may be serious tax considerations involved in an award of alimony.
Other common divorce issues include child custody, child support, and nuptial agreements.
An uncontested divorce, sometimes called a divorce by agreement, is available when you and your spouse agree on all issues. There are many benefits to an uncontested divorce. The costs are much lower than a contested divorce. They are resolved quicker than a contested divorce. They are typically less emotionally draining, and often foster a better working relationship with the ex-spouse. In an uncontested divorce, typically one attorney is retained to draft all legal paperwork including a settlement agreement. The other spouse is encouraged to read the settlement agreement carefully and have an attorney review it. If everyone agrees on the paperwork, the attorney submits it to the court. If the judge approves of the settlement terms, he or she then grants the divorce. Depending on your county, the entire process can be completed by mail. However, some courts may require that a short hearing be held.
Unfortunately, an uncontested divorce is simply not available to everyone. Sometimes, people cannot agree on all of the issues and there may be good reasons for the disagreement. When the parties do not agree, one spouse files the complaint for divorce. The other spouse, often through an attorney, then responds to the complaint. A temporary hearing before a judge may be held when there are issues that need immediate attention such as temporary alimony, child support, or child custody. Afterwards, each side begins the process of sharing information and documentation relevant to the divorce process. The attorneys will attempt to resolve the contentious issues and enter into a settlement agreement. To that end, alternative dispute resolution professionals such as mediators are often employed. Most divorce cases are settled without the need for a final hearing. If the sides still cannot agree, a final hearing, or trial, is held typically before a judge. Please note that the divorce process can vary depending on the issues present in your specific case and in what county the case is heard.