Below, you'll find answers to some common questions about trials, hearings, and procedural rules in Georgia family law cases, such as divorces or child support matters. For all of our articles on Georgia family law, see our Georgia Divorce and Family Law page.
Does every case have to go to trial?
No. The vast majority of cases, including family law matters, are resolved without a trial, through agreement of the spouses, negotiations by their attorneys, or mediation. If the spouses cannot agree, even after being prodded to do so by attorneys, mediators, and the court, a trial is necessary.
Trials almost never make financial sense, given that they eat up resources (particularly in attorney fees) that could be used by the spouses or their children. Trials seem to occur when one or both parties refuse to budge at all. Usually, each side is willing to compromise to avoid a long, drawn-out court battle. Even if a couple starts out in full litigation mode, settlement is often possible just before trial, after both sides have had a chance to gather evidence and assess their chances in court.
What is the difference between a hearing and a trial?
Often the words "hearing" and "trial" are used interchangeably. Both refer to a procedure in court, in which issues are decided. Generally, a hearing is held before a judge only, while a trial might be before a judge or a jury. Also, a trial generally refers to the final hearing or the last court appearance, which should conclude all issues. A hearing can cover temporary issues such as temporary custody, support, use of a residence, or violation of an existing order.
How many witnesses can I have?
At trial, you may have as many witnesses as you need to prove your case (unless the court determines their testimony is inadmissible for a legal reason such as relevance). At a temporary hearing in Georgia, you are generally limited to the party (yourself) and one witness per party at a temporary hearing, unless the court makes an exception.
Can affidavits be used instead of witnesses?
Yes. Under certain conditions, and used properly (including giving the other side a copy at the right time), at temporary hearings, affidavits may be submitted in lieu of live witness testimony. An affidavit is a sworn written statement.
Can I have a jury trial?
In Georgia, either side can request a jury trial in certain types of cases, including divorce. They are not allowed in custody cases, unless the case also involves support or asset division, in which case the jury could hear the other issues. Juries do not determine custody, visitation, or attorney's fees.
What is family court?
It is a court devoted to handling only family law cases.
How long does a hearing or trial take?
Hearings are usually much shorter than trials. Most hearings last less than one day (in fact, less than an hour is common), while most trials last from one to five days. Of course, the length of either a trial or a hearing depends on how complex the issues to be decided are.
Is it better to settle or go to trial?
If you can achieve positive results without trial, settlement is the best strategy. Settling spares you the emotional and financial costs of a trial, which are substantial. However, sometimes a trial is the only way to achieve a fair result, especially if your spouse isn't willing to compromise on important issues. The best way to decide how to proceed is to consult with an experienced family lawyer and discuss your options.
Do I need to hire a lawyer?
In most family law situations, having an expert on your side will be a great advantage. However, if you have a very simple situation (like an uncontested divorce in which the you and your spouse agree on most issues) or if you simply cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to proceed on your own. If you do, get as much quality legal information as possible. On the website of the Judicial Branch of Georgia you can find useful Self-Help Resources, including information on family law issues (called domestic relations on the website). Your county court may also be a useful resource. For example, at the Fulton County Self-Help Center you can get basic information about how the court works and how to fill out court forms. You can find your county court’s website through Georgia’s Administrative Office of the Court.