When you are considering divorce in Georgia, it is extremely important to work with an experienced Georgia divorce lawyer who can ensure that you are not missing out on expert advice in a wide range of options that you have and that may arise. Indeed, it is one of the most important reasons why you shouldn’t file your own divorce.
Properly Filing Your Petition for Divorce
Under the Georgia Code, there are specific requirements for filing a petition for divorce, verification, acknowledgement of service, summons, settlement agreement, parenting plan, child support documents, Affidavits, Motions, and the Final Order of Divorce; including specific residency requirements, timing, order, and the all important content of the documents. Generally speaking, to file for divorce in Georgia, you (or your spouse) must have been a resident of the state for at least six months. You must file where the defendant resides or if a spouse has moved out less than 6 months ago you can file where the marital residence is as long as you still live there. You cannot and do not take all the documents at once to the Court and expect to have them take them all off your hands. They will not give you legal advice and will only take the specific documents that are proper to be filed at that time. They will leave it to you to know when it is proper to bring additional documents.
The first document created when you properly file a divorce is called the Petition. It is setting the stage for the Court as to what your divorce is about. Some topics that need to be covered are: Names and addresses of the parties, date of marriage, date of separation, reason for the divorce (irreconcilable differences), whether there are children of the marriage, whether child support or spousal support (alimony) is at issue, whether there are property or assets of the marriage, whether there are debts of the marriage, and how attorneys fees will be paid if an attorney is being used or will be used. Once these are explained each in their own paragraph a brief summary of what you are asking of the Court is written at the end of the Petition for Divorce. The Court would appreciate a “Style” added to the top the says your name, Petitioner v. spouses name, Respondent with the County and State of Georgia at the very top of the Petition. Once complete, you sign as the Petitioner as Pro Se, which means you don’t have an attorney and aren’t an attorney. If you did have a divorce attorney, he or she would sign the petition for you.
The next document is the Verification. This simply says what is written in the Petition is true and correct and that you swear under oath that it is so. You need to sign this document in front of a Notary Public.
The next document of the Divorce Petition process is the Summons. This officially notifies the your spouse for the Court’s purposes by law that you have filed for divorce and notifies your spouse they have 30 days to object in writing to your petition if they so desire. This document is signed by the Clerk of Court.
So first you file the Petition, Verification and the Summons. There will be a filing fee to do so paid to the Court by cash or sometimes card. Now the very next item the Court will want to know is whether your spouse has signed an Acknowledgement of Service or if you need to have your spouse served by a process server such as the Sheriff’s Department of your county, which is the typical default process server of the Court. You will then provide the signed and Notarized by your spouse Acknowledgement of Service or if you don’t have that then you can decide to fill out an Entry of Service and pay the Service fee, generally $50, to have the Sheriff’s Department serve your spouse.
Once your Petition, Verification, Summons, and Service are complete with all fees paid to the Court you have an open divorce case that either needs to be closed by settlement outside of Court or scheduling a hearing to address issues you and your spouse do not agree upon outside of Court. There are other variations of how to address your divorce at this point such as Mediation that will be addressed later is this material.
No Court in Georgia will finalize a divorce in less than 30 days. Even then you must have a consent signed by either spouse allowing the Court to finalize the divorce after 30 days. If no consent the Court will wait 45 days or more. If you do not have a lawyer they typically will not finalize it at all until you set a Court date to appear in front of the judge in the Courtroom. This is scheduled on the Judge’s schedule and usually is during working hours since that is when Court is open. In most counties if you have an able Divorce attorney they can do all of this for you and you never have to step inside the courthouse.
When you file your initial petition for divorce, you could miss out on expert advice that could allow your petition to move through the system without any unnecessary complications.
Having expert advice for the distribution of marital property is extremely important in your Georgia divorce case. Missing out on expert advice could mean that you do not receive the fair settlement you deserve, most likely because emotions got involved, you just wanted it over with and not deal with it, or you weren’t sure how to figure out what was fair. Why do you need help from a lawyer to handle property distribution? There are many ways in which a divorce attorney can advocate for your rights in terms of the property settlement and can help to make sure that you do not get an unfair deal compared to the several hundred divorces a capable divorce attorney has experience completing.
Georgia law stipulates that only marital property is subject to distribution. While this might sound relatively simple at first, there are many ways in which it can be difficult to determine what is classified as marital property and what is classified as separate property. For instance, if you commingled separate property, such as an inheritance you received or money/property you had before the marriage, with marital property, it can be difficult to trace out the actual amount of separate property. Commingling occurs when separate and marital property gets mixed, such as when one spouse deposits separate money inherited or given by a relative into a shared marital bank account and both spouses use the money for marital items.
In addition to classifying separate and marital property, a divorce lawyer can provide necessary assistance with property valuation. You may have a certain piece of property for which it is difficult to determine a fair market value, or you may have another property that requires upkeep and additional expenses (such as a home) that should be valued differently by the court. Since Georgia follows a theory of equitable distribution, marital property—both assets and debts—will be divided in a manner that is fair or equitable to both spouses. You will want an advocate on your side throughout this process. Otherwise, you could miss out on expert advice concerning property classification, valuation, and distribution.
Child Custody and Support Issues
In addition to filing for divorce and dealing with property distribution, many Georgia couples have children from the marriage and will need to contend with matters of child custody and child support. Missing out on expert advice from a lawyer could mean the difference between a favorable child custody arrangement and a child custody order in which you do not receive anything you wanted. The same distractions of emotions, uncertainty, and frustration dealing with all of this on your own can end up with a result you regret later, sometimes greatly regret.
The risks of missing out on expert advice are too great in a Georgia divorce case. The rule is “equitably divided” or “fairly divided considering the circumstances”. This requires experience from seeing divorces play out in all different ways to fully understand first what that rule means in your particular divorce, as over time we see that rarely is any divorce ever the same as any other and second how do you prepare, negotiate, and litigate if necessary to prove what is truly fair to the other spouse or a judge or jury that is making the decision as to what is separate property and what is a fair division of marital property considering all the circumstances.
Proving and building a case for your divorce is a trained skill for a professional that isn’t emotionally bound and distracted by the situation. Just like when we are sick or injured and need medical help we need the assurance the sickness or injury is being properly cared for by having a doctor involved. Especially any one of us would not consider removing our own appendix because of the lack of experience, the pain and emotions we would experience, and risk of making a costly mistake, instead we count on the experience, training, and professionalism of a doctor to remove our appendix. For similar reasons you should also consider a consult with an able divorce attorney in Georgia to have assurance your divorce is handled properly at each stage of the process to ensure that you present the best case for a satisfactory outcome.