Before embarking in uncharted waters, spouses contemplating divorce should do their homework on the laws of their state. Georgia courts have broad powers to divide marital property and decide child custody and alimony. The legal choices spouses make leading up to divorce will affect their lives long after the court case is closed.
Georgia has 13 statutory grounds for divorce. The most common legal reason for divorce is the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” It’s also the only no-fault ground recognized in Georgia. This type of divorce simply requires one spouse to state he or she no longer lives with the other spouse and there is no chance of reconciliation. It’s not necessary to show either spouse was at fault for the marriage coming to an end.
To obtain a divorce in Georgia using one of the state's 12 fault grounds, one spouse must present evidence to prove wrongdoing by the other spouse. Wrongdoing includes adultery, desertion, mental or physical abuse, mental illness or incapacity, impotency at the time of marriage, pregnancy unknown to the husband at the time of marriage, imprisonment for certain crimes, habitual drunkenness and drug addiction.
Equitable Not Equal
Georgia is an equitable distribution state. Unlike community property states in which courts are required to divide marital assets equally, judges in an equitable distribution state have broad discretion in splitting a couple’s property. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean an equal division, though in practice, that is often what occurs. Georgia courts take a variety of factors into account when deciding how to best divide property between spouses, including length of the marriage, financial contributions of each spouse and conduct of the parties.
Deciding Child Custody
The judge must determine the best interests of the child in any custody decision by balancing many components. Such factors include the emotional ties between each parent and the child; willingness of each parent to encourage a close relationship between the child and other parent; and each parent’s knowledge and familiarity with the child’s needs. The judge also looks at the future home environment, each parent’s involvement in the child’s educational activities, and each spouse’s past performance as a parent.
Alimony is a support payment by one spouse to the other; a court may award alimony to either the husband or wife. Georgia statutes list specific factors for a judge to consider when determining alimony, such as the standard of living during the marriage, duration of the marriage, age and financial resources of each party, contributions of each spouse to homemaking, child care and education, and earning capacity. Georgia law states a court may also consider “such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper.” Obviously, that sweeping directive gives a judge plenty of room to maneuver in alimony matters.