Legal processes can often feel confusing and scary — what do all these strange words mean? What are the rules? How can I be sure I’m doing it correctly?

A good divorce attorney partners with you throughout your divorce so that you’re never in the dark. And the best thing you can do is learn how the process works so you can ask questions and have a sense of what to expect.

Here are the basics of the Georgia divorce process.

Contested vs uncontested divorce

People throw a lot of words around when they’re talking about divorce. Fault, no-fault, contested, uncontested.

It’s helpful to know what these words mean so you know what to expect.

A contested divorce is one where you ask the court to make the decisions that will resolve the divorce. It starts with one person filing a petition for divorce asking the court for what they want. In a divorce petition they specify things like the separation of assets or custody of children.

In general, contested divorces take longer and cost more than uncontested divorces.

An uncontested divorce is one where the two spouses agree on all the terms of the divorce before they file the petition for divorce.

Couples that file for uncontested divorce may work out the terms on their own and then have a lawyer help them draw up an agreement. They may also participate in settlement negotiations or mediation before filing.

Uncontested divorces are generally less expensive and take less time than contested divorces.

Fault vs no-fault divorce

In Georgia, someone can file either a fault or a no-fault divorce. Fault or no-fault refers to the reason(s) given for seeking to dissolve the marriage.

Georgia has 12 fault grounds for divorce. When someone files a fault divorce, they’re saying one of those grounds is the reason for the divorce. They are:

  1. Intermarriage by people who are related
  2. Mental incapacity at the time of marriage
  3. Impotence at the time of marriage
  4. Force, menace, duress, or fraud in obtaining the marriage
  5. Pregnancy by a man other than the husband at the time of marriage
  6. Adultery during the marriage
  7. Desertion
  8. Conviction of a crime of moral turpitude with a prison sentence of 2 or more years
  9. Habitual intoxication
  10. Cruel treatment
  11. Incurable mental illness
  12. Habitual drug addiction

Fault divorces are almost always contested and are more likely to involve litigation. That’s because the other party to the divorce has an opportunity to rebut the allegation of fault. The court may need to hear evidence to determine whether the alleged action occurred.

When someone files a no-fault divorce, they’re saying that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” through no fault of either party.

No-fault divorces can be contested or uncontested. Even if no one is alleging a specific fault, the couple still may have difficulty coming to an agreement on divorce terms.

The Georgia divorce process

A Georgia divorce can take anywhere from a couple months to a year or more.

Here’s what you need to know about how the process works.

Step 1: Filing a Complaint for Divorce

This is the first official step of the legal process, but most people take steps toward divorce before they file.

If you’re interested in a low-conflict or uncontested divorce, you may choose to do one or more of these before you file:

  • Talk to your spouse about your desire to get a divorce
  • Hire an attorney that specializes in amicable or uncontested divorce
  • Discuss specific agreement terms, like custody and division of property, with your spouse
  • Schedule a private mediation to come to an agreement on the terms of your divorce

Couples who come to a full agreement before filing can follow the process for an uncontested divorce. One person must still act as the petitioner and file the divorce petition with the court. But along with that petition, you’ll file the settlement agreement you’ve both signed.

See: How to File for Divorce in Georgia

Step 2: Serving the complaint on your spouse

You must provide physical notice of the divorce action to your spouse. You can do this by asking your spouse to sign a statement that they received it or by having it served by a sheriff or process server.

In general, a spouse has 30 days from the date of service to respond to a divorce petition. If they don’t respond, the divorce hearing can progress without them.

What if you and your spouse are moving forward with an uncontested divorce?

Whoever didn’t file the petition can sign an affidavit acknowledging that they received the documents. Because your case is uncontested, the court could schedule a hearing as early as 31 days after the date of service. And uncontested divorce parties that are represented by an attorney are often able to forgo a hearing altogether.

Be aware that court scheduling backlogs can sometimes create a delay.

Step 3: Participating in the discovery process

If your divorce is uncontested, there is no discovery process. You and your spouse agreed to all the terms before you filed.

In contested divorces, the discovery process is a time for each side to share information with the other. Discovery could be informal and involve something as simple as emailing financial documents.

Or it could be a formal process that includes interrogatories and depositions to prepare for trial.

Step 4: Participating in mediation or settlement negotiations

Most Georgia counties require divorcing couples to attempt mediation before beginning a trial. Parties may also choose to hire a private mediator or engage in settlement negotiations through their attorneys.

A divorce trial is often expensive and emotionally draining. For those reasons, many people try to do whatever they can to settle their divorce without a trial.

See: How Much Does Divorce Cost in Georgia?

Step 5: Going through a divorce trial

For parties that could not reach an agreement outside the courtroom, a divorce trial is a necessary evil.

The court will hear evidence from both sides. That evidence could include testimony from lay witnesses like friends or family members. It may also include testimony from expert witnesses, like a forensic accountant.

Step 6: Receiving a Final Order and Decree of Divorce

Whether your divorce case is contested or uncontested, the court will issue a final order. That order from the court is binding on all parties.

Required class for divorcing parents

Most Georgia counties require both divorcing parents to attend a parent education and family stabilization course. These courses are meant to give parents the tools to support their children through a divorce.

The court will provide information about what parenting courses in your county meet its requirements. Most now provide at least one online option.

If you’re considering a divorce or beginning the divorce process, contact the Porchlight team. We specialize in helping people move forward through divorce to the next chapter of their lives.