How Does Georgia Define Verbal Abuse in a Divorce Case?
By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.
Georgia law allows couples to divorce due to verbal abuse, but only if the abuse rises to the level of "cruel treatment" under the state's divorce law. Proving fault may lead to a more favorable divorce settlement, and Georgia law provides some protection to victims of domestic violence while the divorce is pending. However, even when circumstances do not meet the definition, you can still divorce under no-fault grounds, such as your marriage is irretrievably broken.
Grounds for Divorce
Georgia law only allows couples to divorce if they have grounds to do so. The state recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. Couples may divorce on the grounds of "cruel treatment," which includes willful infliction of mental abuse. However, you may only claim the grounds of cruel treatment if the verbal abuse led to a reasonable fear that your spouse would endanger your life, limb or health. Where you cannot prove cruel treatment under the statute, you may instead request a "no-fault" divorce, meaning that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Many couples divorce on no-fault grounds to avoid the burden of proving that the other spouse's behavior was the cause for divorce.
You may only divorce on the grounds of cruel treatment if you can show that the other spouse willfully and intentionally sought to injure your mental health and you were reasonably afraid that the verbal abuse would lead to harm of your life, limb or health. Cruel treatment in the form of verbal abuse is often evidenced by threats of violence, recurrent nagging and false accusations, or insulting and vulgar language. A single incident of verbal abuse will likely not be enough to prove cruel treatment. Further, if verbal abuse is paired with physical violence, Georgia courts are more likely to recognize cruel treatment.
Effect of Restraining Order
If the conditions are severe enough to necessitate a restraining order, Georgia law may assist the spouse through the divorce process to keep her safe from harm. If a restraining order is not already in place, the court may grant a temporary order to get the abusive spouse out of the household and award temporary custody of any children to the other spouse. Additionally, having a restraining order may provide the evidence the spouse needs to file for divorce on the grounds of cruel treatment.
If the court finds that one spouse is verbally abusive, it may have an impact on the divorce decree, including custody, property division and alimony. Georgia courts determine custody based on what is in the best interest of the child, and evidence of threats of violence may demonstrate that it is not safe for the abusive parent to have custody of the children. Further, while courts will mainly consider the financial circumstances of each spouse in determining property division and alimony, courts may also consider other factors surrounding the divorce, including the fault of each spouse.
Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."