You know you’re ready. It’s time to get a divorce. So how do you start?

The short answer is that you file for divorce in Georgia by filing a Complaint for Divorce in the Superior Court in the county where your spouse lives.

The long answer is a bit more complicated and can help you decide whether you’re actually ready to file. Sometimes choosing not to file first has its benefits. It allows you more time to negotiate and opt for a less expensive and time-consuming divorce process.

Georgia divorce process — contested

There are two routes you can go when you get a divorce in Georgia — a contested or an uncontested divorce.

When you file for a contested divorce, you’re asking the court to help you determine the terms of the divorce. The court will decide things like custody schedules and how you’ll divide your marital property. With an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse decide on all the terms of the divorce and present your agreement to the court. Most couples do this with the help of an attorney and/or a mediator.

As you may have guessed, a contested divorce generally requires more time and money than an uncontested divorce.

Filing a Complaint for Divorce

If you file a standard Complaint for Divorce, you are choosing — at least for the moment — a contested divorce. That doesn’t mean you can’t switch to an uncontested divorce, but for now, we’ll map out how a contested divorce would proceed.

To file for divorce in Georgia, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months. You can file the Complaint for Divorce with the Superior Court in the county where you and/or your spouse live.

Your county’s Superior Court has its own Complaint for Divorce form. The form is extensive and requires you and your attorney to provide information about:

  • Whether you and/or your spouse have lived in Georgia for at least six months
  • What county you and your spouse live in now
  • Whether you have served process of the divorce complaint on your spouse
  • When you and your spouse were married
  • When you and your spouse separated
  • Whether you and your spouse have a settlement agreement and, if you have minor children, a parenting plan
  • Whether you are requesting alimony
  • What marital property exists and how you want to divide it
  • What marital debts exist and how you want to divide them
  • What your grounds of divorce are

If you and your spouse have minor children, you will also answer questions about child custody, visitation, support, medical expenses, and health insurance.

Georgia has thirteen grounds for divorce. (Read more about Georgia’s grounds for divorce.) The majority of divorcing couples choose “irreconcilable differences.” Some people call that a no-fault basis for divorce. A spouse may also choose one of the grounds for divorce that indicates fault, such as cruel treatment or adultery. In that case, the court may take that fault into account when considering things like division of property or child custody.

If someone alleges a fault ground, the spouse can refute it. And the court will hear evidence that becomes part of the public record.

Serving the complaint on your spouse

Once you file for divorce, you’re required to serve your spouse.

Service is a legal term that means providing physical notice to someone. You’ll need to make sure your spouse gets a copy of the complaint. You have two options for doing that:

  1. You can give or mail your spouse the complaint and ask them to sign an Acknowledgment of Service in front of a notary public. You file that acknowledgment form with the court.
  2. You can have a sheriff or private process server serve your spouse. That person provides the Affidavit of Service, and you file it with the court.

If you believe your spouse will accept service of the document from you, that’s the less contentious and less expensive option.

Once your spouse receives the complaint paperwork, they have 30 days to file their answer. That’s their opportunity to respond to your statements in the complaint and tell the court what they want.

If you named a fault ground for divorce (like desertion or drug addiction), they can cite a defense to that ground. Their available defenses are:

  • Insanity
  • Prior existing marriage
  • Connivance
  • Collusion
  • Recrimination
  • Condonation

What happens if your spouse doesn’t respond within the 30-day window?

They lose their right to be notified about anything else happening with the divorce — like when or where hearings will be held (though the court will generally notify them anyway). If they attend a hearing, they still have a right to defend themselves. But the court can make a final judgment in the divorce without their participation or even their knowledge.

See: 5 Things You Must Do During Your Divorce in Georgia

Participating in discovery

Discovery is a legal process where the two sides of a case share information with each other. In a divorce, that information includes things like financial statements and affidavits or admissions about either party’s activities.

Discovery can happen formally or informally. With informal discovery, each side voluntarily hands over all relevant information. In formal discovery, lawyers create interrogatories and demand letters, and may take depositions. As with every part of the divorce process, the more time and people involved (lawyers, financial professionals), the more expensive it is.

Settling outside court

Most parties involved in a divorce will attempt to settle outside court. In fact, in many counties in Georgia, courts require parties to participate in mediation before the court will make a final judgment on the case.

Divorce trial

If the spouses cannot reach a settlement agreement, the court will have a trial. Most divorce trials occur before a judge, but parties may request a jury for certain issues.

The court will hear evidence and testimony from both sides and will issue a Final Order and Decree of Divorce. Both parties must abide by the court’s order.

Georgia divorce process — uncontested

What if that whole process sounds miserable to you?

You may be able to go the uncontested route, which doesn’t actually include filing for divorce in the way it’s traditionally portrayed in movies and on tv.

When you choose an uncontested divorce, you’re telling the court that you and your spouse have figured out all the specific terms. You just need the court to sign off on your agreement.

The process is relatively straightforward. You and your spouse will negotiate an agreement on the exact division of assets and debts. If you have children, you’ll agree to things like child support, custody, and parenting time. Each of you may have an attorney, and take part in mediation.

Some couples also choose to save money by hiring an attorney to represent only one spouse. The attorney creates the settlement agreement, but the spouses do the negotiating on their own. Couples can cut costs, but it generally only works if the spouses are good at effectively communicating with each other already.

In an uncontested divorce, you’ll still file a Complaint for Divorce, but it will also include a Settlement Agreement signed by you and your spouse. The judge can grant your divorce 31 days after filing—usually without you having to appear in court.

At Porchlight, we specialize in helping couples complete an uncontested divorce. We help them save time and money (and maybe a little sanity). Contact us to learn how we can help you have a less painful divorce.