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. Because 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.”
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.
- 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.
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.