Most states share similar divorce procedures. In all jurisdictions, a complaint for divorce is required to begin the proceedings. One spouse must file it with the court, and in most cases, the other spouse will answer it. The two parties then exchange financial information and either reach a settlement or go to trial for a judge to decide the terms of their divorce for them. Georgia also requires special attention to parenting issues during the divorce process.
Complaint for Divorce
Georgia requires that you file your complaint for divorce in the county where your spouse resides, unless your spouse waives this requirement and allows you to file in the county where you live. If your spouse has left the state, you may also file in your own county. You must live in the state for six months before initiating a divorce, unless your spouse is a resident and has resided there for six months.
Answer and Counterclaim
After you file your complaint for divorce, you must officially serve a copy of it on your spouse. Georgia allows you to give it to him yourself if he will sign an acknowledgment in the presence of a notary. Otherwise, you can have the sheriff or a private process server deliver the document to him. He has 30 days to respond. He can do this by filing an answer with the court or a document called an answer and counterclaim. An answer simply responds to the issues raised in your complaint, such as how you want the court to decide custody or property distribution. An answer and counterclaim is a two-part document. The first half answers your complaint and in the second half, or counterclaim, your spouse would ask for his own relief. If your spouse doesn’t file any response at all, you can ask the court to enter default against him, granting your divorce and giving you the things you asked for as relief.
Parenting Classes and Mediation
Georgia requires all divorcing parents to attend mediation to try to work out a parenting plan and custody arrangement before a court will decide these issues for them. Some Georgia counties also require parents to attend a class designed to assist them in successfully bringing their children through the divorce process and in maintaining a healthy parenting plan after divorce. The parenting class and mediation usually occur early on in the divorce process.
If you and your spouse have retained attorneys, they will spend some time exchanging financial information. This process is called discovery. You and your spouse can also do this on your own if you don’t retain attorneys. After all the pieces are in place and each of you has a complete picture of your marital assets and debts, as well as your individual incomes and budgets, you can begin trying to negotiate a divorce settlement. If it appears that the discovery process is going to take a while, or if you need some time to negotiate, you can ask the court to issues temporary orders for support or custody during this time. They'll stay in place until you’re officially divorced.
Settlement or Trial
If you successfully negotiate a settlement, you can write it in an agreement and submit it to the court. If the judge approves your settlement, which usually happens, he will grant your divorce and sign your agreement into a decree. Otherwise, you’ll have to request a trial date. The soonest you can submit a marital settlement agreement is 31 days after you’ve filed for divorce. How soon you can schedule a trial usually depends on your county’s caseload.