If you are looking to file for divorce, and need a guide on where to start, this article will give a general overview of how to file for divorce in the state of Georgia.
You should always check with the county where you intend to file to find out if they have additional requirements beyond what is listed below. Also, if you have specific questions about your case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
Your first step when preparing to file for divorce is to make sure you are filing your forms in the correct county. Either you or your spouse must have been a resident of the county where you are filing for at least six months before filing for divorce. (O.C.G.A. § 19-5-2.)
The first form to complete when filing for divorce is the “Complaint for Divorce.” In Georgia, the spouse filing for divorce is the “plaintiff” or “petitioner,” and the other spouse is the “defendant” or “respondent.”
The complaint should state that one spouse has been a resident of the county for at least six months, and it must provide a legal ground for divorce. In Georgia, you can file for a no-fault divorce by stating that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Alternatively, you can file based on one of the following fault grounds:
In the complaint, you should also address any other issues you want the court handle, such as dividing assets and debts, child custody, child support, and alimony. If you and your spouse have agreed on all your divorce-related issues, you can request an uncontested divorce. With this type of divorce, you will prepare and sign a settlement agreement stating that you and your spouse have resolved your entire case.
Filing for divorce means you have given your divorce complaint to the clerk’s office of the superior court in the county where you are filing. You’ll provide a copy of your signed complaint to the clerk, and they will give you a copy with a date stamp and notation, showing the date you filed it with the court.
Be sure to get an extra copy for your spouse. Many counties in Georgia have domestic relations or family law self-help department to help you if you have questions.
You have to give your spouse a copy of your filed divorce complaint; this is called “serving” your complaint. You have several ways to serve the documents on your spouse.
If your spouse agrees, your spouse or your spouse’s attorney can accept service. The acceptance of service of the complaint will need to be in writing, signed by your spouse, and notarized by a notary public.
Your superior court clerk’s office should have a form called an “Acknowledgement of Service,” which you can use to complete this method of service. In Georgia, your spouse can also agree to be served by e-mail, but they will have to file a “Notice of Consent to Electronic Service” with the court before you serve them. It's usually easier to have them complete an acknowledgment of service. (O.C.G.A. § 9-11-5.)
You may also hire a process server, who can be an off-duty deputy sheriff or anyone over 18 who has passed certification to be a process server with your county sheriff’s office. Your superior court clerk’s office should be able to give you a list of qualified process servers. Once the server has delivered the complaint to your spouse, the server will return to the court clerk and make a note in your court docket that the defendant has received the documents. (O.C.G.A, § 9-11-4.1.)
If your spouse refuses to accept service, the court clerk may send the complaint by certified mail and use the return of the certification as proof that your spouse has received the complaint.
If you cannot locate your spouse, you can still serve your spouse by "publication," which requires you to sign an affidavit for the court saying that you cannot find your spouse and state the last place that you knew your spouse lived. When the court accepts your affidavit, the clerk will publish a notice of your case in a local newspaper four times over 60 days, with each publication at least seven days apart. You will have to pay for the publications. If you need to serve your spouse by publication, contact the superior court clerk for your county, and they can assist you.
Your county may require you to make certain financial disclosures in connection when you file for divorce, depending on your county’s local rules. The types of information you can expect to turn over includes:
See our topic page on Georgia Divorce and Family Laws to learn more about divorce and related issues like property division, alimony, and child custody.
For the full text of the law governing filing for divorce in Georgia, see the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, §19-5-1 through §19-6-35.