How to Divorce a Missing or Abandoned Spouse in Georgia
By Jennifer Williams
The state of Georgia provides a variety of recourse for spouses needing divorce by default. Divorce by default in Georgia includes situations in which a spouse is missing, has abandoned the family or simply does not respond to a Petition for Dissolution. While Georgia maintains a no-fault "irretrievably broken" ground for divorce, abandonment and desertion are also grounds and these grounds may apply, even if your spouse's whereabouts are known.
Fault and No-Fault Grounds for Divorce
Abandonment as a grounds for divorce in the state of Georgia means a spouse has left the marital home and relationship with no intention of returning. If one spouse forces the other to leave through abusive behavior, the victim spouse can name constructive desertion as a divorce ground. While Georgia also provides the no-fault ground that the marriage is "irretrievably broken," naming grounds in the Petition for Dissolution allows the court to consider fault in decisions of spousal support, custody and property division.
Filing for Divorce
An individual must be a permanent resident of the state for six consecutive months before filing for divorce in a Georgia state court. The process begins by filing a Petition for Dissolution. The petition should state the grounds for the divorce. Fault grounds should be accompanied by a description of all negative effects the other spouse's actions have had on the petitioning spouse and family.
The Petition for Dissolution must be served on the other spouse, after which he has 20 days to file an answer. If the other spouse does not respond within the required 20 days, the petitioning spouse may move for a default judgment of divorce. When a spouse cannot be found to be served, the petitioning spouse must conduct a diligent search before asking for a default judgment of divorce. A diligent search consists of contacting relatives, friends, professional organizations, sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Postal Service for the last address of record, and searching DMV records, police and jail records and even local hospitals in an effort to locate the missing spouse.
Dilligent Search - No Response
If a diligent search for a missing spouse produces no results, a sworn statement must be filed detailing the search and state the missing spouse cannot be found. The court considers the statement and, if satisfied, issues an order of publication allowing notice of the pending divorce to be published in a local newspaper for four consecutive weeks. If, after that time, the missing spouse still has not responded, the petitioning spouse moves for, and is granted, a default judgment of divorce. However, jurisdiction is limited when service is achieved by publication. The court may grant the divorce and custody of any minor children, but is precluded from dividing property or ordering spousal or child support.
Settlement Agreement...Or Not
If the spouse is not missing and service was achieved, it is in the best interest of both spouses to come to a settlement agreement. A settlement agreement is an agreement of all issues, such as property division, spousal support, custody, child support and visitation. Any issues not agreed upon by the parties are decided by the court, which considers any grounds named in the petition while making its decision. This means the petitioning spouse is more likely to get what she asks for when grounds are named in the petition.
An attorney for more than 18 years, Jennifer Williams has served the Florida Judiciary as supervising attorney for research and drafting, and as appointed special master. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Jacksonville University, law degree from NSU's Shepard-Broad Law Center and certificates in environmental law and Native American rights from Tulsa University Law.