Written by ivory t. brown, esq.
“Georgia on My Mind”
By Ray Charles
“Georgia, Georgia. The whole day through. Just an old sweet song. Keeps Georgia on my mind (Georgia on my mind). I said Georgia, Georgia...A song of you. Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines…Still in peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to you.”
Georgia native Ray Charles gave us the siren song, “Georgia on my Mind,” illuminating its beauty and whetting our appetites for the sweetness of Georgia. Unfortunately, even in Georgia, many marriages reach a fork in the road. Unlike those well-worn lyrics, the road may simply not lead spouses back to each other. Still, divorce in Georgia can be as sweet and clear as moonlight in the pines and, quite frankly, a peach of a process.
Alternatively, whether it be because other arms reach out, other eyes smile tenderly, or the divorce is based upon any of the thirteen statutory grounds for divorce in Georgia, divorce can be a sour nightmare. The good news is you can survive those potential pits by reading on about the best ways to navigate divorce in Georgia. With this guidance, the road can lead back to peaceful dreams, with that old, sweet song keeping Georgia on your mind.
The Divorce Process Can Be Easy
Uncontested Divorce: A sweet and clear, or an "uncontested divorce" can be granted in Georgia on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken when proof of fault and specific conduct complaints are not an issue, and/or the parties reach a Settlement Agreement resolving the issues present in their divorce. The issues may include custody, parenting time, child support, equitable division of property and debt, and alimony. In such a case, the parties must set forth that they exist in a bona fide state of separation (intentional cessation of conjugal relations), and that there is no reasonable hope of reconciliation. Keep in mind that the road to divorce usually consists of many twists and turns. A divorce that begins as a contested matter might become an uncontested divorce if the parties reach accord during the process, and the divorce will be granted on irretrievably broken grounds. In addition, alternative methods to resolve disputes are offered in Georgia courts in a continued effort to facilitate amicable resolve. Those methods include alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation, judicially hosted settlement conferences, and late case evaluations. Georgia courts also may mandate that parents attend courses that educate them on the effects of divorce on minor children.
So, You’re Getting Divorced...
A valid Georgia divorce requires proper jurisdiction and venue. A valid marriage is mandatory to sustain a divorce action, along with domicile in the state for six months prior to filing the action. The action is generally initiated in the Superior Court of the county where the non-filing party (“Respondent” or “Defendant”) resides if he or she is a resident of Georgia. If the “Respondent” or “Defendant” is not a resident of the state of Georgia, the action may be brought to the county of residence of the party filing the action. The action is initiated by filing a “complaint” or “petition” for divorce, and must prove that the parties are married, that one of the parties has been a resident for six months prior to the date of filing, that jurisdiction is proper, and that the parties are living in a bona fide state of separation. It must also set forth the grounds for divorce, indicate the date of the marriage, and outline the basic elements of a temporary or permanent claim for alimony and/or child support. When an award of alimony, child support, or division of property is at issue, the petition should indicate the property and earnings of the parties. It should also state the names and ages of the children, and include a verification and prayer for relief. The “Respondent” or “Defendant” must be notified of the action, and they may execute a written Acknowledgment of Service. This response must be made within thirty days of service and may include a counterclaim for divorce.
Discovery in Divorce
Discovery is a tool used in the divorce action to obtain information from the other side or from a third party, and must be concluded within six months of the filing of the answer. Interrogatories are questions seeking information and are limited to 50 questions, including subparts. Requests for Production of Documents seek specific documents, Request for Admissions require that the other party admit or deny specific allegations or statements under oath and Depositions. The Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit is of paramount importance in the process, and is a sworn statement outlining the monthly income and financial budget of each party for use in the determination of child support, and the need and ability to pay spousal support.
Resolving Issues During Divorce
The parties may enter into a Settlement Agreement or Separation Agreement resolving issues present in their divorce including alimony, division of property, and debt, including attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation. Subject to review by the Court, they may also resolve issues relating to children including custody, parenting time, and child support. A Parenting Plan is mandatory and will include when and where the child will be in each parent’s physical care, supervision, and transportation arrangements. The Plan also allocates parental decision-making authority with regard to the child’s education, health, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, and methods for dispute resolution. Child Support is calculated by taking into consideration the income of both parents with adjustments, such as other court-ordered support obligations, childcare expenses, and health insurance. Other deviations may apply including, but not limited to parenting time, travel costs to exercise parenting time, high or low income, split parenting, and extraordinary medical or educational expenses. A Child Support Addendum with an accompanying Child Support Worksheet is mandatory. The road you travel to final accord can be short, or it may require either the information gathering discovery process (which can last six months or more), or the alternative dispute resolution process.
When To Finalize Your Divorce
If the parties have met the requirements to file and sustain an action in Georgia, the “Respondent” or “Defendant” has been properly served, and they have entered into and filed their comprehensive Settlement Agreement, the parties may move forward to finalize their divorce. In addition, if children are involved, a Parenting Plan, Child Support Addendum, and Child Support Worksheet must be filed. Then, following the expiration of thirty-one days after service of the “complaint” or “petition” on the “Respondent” or “Defendant,” the parties may “by consent” have their divorce finalized pursuant to a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. The Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings must set forth that both parties have alleged facts showing that the “marriage is irretrievably broken,’’ that there is no reasonable hope of reconciliation and, finally, that there are no other contestable issues remaining. The Court may then enter a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce on the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
When Contested Divorce is the Only Option
“Midnight Train To Georgia”
By Gladys Knight
“But he sure found out the hard way. That dreams don't always come true. (Dreams don't always come true) Oh no...”
As another Georgia native, Gladys Knight, laments in “Midnight Train to Georgia,” that dreams don’t always come true. In similar fashion, despite his or her best efforts, a party may be sorely disappointed to find out that the dream of an uncontested divorce will simply not come true. In this case, a contested divorce may be granted for fault in Georgia on any of the other twelve grounds.
A divorce is contested when the parties cannot amicably resolve all the issues present in the divorce. There are many reasons why a divorce is contested, but it is clear that the longer the parties remain on the litigation road, the more rapidly the matter resembles a runaway train filled with high conflict and mounting litigation expenses. The matter is likely to not be placed on the calendar for final hearing until the six-month discovery period has expired. The Trial Judge has the authority to set hearings, schedule trials, and publish calendars. The nature of the action along with the complexity and reasonable time requirements for trial must be given consideration.
Custody disputes where children are involved and the court is given the responsibility of determining the child’s best interest may require a lengthy process. This may include the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem or custody evaluators. Cases involving substantial assets that require expert testimony and valuations might also necessitate the expenditure of more time by counsel and elongate the litigation process. Temporary hearings are available to address temporary or emergency matters; however, the process can be a slow-moving train as, unless otherwise ordered by the court, the adverse party must be given fifteen days notice of the hearing if alimony and custody matters are involved. In addition, only one witness for each side may give testimony at the temporary hearing. Affidavits or sworn witness statements may be proffered for consideration at the temporary hearing, but must be served on opposing counsel at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing.
Whether or not the divorce action is a sweet and clear peach of a process, or all parties are aboard a nightmare train to trial, the Georgia courts are situated to efficiently and effectively move the divorce matter to final resolution. The pace of the process is predominantly determined by the parties. As Ray Charles reminds us, “The road leads back to you…” A determination to maintain assets for future use and retain personal dignity for forward movement will serve the litigant well. Should disappointment, dashed dreams, and the desire to be punitive motivate the high-conflict litigant’s rush towards the robe, Georgia courts provide a process to quickly address the existing issues and move the matter forward, wreckage and all.
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Ivory T. Brown is a top-rated attorney selected to Super Lawyers for 2013 - 2019. She works at Ivory T. Brown, P.C., located in Atlanta, Georgia, and provides confidential crisis management and legal services for issues involving Family Law and Entertainment & Sports to the surrounding community.
Ivory Brown completed legal studies at South Texas College of Law Houston and graduated with the class of 1986. Ivory Brown passed the bar in 1987.