Filing for divorce in Georgia? It's important to understand the grounds available and whether you should choose an uncontested or contested divorce.
Divorce is complicated, both practically and emotionally. But during its initial stages, the legal process is of primary concern. No two divorces are the same—potential litigation will scrutinize the parties’ history, dynamics, monetary concerns, and familial makeup. However, the dissolution of a marriage in Georgia falls under two basic categories: either an uncontested or a contested divorce.
According to the attorneys at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor, parties that agree on the basic terms of the divorce can settle quickly and easily in an uncontested case. Harmony between parties simplifies the process. Unfortunately, this level of agreement isn’t possible in all cases. When there’s disagreement among parties, the divorce becomes a contested case, which may require litigation to resolve the dispute.
It’s important to know and understand the differences between these two designations. You’ll have an easier time navigating the process and addressing possible concerns like custody, alimony, or other family issues.
So, let’s dive in and find what processes go into an uncontested and contested divorce.
What Is an Uncontested Divorce in Georgia?
In theory, an uncontested divorce is less costly, requires less admin, and occurs on a shorter timeline. For these reasons, it’s the more popular choice for couples that meet Georgia’s minimum requirements for obtaining one:
- The couple must agree on the grounds for divorce: fault-based or no-fault. Fault-based grounds indicate that one party is responsible for the split for cruelty, infidelity, or abandonment. No-fault causes are applicable if no one party caused the dissolution. In most uncontested cases, the parties cite no-fault grounds, such as the irretrievable marriage breakdown, as the reason for the divorce.
- Both parties must agree on the division of both debt and property.
- Both spouses must agree on the matter of alimony, including whether it will be paid, the duration (temporary or permanent), and the amount.
- Finally, if applicable, the parties must arrange for child support and child custody. The latter is resolved through the creation of a parenting plan.
Once the parties fulfill these conditions, a settlement agreement, signed and acknowledged by all parties, is filed with the Clerk of the Superior Court and the divorce complaint. Presuming the filed documents include proper jurisdictional requirements such as service, there is a 30-day waiting period before a Judge may approve the papers.
If the parties do not reconcile during that time or otherwise contest the documents previously signed, the court will either sign off on the documents as submitted or schedule a hearing to determine whether to approve the settlement agreement and grant the dissolution of the marriage.
When Does an Uncontested Divorce Become Contested?
To understand when a case is uncontested or contested one must visualize the divorce process on a continuum, as a seesaw between those two.
There are typically two reasons a divorce becomes contested.
- The parties can’t agree on monetary matters like the division of assets, alimony, and child support.
- There are conflicting views on familial arrangements like child custody.
A contested divorce is a lengthier and more intensive process. Yet it does help the disputing couples to reach a fair solution. In some cases, the judge may ultimately decide how to divide assets.
In a contested divorce, the parties will need significant documentation to prove their claims because their spouse will likely have their own version of what happened, what is fair, and what the outcome should be. At this point, the case will move to the discovery process, during which both parties fully disclose detailed information on individual personal and financial matters.
Typically, the parties attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement at the urging of their attorneys. The court may order a case management conference if that doesn't work. Most couples can reach an agreement somewhere within this process. However, those who don’t will go before a judge and/or jury to present their case.
When to Contest a Divorce
A contested divorce may be necessary if the relationship is acrimonious enough that the parties can’t reach a mutual agreement on their own. Then, the parties must prove their claims to the court.
Kimbley Puckett (Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor)
Georgia has 13 types of grounds (or reasons) for divorce.
- Adultery, or illicit relations outside the bounds of marriage
- Mental incapacity at the time of the marriage
- Cruel treatment, which generally means proven emotional, verbal, or physical abuse
- Duress or deception that manipulates an individual into the marriage
- The criminal conviction of a spouse
- Abandonment on the part of a spouse for more than a year with no intention of returning
- A pregnancy that occurs outside the bounds of marriage
- Mental illness that’s incurable and medically proven
- Impotence that was discovered at the time of marriage
- Substance abuse relating to alcohol or drugs
- Habitual intoxication
- Proof of blood relationship with a spouse
- Irretrievably broken, or a catch-all category that states the marriage, by mutual agreement, is damaged beyond repair.”
Not included in this list, but just as relevant in a divorce, is proof of financial abuse, wasting, or misusing assets. Notably, if a party proves their spouse engaged in unacceptable behavior that led to the dissolution of the marriage, the judge may penalize the guilty party. Therefore, specific grounds may hold strategic advantages.
What to Expect When You Contest a Divorce
When a spouse initiates a contested divorce in the state of Georgia, they can expect to go through a contentious—and sometimes lengthy—process. So, the first thing they should do is retain the services of a respected attorney to guide them through the complex process and fight for their interests. - Dominic Jones (Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor)
After filing, the party must promptly serve the other party with the necessary documents and provide an opportunity to respond. Following a brief attempt between the attorneys to determine if a settlement may be possible, the case will proceed to the discovery phase. During this step, both parties will gather relevant information to exchange with the opposing party to assist with the litigation or to reach a settlement. For most clients, the discovery phase is an uncomfortable and invasive process.
Afterward, additional mediation or negotiation may occur, at which point the parties will agree or go to trial.
Getting Guidance for an Uncontested or Contested Divorce
Top Tip: Make sure to start collecting all the necessary documentation as soon as possible. There is a great deal of preparation you can do for your divorce case, and being proactive in this regard can help to speed up the process, keep the costs lower and possibly achieve an uncontested divorce. Documentation includes bank statements, parenting plans, plans for asset splits, plans for any debt owing, and other necessary paperwork. Your attorney can guide you through this process.
Divorce is a complex and overwhelming process. However, it can also be incredibly freeing. Regardless of whether you’re expecting an uncontested split or staring down a contested divorce, a trusted attorney will assist.
In uncontested cases, the right attorney will ensure you get a fair deal from your mutual settlement. And in contested divorces, your attorney will fight for your rights as they walk through the complex process with you.
The expert team at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor specializes in divorce, family law, child support, custody, alimony, paternity, father’s rights, and adoption in Georgia. Reach out today to speak to experienced attorneys Kimbley N. Puckett and Dominic Jones.