Georgia Divorce Laws

If you live in Georgia and are thinking about divorce, familiarizing yourself with Georgia divorce law is an important first step. And if you’re considering representing yourself, it’s not just important . . . it’s crucial.

By , Retired Judge

If you're facing a divorce in Georgia, it pays to do your homework. Whether you plan to hire a lawyer or get a do-it-yourself divorce, you're going to have to make some decisions, and you should know what to expect. So the more you can familiarize yourself with Georgia divorce laws, the further ahead of the game you'll be.

Georgia Laws on Qualifying for Divorce

Georgia has two basic requirements that you must meet in order to get a divorce in the state: a residency requirement, and a legally accepted reason for ending your marriage.

Residency Requirement for a Georgia Divorce

Before you can file for divorce in Georgia, either you or your spouse must have been a Georgia resident for the last six months. (Ga. Code § 19-5-2 (2022).)

You could potentially meet this residency requirement if you lived as a couple in another state before you moved alone to Georgia (leaving your spouse behind) six months before you filed for divorce in the state. But that could lead to problems down the road in your divorce, because the judge might not be able to order your spouse to pay child support or alimony (spousal support) if your spouse never lived in Georgia.

The rules governing the court's authority to decide on a person's rights (known as "personal jurisdiction") are complicated. (Ga. Code § 9-10-91 (2022).) So you should speak with an attorney if you're in this situation.

Grounds for Divorce in Georgia

You must also have "grounds" for divorce, meaning a legally acceptable reason for ending the marriage. Georgia has both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds. (Ga. Code § 19-5-3 (2022).)

Fault grounds come into play when you're accusing your spouse of wrongdoing, such as adultery, mental or physical cruelty, or desertion. With no-fault grounds, neither spouse is blaming the other for the collapse of the marriage. The only no-fault ground available in Georgia is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." This basically means the spouses can't get along and there's no reasonable prospect of that changing.

Because your spouse is likely to dispute claims of misconduct when you choose one of the fault-based divorce grounds, you're almost always better off filing for a no-fault divorce if you want to avoid an unnecessary legal battle.

How to File for Divorce in Georgia

You start a Georgia divorce by filing a divorce "complaint" and some accompanying documents with the court. Usually, you'll file with the Superior Court clerk's office in the county where your spouse resides. But you may file in the county where you reside if your spouse lives out of state or moved within the last six months out of the county where the two of you lived as a couple, and where you still live. (Ga. Const., Art. VI, Sec. II, Par. 1.)

Some Georgia counties may require that you file your divorce papers electronically (even if you don't have an attorney), so check with the court clerk's office of the county where you're filing to determine the local rules. If you don't have to use the e-filing system, you can go in person to the court clerk's office to file your paperwork.

The Georgia courts have online packets of the basic forms you'll need to start your divorce, along with instructions, checklists, and videos that walk you through the process. The forms will be different depending on whether you and your spouse have minor children.

Note that many counties have their own forms, so be sure to check the website of the court clerk's office in the county where you will file your paperwork, or call the office for more information.

The Cost of Filing for Divorce in Georgia

When you're ready to file your case, be prepared to pay a divorce filing fee. The fees vary from county to county—usually around $200 to $300. There might be additional fees for e-filing.

If you can't afford to pay the filing fees, ask the court clerk about applying for a waiver. Based on the information you provide about your income, assets, and debts, the court will determine whether you qualify.

Overview of the Divorce Process in Georgia

After you've filed your initial divorce papers, the process of getting a final divorce in Georgia depends in large part on whether your case is contested or uncontested.

Uncontested Divorces in Georgia

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have agreed about all the issues involved in ending their marriage, including:

  • how they'll divide their marital property and debts
  • whether one spouse will pay alimony (spousal support) and if so, how much and for how long, and
  • if they have minor children together, their arrangements for child custody, visitation, and child support.

Many couples attempt to settle any disputes before they file for divorce, often with the help of mediation. That way, once they have a marital settlement agreement, the rest of the divorce process will be relatively simple, and the couple can request that the court include the agreement in the judgment of divorce. (Also, if couples have a settlement agreement, they may use an online divorce service that will supply the correct forms and basically walk them through the process.)

Here are the basic steps for an uncontested divorce in Georgia:

  • Serving the complaint. The spouse who files the divorce complaint must serve the other spouse with the divorce papers. Georgia law requires personal service of the divorce documents (including a summons), but your spouse can agree to accept service informally. In that case, your spouse will have to give you a signed "Acknowledgment of Service" for filing with the court. (Ga. Code § 9-10-73 (2022).) Otherwise, you'll have to arrange to have the papers hand-delivered to your spouse, usually by the local sheriff or a certified process server. If you haven't been able to serve your spouse personally, or if your spouse is out-of-state, Georgia law provides alternative methods of service, such as publishing a notice in a local paper.
  • Answering the complaint. Your spouse normally has 30 days after receiving the divorce paperwork to file a response. With an uncontested divorce, the "Answer" should agree with everything you requested and stated in the complaint.
  • Financial disclosures. As part of the divorce process, both spouses will have to give the court detailed information about their income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. Each of you will need to complete and submit a financial affidavit. This document requires you to provide a great deal of data about your income and assets. You must be thorough and honest in completing this form. A spouse who fails to disclose all accounts, debts, or assets could face penalties in a divorce case, such as fines and possible jail time.
  • Final hearing. Typically, you'll have to appear for a short hearing in order to finalize your divorce. The timing of the hearing may depend how your served the divorce papers and whether your spouse filed an answer (more on that below).

Contested Divorces in Georgia

The court will consider your Georgia divorce to be contested when you and your spouse have disputes over any issues in your case, such as child custody and visitation, child support, alimony, or property and debt distribution.

Georgia courts attempt to help couples resolve their disputes as their divorce case proceeds, and judges may require them to participate in mediation of certain issues. Even if they've started out with a contested case, most couples manage to reach agreement on the issues at some point during the divorce process (usually with the help of their lawyers, a mediator, or both). But if they don't, they'll have to go to trial to have a judge decide the issues for them.

Some disputes are more difficult to resolve than others. Without an agreement, Georgia law will guide judges in their decisions on these issues:

  • Child support. This is usually the easiest issue to resolve, because Georgia law provides formulas for calculating child support, which is generally based on the spouses' income and the amount of time a child will spend with each parent.
  • Child custody. Parents often find it more difficult to agree about custody and visitation, in part because these issues can be so emotionally charged. Settlement can be further complicated by any allegations—or documented history—of spousal or child abuse (domestic violence) by either parent. The bottom line is that Georgia child custody laws require judges to make sure that custody agreements and orders are in the best interests of the children. (Ga. Code § 19-9-3 (a) (2) (2022).)
  • Property and debts. Georgia law requires an "equitable division" of your marital property and debts. That means that the judge will decide what's fair under the circumstances of your case. Unlike what you'd see in a "community property" state like Arizona, equitable distribution doesn't necessarily result in a 50-50 split.
  • Alimony. Alimony in Georgia isn't a sure thing. When a couple can't agree on this issue, a judge may award alimony if one spouse can show a financial need and the other spouse has the ability to pay. The judge will look at a number of factors to determine whether alimony is warranted, such as the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, and each spouse's age and mental health. (Ga. Code § 19-6-5 (a) (2022).) But if the court finds that the breakdown of the marriage was caused by a spouse's adultery or desertion, that spouse is barred from receiving alimony. (Ga. Code § 19-6-1 (b) (2022).)

Contested divorces tend to be very expensive. (Think legal fees.) The cost of divorce climbs as cases drag on without a settlement—and the bills are highest for couples who need a trial to resolve their issues.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Georgia?

The amount of time it will take to complete your case will largely depend on the type of divorce. Obviously, an uncontested divorce will take less time than a contested one, because the spouses have resolved all their issues and so there's nothing left to fight about.

  • Uncontested divorces will likely take two months or so to complete. You and your spouse may agree to schedule the final hearing once a certain number of days have passed after you served your spouse with the complaint: 31 days if your spouse answered the complaint, 46 days if your spouse didn't file an answer, or 61 days if you served your spouse by publication. (Ga. Uniform Super. Ct. Rules, rule 24.6 (2022).) You also have to take into account the court's caseload in the county where the divorce will be heard.
  • Contested divorces typically take considerably longer—from six months to a year or more—depending on the complexity of the case, how long it takes a couple to try to work out a settlement, and whether they have to go to trial.

Should You Represent Yourself in a Georgia Divorce?

You certainly have the right to represent yourself in your divorce. But whether you should do that is a different matter. Self-representation (known as appearing "pro se") is most practical when you have an uncontested case, or you have no minor or dependent children and very few assets. But in situations where you have custody disputes or a significant amount of property, you may be better off retaining an attorney. Divorce laws can be quite complicated. A qualified divorce lawyer will know the intricacies of the law, as well as the ins-and-outs of the court system.

Remember, you'll probably have to live with the results of your case well after the divorce is over. If, down the road, you realize you made a mistake, there's no guarantee you'll be able to correct it. So it pays to get it right the first time.

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