A Guide to Divorce in Georgia
Every divorce in Georgia is unique, but most all must follow the same general rules and procedures no matter what the circumstances are.
This guide will help you understand what many of those basic rules and procedures are so that you can have a better idea of what you will go through.
While we have gathered much of the information you’ll need, you should also get answers to your questions through other sources such as a family law attorney, your county courthouse, friends and relatives who have gone through a divorce, and online resources to help you deal with the financial, social and emotional challenges you’ll face along the way.
Here are some important things to know as you start the divorce process in Georgia.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Georgia?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Georgia without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Georgia?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Georgia?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a divorce certificate?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between divorce, annulment and separate maintenance
Married couples can end their marriages by divorce or by annulment in Georgia. Many other states allow couples to take steps toward divorce by granting legal separation, but Georgia courts do not recognize legal separation. Instead, they allow a similar process known as separate maintenance.
Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.
Separate Maintenance. In states where legal separation is allowed, couples can take legal actions to make several of the important decisions that often accompany divorce without actually getting a divorce. This can include things such as child custody and support, alimony and a division of assets.
Separate maintenance in Georgia is essentially the same thing as legal separation in that it allows the courts to rule on marital issues related to the partnership but does not grant divorce.
Courts will allow separate maintenance to take place if there is a legal benefit to remaining married such as continuing to provide insurance, or for religious reasons. Some religions do not look favorably upon divorce and staying married though legally separated puts less pressure on a couple who might otherwise be in conflict with their church and religious beliefs.
If a couple wants to pursue separate maintenance, they should create an agreement that recognizes that both want separate maintenance and that addresses all of the major issues surrounding the marriage. The document becomes a legal and binding contract when signed by the spouses and approved by the courts.
In some cases, separate maintenance gives couples a much needed break that may allow them to try and resolve their difference in a less pressure-filled environment. It may bring added perspective about what the couple will lose if they divorce and can give them time to heal from the issues that caused their difficulties.
When a couple is in a state of separate maintenance, each person is responsible for their own financial decisions and is not responsible for those that the other person makes. Also, when a person is not a U.S. citizen, and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
Annulment. An annulment means that legally a marriage never actually existed. Annulments are rarely granted in Georgia. Courts require a high degree of proof before granting an annulment. If you and your spouse already have children or if you or your spouse is pregnant, you cannot be granted an annulment under Georgia law.
To be granted an annulment in Georgia, one of the following grounds must be present:
- One or both spouses was mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage ceremony.
- One or both spouses was underage at the time of the marriage and didn’t obtain a parent’s or guardian’s consent.
- One or both spouses consented to the marriage only because of coercion or fraud exerted by another person.
- The marriage is between persons of the same sex. Georgia does not recognize or permit same-sex marriage, so this includes same-sex marriages performed in other states.
- One spouse is still legally married to another living person (“bigamy”).
- The spouses are closely related, by blood or otherwise (“incestuous marriage”).
Even if one or more of these grounds exists, it is not a guarantee that an annulment will be granted. To proceed with an annulment, one of the spouses must petition for an annulment with the court. If the grounds concern an underage person who married without parental consent, then the parent can file the annulment petition.
Divorce. Divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued.
What are the grounds for divorce in Georgia?
Georgia is both a no-fault and fault-based state when it comes to citing grounds for divorce.
Most spouses choose to cite the no-fault option which only requires that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and that reconciliation is not possible. Prior to 1973 when this was added as an option for divorce, the state had 12 fault-based options in place. Today, fault-based options are still cited in some cases, especially when it could impact an alimony/spousal support order. Spousal misconduct can also be cited if it is relevant when it comes to the equitable distribution of property.
The 12 fault-based grounds for divorce in Georgia are:
- Cruel treatment that includes the willful infliction of pain, bodily or mental, upon the complaining party, such as reasonably justifies apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health”
- Desertion that must be purposeful and continuous for at least one year, either by physical separation or refusal of intimacy
- Illegal intermarriage with a close relative
- Mental incapacity at wedding date
- Impotency at wedding date
- Force, menace, duress, or fraud or threatening behavior that is used to make the other spouse agree to marry
- Pregnancy of a wife by another man at a couple’s wedding date
- Conviction for a crime of “moral turpitude” with at least a two-year jail term
- Habitual alcohol intoxication
- Habitual controlled substance drug addiction
- Incurable mental illness
What kind of divorce is right for you
You have several options you can pursue in Georgia if you are contemplating a divorce. How you proceed will, in large part, depend on the dynamics of your relationship with your spouse and your goals. If you can agree to work together, chances are you will save a lot of money and move quicker through the process.
Once you have made the decision to divorce, determining what type of divorce you will pursue in Georgia is the most important thing you will decide. This is because the nature of the divorce sets the framework for how the divorce will play out.
These are some of the most common types of divorce:
- Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
- Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
- Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids. Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
- Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
- Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s what a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
To learn more about your divorce options, be sure to check out our guide on The Types of Divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in Georgia?
You can pursue many kinds of divorce in Georgia, But the basic process is pretty much the same no matter type of divorce you choose.
Gather important information. To give yourself the best chance at achieving the best possible outcome, you need to be organized and proactive when it comes to pulling together the information you will need.
By doing so, you can ensure your rights are protected while also saving time, money and anxiety for the next steps in your divorce.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
We’ve simplified the process for you by creating a Divorce Information Checklist you can access as part of our article: The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.
Complete the initial paperwork. You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start the divorce process in Georgia. Which forms you need to complete will depend on the circumstances of your divorce. If you are working with an attorney, they will assist you with the process and make sure that all the forms you need are filled out and that they are done so correctly.
Many counties have forms that are unique to their jurisdiction, although the forms may be similar throughout the state and in many cases may be used for any county in the state. It is best to check with your attorney or with the courthouse in the county where you plan to file your paperwork.
In general, here are some of the most commonly used forms in Georgia:
- Petition for Divorce – Uncontested. Filed by the plaintiff and asks that any agreement between the spouses be included in the final decree
- Petition for Divorce – Contested. Filed by the plaintiff, this document must be verified and notarized. More detailed than in an uncontested divorce, this document may ask for child custody and support, temporary alimony and an equitable division of assets.
- Summons /Sheriff’s Entry of Service. Documents related to the services of documents to the defendant.
- Answer and Counterclaim. This is the form the defendant files when they agree with the divorce action. It is only used in an uncontested divorce.
- Rule Nisi. This is a notice of a hearing that directs the other party to appear in court and show why a request in a divorce should not be carried out. Also known as a Show-Cause Hearing.
- Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit. Both parties must submit financial information of income, expenses, assets and debts to help provide transparency during the division of assets process.
- Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. This is used to determine the amount of child support that must be paid based on the Georgia Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations.
By way of example, the Superior Court of Fulton County offers a comprehensive list of forms that you can view to help you become more familiar with exactly what you may need to use for your particular situation. To view the list of forms, many of which can be used throughout the state, go here.
File your forms. If you are working with an attorney, they will make sure all the forms are correct and will file them at the clerk of the court where your spouse resides. If your spouse has moved out of state, then you can file in your county of residence. In an uncontested divorce and if your spouse consents, you can file in your own county as well.
Be prepared to pay a filing fee when you submit your paperwork. In Georgia, fees will cost about $200, but you may also need to pay for a process server, document preparation and certain administrative costs as well. If you are low income, you can request to pay a reduced filing fee or have the fee waived completely by the court.
Completing proof of service in Georgia
In Georgia, there are several ways you can serve your spouse with divorce papers.
If you believe that your spouse will accept service of the Complaint, then you can mail them the paperwork. In return, they will need to acknowledge service by signing an Acknowledgement of Service in front of a notary. This is the equivalent of swearing under oath that they have received the paperwork. Your spouse will then return the Acknowledgement and it will be filed with the court.
If a spouse is less cooperative, then the other two forms of service are to have paperwork served by a sheriff or by a private process server. Service by a sheriff is the preferred method because it is cheaper. Currently, that cost is $50 in most counties. A private server will cost more.
If a spouse dodges service from a sheriff or service can’t be completed for any reason, a private process server could prove more effective. A private process server is either permanently appointed or specially appointed by the courts to carry out this type of task.
With a permanent appointment, service can take place immediately because they are authorized to serve any party in any case filed in Superior Court. Specially appointed process servers can only move forward after a Motion has been filed with the court and approved by a judge.
Costs for using a private process server will vary from county to county and case to case depending on the amount of effort required to complete service.
If you are not able to complete service in any of these ways, you have the option of Service by Publication. This entails working with the Clerk of the Court who will send a notice to a local newspaper which then runs a divorce notice four times within 60 days with each publication being 7 days apart. This method can take two to three months to complete.
Can you file for divorce online?
You must file for a divorce in person in Georgia with the county clerk where your spouse is a resident.
However, there are several services and private attorneys who can do the bulk of the paperwork ahead of time for a spouse through electronic means. Doing so can save time and money, especially in an uncontested divorce where most if not all of the issues have been resolved by the spouses.
For more information, check out our complete guide to filing for divorce in Georgia here.
How much will it cost?
Costs vary by county in Georgia, but in general, the amount ranges between $200 and $220. The fee must be paid at the time of filing to the Clerk of the Superior Court in the county where the divorce is initiated.
You will also need to pay a service fee which is the cost to have a spouse served with divorce papers by the Sheriff’s department. In most counties, this fee is $50. You can also use a process server, but those fees will be higher than if you use a sheriff.
If you are not able to afford to pay the filing fees for a divorce in Georgia, you can file an Affidavit of Indigence or a Poverty Affidavit (sometimes referred to as a Pauper’s Affidavit) asking the court to waive the mandatory filing fee and other associated court costs.
You will need to show proof of your income to ensure that you meet qualifications for the waiver to be granted. Most counties will only grant the waiver if you are representing yourself in the divorce or are being represented by a pro bono attorney.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Georgia?
In an uncontested divorce in Georgia and in a best-case scenario, the process can take as little as 31 days after all paperwork has been filed and assuming that all residency requirements have been met. After 31 days, a petitioner files a motion to ask the court to consider signing a Final Order and Decree of Divorce.
In reality, documents must be reviewed by a judge’s assistant and then by the judge before signing off on the decree. It is more normal to expect that a divorce will be finalized within 60 days under these circumstances.
In cases where there are outstanding issues to be resolved, the time frame may drag out, sometimes for months or even years, depending of the nature and number of disagreements that exist between a couple.
Should I work with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
Divorcing spouses in Georgia often retain a family law attorney to help them through the process. In simple cases, an attorney may be equipped to handle all aspects of the divorce, including the finances.
But if you have a degree of complexity to your financial situation, you might benefit from working with a divorce financial planning expert.
The best professional to help in these situations is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
A CDFA has specialized training in the financial and tax implications of divorce and can work with you to help you understand the pros and cons of your options.
If you have financial concerns or are interested in learning more about what a CDFA does, be sure to check out our guide: What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).
Bifurcation of marital status in Georgia
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce and the second part addresses the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
Reasons for bifurcation vary from case to case, but most commonly it is because a spouse wants to remarry or there are tax implications involved when filing returns as a single person.
In some cases, it can take months or even years to review and analyze marital assets before a property settlement can be reached, so the psychological impact of legally ending a marriage is also a consideration as well.
Georgia does allow bifurcation to take place, making a couple legally single again, and allowing for remaining issues to be settled by a trial at a later date.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Georgia?
If someone wants to divorce another person in Georgia, there is no way to stop the process.
But if spouses reconcile before the divorce is final, it is possible to file a motion to dismiss which will withdraw your complaint if you are the petitioner. If a defendant has already filed a response, then the motion to terminate will be more complicated and will require both parties to request a motion to dismiss.
Once a final decree has been issued in Georgia, the divorce if final. If two people decide they want to reconcile at that point, they will have to get married again.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. it also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
Once the divorce decree is issued, parties are legally free to marry another person. The divorce decree is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is a divorce certificate?
After a divorce decree has been granted, and you only want to view a divorce record, you can visit the county website where the divorce was finalized and search the public records database.
This cannot be used for official purposes, such as submitting for a name change request or to get a new marriage license.
If you need an official copy of a divorce record, you can request one online through the Georgia Department of Public Health website or in person at the State Office of Vital Records in Atlanta. You will need to pay a fee to obtain a copy of the record you are seeking.
Changing Your Name
When preparing your divorce forms, you will be presented either an option to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
Your name change will not take effect just because you have a court order. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.
It takes a long time to reach out to each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Online dating
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more