Divorce in Georgia: An Overview

Divorce is a complex and often emotionally challenging process. Sadly, half of Georgia marriages end in divorce. As a family law firm in Georgia, the Sherman Law Group understands the unique, and sometimes contradictory, legal landscape that governs divorces in the state. In this blog post, we aim to provide both information and guidance for individuals considering or going through a divorce in Georgia. From understanding the grounds for divorce to division of assets and child custody matters, we cover essential aspects to help you make informed decisions. Georgia divorce laws are mostly governed by O.C.G.A. Title 19, Chapter 5.

Grounds for Divorce in Georgia

In Georgia, divorces can be granted based on both fault and no-fault grounds. It's essential to understand these grounds before proceeding with a divorce:

  • No-Fault Grounds: Irretrievable Breakdown
    • Georgia recognizes the "irretrievable breakdown" of a marriage as a no-fault ground for divorce. This means that the marriage is beyond repair. Harwell v. Harwell, 233 Ga. 89, 91 (1974).
  • Fault Grounds include
    • Adultery: If one spouse can prove that the other engaged in extramarital affairs, it may serve as grounds for divorce. Adultery can take many forms. Adultery can be part of an on-going relationship with another individual or adultery could happen on only once; it could be with a prostitute, escort or other sex-worker.
    • Desertion: If a spouse willfully abandons the other for at least one year without consent or valid reason, it can be grounds for divorce.
    • Cruel treatment: Physical or mental cruelty that endangers the life, safety, or health of the other spouse is considered a fault ground.
    • Addiction and abuse: Substance abuse or addiction, as well as cruel treatment due to substance abuse, can be grounds for divorce.
    • Incarceration: If one spouse is sentenced to serve to a jail or prison term, the other spouse may seek a divorce.
    • Mental incapacity: Mental illness can be a ground for divorce.

The Divorce Process in Georgia

Understanding the divorce process is crucial to managing expectations and making informed decisions. Here's an overview of the steps involved:

  1. Filing for Divorce
    1. To initiate the divorce process, you or your attorney must file a complaint in the Superior Court of the county where you or your spouse reside.
  2. Service of Process
    1. Once the complaint is filed, the non-filing spouse must be formally served with the divorce papers. This can be done through personal service or by certified mail. The non-filing spouse would then submit an “answer” to the court addressing the accusations in the filing.
  3. Discovery and Negotiations
    1. During the discovery phase, both parties exchange information and documentation related to assets, debts, and other relevant matters. Sometimes, however, a party will try to hide assets and not disclose them. Negotiations, such as mediation or collaborative law, may be pursued to reach agreements on property division, child custody, and support, and other issues.
  4. Trial or Settlement
    1. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement through negotiation, the case proceeds to trial, where a judge will make final decisions on unresolved issues. Alternatively, if the parties reach an agreement, it can be submitted to the court for approval.

Division of Assets and Debts

Dividing marital property and debts can be a complex process. In Georgia, the principle of equitable distribution is followed:

  • Marital Property
    • Georgia considers marital property as any assets acquired during the marriage, except for gifts or inheritances specifically intended for one spouse. Assets can include real estate, cryptocurrencies, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, and collectibles like art, baseball cards, guns, and wrist watches, among other things. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean an equal 50-50 split; the court considers factors like financial contributions, future earning potential, and the length of the marriage. So a marriage of three years’ duration could be treated very differently than a marriage that has lasted 40 years.
  • Marital Debts
    • Marital debts acquired during the marriage, such as mortgages or credit card debts, are also subject to division. The court determines the fair allocation of these debts based on various factors.

Child Custody and Support

When children are involved in a divorce, their best interests take priority. Here's what you need to know about child custody and support in Georgia:

  1. Child Custody
    1. Georgia recognizes two types of custody: legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody (residential placement). The court aims to establish a custody arrangement that promotes the child's well-being and maintains a strong relationship with both parents. Courts use a “best interests of the child” standard to make custody determinations.
  2. Child Support
    1. Child support in Georgia is determined based on specific guidelines, taking into account factors such as both parents' income, the number of children, and healthcare or educational expenses. Ensuring the financial stability and welfare of the child is the primary goal.

Going through a divorce in Georgia requires a solid understanding of the legal process, grounds for divorce, division of assets, and child custody matters. The Sherman Law Group is here to assist you, providing personalized guidance to protect your rights and achieve a fair resolution. Contact our experienced divorce lawyers to navigate this challenging chapter in your life with confidence and compassion.

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