Every state has its own set of laws regarding marriage, separation and divorce that apply to people who live in that state. In Georgia, these laws are found in the Domestic Relations section of Title 19 of the Official Georgia Code. If you plan to marry in Georgia, the laws define the rules for getting a marriage license, who can perform the ceremony and other state policies related to weddings. If your marriage breaks down, other sections of Title 19 deal with separation, divorce, child support and visitation. In addition to these state-wide laws, each county has its own local rules on filing fees, forms and similar details.
The state of Georgia encourages marriage, but you must be eligible according to the state laws. For example, the minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 years old. If you are at least 18 years old, you can marry without parental consent. You must be mentally capable of consenting to marriage. First cousins can marry but closer relations by full or half blood are not allowed to marry. Marriage must involve a man and a woman, as same-sex marriages were banned in Georgia in 2004.
You must get a marriage license before you can marry in Georgia. Common-law marriage was abolished on January 1, 1997, although couples who entered into common-law marriages before that date are still considered to be married. If you are a Georgia resident, you can get the license in any county in the state. If you are not a resident, request a license in the county where you will hold the ceremony. If you have been divorced, bring a copy of the divorce decree with you. In some counties, you only need to bring the decree if you have been divorced for six months or less on the date you apply for a marriage license. However, other counties require a copy no matter when the divorce occurred. Bring two forms of identification with you and the application fee. The fee is waived if you have taken a premarital education class together. No blood tests are required.
Ceremony and Name Change
There is no waiting period after applying for the marriage license. Any justice of the peace, clergyman, licensed or ordained minister, or pastor of a recognized religious group may officiate at your wedding. If you want to change your last name, you can choose your spouse's last name, a name you have used in the past or a combination of names. Both the husband and the wife have the option of changing their surnames at the time of marriage. When the record of marriage is returned to you, that document will serve as evidence of the name change.
Separation Vs. Divorce
If your marriage relationship breaks down and you no longer want to live with your spouse, Georgia law allows you to request a divorce or a separate maintenance order from the court. Separate maintenance, called a legal separation in many states, may be desirable to couples who do not want to divorce for religious reasons or who want to be able to maintain both spouses' rights in a pension plan or health insurance plan. Like a divorce, the separate maintenance agreement or order will address child support, custody, visitation, spousal support and the division of property. The major difference is that a divorce decree ends the marriage, whereas a separate maintenance order does not. If you are separated, you cannot legally marry someone else, but you can reconcile with your spouse at any time.
Separate Maintenance Requirements
One or both of you must have lived in Georgia for at least 30 days before filing for separate maintenance. If you do not live in the same county, file the case in the county where the other party, called the defendant, lives. Unlike a divorce action, there is no six-month residency requirement for filing a separate maintenance case. If your spouse does not want the separation, you must arrange for a process-server to give him a copy of the paperwork you filed at the courthouse. If he agrees to the separation, you may give him a copy.
Finalizing the Separate Maintenance Case
In an uncontested case, both of you agree on how issues such as child support, alimony, custody, visitation and the property division will be handled. The judge will probably sign any agreement you present to her as long as it appears to be fair to both spouses. If you cannot agree on some or all of these issues, you can both present evidence to the judge at the final hearing and she will make the decision. A separate maintenance case is similar to a divorce in terms of paperwork, filing fees, negotiating a settlement and having a trial if necessary. Although you are allowed to represent yourself in Georgia, you may find it helpful to consult a lawyer or use an online document preparation service to assist you.
References & Resources
- Belli, Weil, Grozbean & Davis: Georgia Divorce and Separation
- Georgia Courts: Divorce and Legal Separation
- U.S. Marriage Laws: Georgia
- Divorce In Georgia: Georgia Legal Separation
- Legal Aid GA: Basic Marriage and Divorce Law: Ending Marriages
- Kitchens, New & Cleghorn: Georgia Separate Maintenance Agreements
- LexisNexis: Title 19, Domestic Relations
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images