A separate maintenance order confers some of the benefits of a legal separation but does not end the marriage. You cannot marry someone else, and you still must work through issues like division of property, alimony, child custody, and child support. A lawyer can help you decide where to file for a separate maintenance order. One party must have lived in Georgia for 30 days before being eligible to file for separate maintenance.
The only way to officially end a marriage in Georgia is through divorce. A separate maintenance order allows you to live separately but does not end the marriage.
How to File a Divorce Complaint
To file for divorce, you must submit a formal petition for divorce with the Superior Court in your county. In the petition, you must indicate the legal grounds on which you are filing for divorce. Georgia is a no-fault state. No-fault is a freedom for both parties to end their marriage on their own free will. It essentially means that either party can file for divorce at any time and not have to justify in a court of law that either party did something wrong per the Georgia law.
Even though Georgia is a “no-fault” divorce state, you must state one of 13 grounds for divorce, including:
- • The marriage is irretrievably broken
- • Marriage by people within illegal degrees of kinship
- • Mentally incapacitated at the time of marriage
- • Impotency at the time of marriage
- • Force, duress, menace, fraud was committed to obtain the marriage
- • Pregnancy by someone other than the spouse at the time of marriage
- • Adultery
- • Desertion
- • Conviction of a crime of moral turpitude with a prison sentence of two or more years
- • Habitual intoxication
- • Habitual drug use
- • Cruelty
- • Untreatable mental illness
You must provide evidence to prove any of the grounds other than “the marriage is irretrievably broken.”
Your Divorce Is Public Record
As you choose your established grounds for the divorce, it’s important to note that the reasons given will become a matter of public record, visible to any member of the general public. Because of this high transparency, most divorce cases will cite irreconcilable differences, meaning neither side admits any fault.
Once you file the petition, you are known as the “petitioner.” Your spouse is considered the “respondent.” Once your spouse is served divorce papers, they have 30 days to respond to the petition.
After Filing for Divorce
Once you file for divorce, take care to moderate your behavior and words. Making disparaging comments to friends or family or on social media can put your case in jeopardy. Being charged with any kind of criminal act can also hurt your case, particularly child custody. At the Claiborne Firm, we advise all our clients on best practices during divorce proceedings.
Temporary Court Orders
When parties dispute some elements of the divorce, the court may be asked to decide on things like property possession, living arrangements, child custody, child support, alimony, debt payments, and other issues while the disputes are being negotiated through temporary court orders. While the divorce process is ongoing, you are not allowed to sell or liquidate any assets or property. You must follow the court orders once they’ve been decided. Failing to follow a court order could result in contempt of court charges.
Child Custody and Child Support
Most divorce cases with children involved will include a temporary court order concerning child custody and visitations during the divorce proceedings. The temporary order may be different from what is ultimately decided regarding custody. The temporary and final order should cover how childcare expenses are paid, including medical care, dental care, clothing, food, and school activities, as well as who has custody and visitation rights.
Resolving the Divorce Process
There are several steps in the divorce process, including:
- Discovery – Discovery is the stage where evidence is gathered to support your case. Evidence should document your income and expenses, shared assets, and parenting qualifications. If you claimed grounds for divorce other than “the marriage is irretrievably broken,” you should also collect evidence of the behavior, such as abuse or adultery. Your lawyer should advise you on the documents and evidence you need. Part of discovery are interrogatories.
What is an Interrogatory?
As part of the discovery phase of your divorce, you may receive a set of questions from your spouse, known as interrogatories, requesting information pertaining to the case. These questions may cover a range of subjects including employment history; information on debts, finances and property ownership; as well as names and addresses of potential witnesses.
Consult with your attorney before answering any of these questions in order to ensure your rights are protected and your best interests are served. You should be truthful in your answers, but concise and direct. Do not respond with any information beyond the scope of the question and be vigilant that any false or misleading answers could lead to problems during the case itself.
Your attorney will review the questions before your response and can object to any questions that are deliberately vague or irrelevant. Once you receive an interrogatory, you have 28 days to either object or respond, then sign and verify your typed responses in the presence of a notary, which we can provide. Your answers will not be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, but they will be advised via Certificate of Service that the 28-day deadline was met.
- Mediation – To finalize your divorce, you and your spouse must both sign a settlement agreement that outlines the terms of your divorce, including alimony, child support, child custody, and distribution of assets. In mediation, the partners draft a settlement and have it reviewed by their lawyers prior to signing the formal documents.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution – Alternative dispute resolution is another way a divorce can be settled outside of court. We’re handled and resolved many cases through alternative dispute resolution at the Claiborne Firm. We see this as the best possible outcome for our clients – they don’t have to sacrifice what they want, and they avoid the burden of going to trial.
- Trial – When negotiations like mediation and alternative dispute resolution are not successful, sometimes cases do move to trial. We are always prepared for this possibility to make the strongest case for our clients. You should feel supported by your legal team, and we work to make that happen by guiding you through the whole process. In trial court, the judge or jury will ultimately settle any disputes that could not be settled out of court to finalize the divorce.
Dividing the Marital Assets
While there are several ways for courts to approach division of the marital assets and property — which can range from assets like real estate, financial holdings or cars, to any assumed debts and obligations the couple may hold — the state of Georgia is what is referred to as an “equitable distribution” state. While this does not mean that assets are necessarily divided evenly in a 50/50 split, it does mean that every attempt will be made to split them fairly. In this, the courts have a massive amount of leeway to determine what constitutes fairness. For example, the way each party to the divorce treated the other — through abuse, infidelity, etc. — can have a massive impact on the distribution of assets. And each of these assets are treated differently by the court, with different rules applying to retirement accounts than would apply to real estate or liquid capital.
In essence, the state of Georgia puts much of your future in the hands of judges and government officials. The best way to prevent this is to reach an agreement through mediation.
The Importance of Mediation in All Divorces
The state of Georgia requires mediation before any divorce case, wherein both parties and their attorneys meet with a certified mediator in a neutral setting to resolve issues amicably before appearing before a court. This is such an effective tool at establishing common ground, in fact, that most divorce cases in Georgia will never see a trial. Through mediation, both parties can establish the boundaries of co-parenting and reach an agreement on dividing assets which can then be codified in a separation agreement. This agreement, mutually reached, then becomes a court order.
This represents a best-case scenario for everyone involved, reducing the costs associated with a divorce and saving everyone involved the stress of litigation. As an added bonus, it helps preserve parental bonds as children grow older and gives both parties the power to determine their own fate rather than leave it in the hands of a judge.
It’s important to note that, despite the contentious circumstances, approaching mediation is not “giving in” to the other party. It is a way for you and your divorce attorney to work together in negotiating your exit from the marriage. The mediator will work with everyone involved to resolve every issue related to the divorce and reach a compromise that everyone can consider a win.
The decisions reached at this stage can spare everyone a drawn-out legal battle, and can even help establish whether one party will pay for the attorneys fees, based on the circumstances of the divorce.
The Claiborne Firm has a reputation for settling divorces through mediation, negotiating beforehand yet firmly establishing that we will continue our track record of successful outcomes at trial if necessary. It is in everyone’s best interest if we can reach a mutual agreement without leaving the outcome in the hands of a judge, and we will do everything we can to ensure that happens.
Our $450.00 Initial Divorce Evaluation
It begins with our initial consultation, a $450.00 confidential session that will help establish the facts of the case as well as your relationship with your attorney. At this time we will collect notes, details and evidence to gain a clearer understanding of your case and begin devising your initial strategy. This is a crucial step in the process, one which can safeguard your legal rights to your children and your assets. It’s also one that relies on attorney-client privilege, meaning you can share every detail of your divorce knowing that it is being shared in the utmost confidence.
As part of this session we will also establish our retainer fee. One of the first questions most people have is, “how much will this cost?” and it’s here we can provide an answer. No two cases are alike, so this retainer fee will be determined based on the complexity of your case and the estimated time it will take. We believe that you should only pay for what you need and nothing more.
The court reviews your settlement once it has been signed by both parties. Typically, it is approved, but sometimes, even when both parties agree to the settlement conditions, the court can change them. This typically happens with child custody and child support agreements.
Moving on After Divorce
Once your divorce is settled, you can take a deep breath. Things might be different now, and you may have to abide by different aspects of the settlement, but the fight is over. You can move on. Take this time to take care of yourself as you heal both mentally and emotionally from this process.