Contested Divorces in Georgia
By Beverly Bird
Even if you and your spouse agree that your marriage is over, the courts still consider your divorce contested if you don’t also agree on how to end it. All states, including Georgia, have a different set of legal requirements when this occurs. Instead of moving directly from Point A to Point B and expeditiously wrapping up your marriage, there are a few more steps you must take before you receive a divorce.
Georgia law provides for 12 fault grounds and one no-fault ground. The no-fault ground is that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Filing on this ground does not mean your divorce is uncontested. This is simply the reason you want a divorce and it has nothing to do with settlement of the issues between you. If you file on fault grounds, such as adultery or abuse, Georgia law requires you to prove that your spouse is guilty of these actions.
In a contested divorce, Georgia requires you to file a financial disclosure affidavit with the court and to exchange a copy of it with your spouse shortly after you file your complaint. The affidavit details your knowledge of your marital financial picture, as well as your current budget, assets and debts if you’ve lived separately for a while.
After you’ve filed your financial affidavit, Georgia court rules permit you or your attorney to meet with a family court judge to decide if any temporary orders are necessary while your divorce is pending. These orders generally provide for support and visitation issues, but they can also prohibit you and your spouse from dissipating marital assets or even from harassing each other if your divorce is particularly contentious. These orders last only until you have a final divorce decree.
Issues With Children
If you have children, Georgia requires you to submit a detailed parenting plan to the court before you can receive a divorce. This applies whether your matter is contested or uncontested. If you’re fighting about custody, the court might appoint a guardian ad litem, or you can request one. Under Georgia law, a guardian ad litem acts as a custody evaluator. He’ll meet extensively with both parents and often with others who have frequent contact with your child, then he’ll make a recommendation to the court. Your contact with the guardian ad litem is not confidential; Georgia law only protects your confidentiality if you pay for a private mediator to work out your custody dispute.
If mediation or a guardian ad litem helps you resolve your differences regarding custody, and if you can reach an agreement on all other financial issues, Georgia law does not obligate you to go to trial. You or your attorney can prepare a settlement agreement with all the details and submit it to the judge. The judge will review it, usually approve it and sign it into a divorce decree.
If you can’t reach an agreement, your divorce will go to trial. Georgia law allows you to opt for a trial by jury or by a judge alone. However, if you resolve all issues except those regarding your children, you can’t choose a trial by jury. The law does not permit a jury to decide issues of custody. Only a judge can do this. Otherwise, the jury will decide your property and financial issues and the judge will set your parenting plan.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.