Grounds for Divorce in Georgia

If you're considering a divorce, chances are that you've heard opinions and personal stories from many friends and family. Contrary to popular belief, there may be options available to you that can make the process a little less intimidating.

By , Attorney

Divorce is a scary word that often evokes many emotions and misconceptions. Everyone thinks they know something about divorce, but unlike what you see on prime time television, there may be several options available, some of which don't require a divorce trial.

What Are Grounds for Divorce?

Each state's divorce procedures are slightly different, but all states require couples to provide the court with a legally acceptable reason, or grounds, to terminate your marriage. Identifying the grounds for divorce means that you need to tell the court the specific reason why your relationship ended. Some states allow you to use a fault-based reason for the breakup, like adultery or drug addiction.

If placing blame on your spouse isn't the way you want to proceed with ending your marriage, or if it's not allowed in your state, you can ask the court for a no-fault divorce. Every state allows some version of no-fault divorce, which means that neither spouse is at fault for the breakdown of the relationship. Instead of spending time on private investigators to prove your spouse had an affair, or engaged in some other type of misconduct, the only requirement is to demonstrate to the court that your marriage is so severely damaged that there's no chance either of you can fix it. The most attractive feature of no-fault divorce is that neither spouse places blame on the other for the divorce, meaning less time and money spend arguing in court.

What Are the Acceptable Grounds in Georgia?

Georgia is a mixed divorce state, which means that you have the right to file for divorce because you and your spouse aren't happy in the marriage (no-fault), or you can ask the court to grant a divorce because of your spouse's marital misconduct (fault-based).

No-Fault Is the Most Common Type of Divorce

Many people make the mistake of thinking that divorce must be a long, drawn-out, and emotionally-draining process. On the contrary, over the past 50 years, every state has adopted some form of a no-fault divorce, which allows spouses to end their marriage without pointing fingers at each other—all of which helps to streamline the process.

For divorces in Georgia, couples must state in their petition (request) for divorce that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, which means that neither spouse wishes to remain married, and there's no chance for reconciliation.

Although most courts favor marriage over divorce, even a judge who has a strong opinion about relationships must grant the divorce if a couple tells the court that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Fault-Based Divorce Is Difficult

In addition to the no-fault divorce process, Georgia courts also allow couples to file for divorce based on their spouse's marital misconduct. In most cases, couples are happy to move through the divorce process without shaming their spouse or telling the world exactly why their marriage failed. For others, marital misconduct may be so severe that they must reveal it to the court. Judges can also use marital fault in other aspects of the divorce, such as child custody or alimony awards, which can be beneficial to the non-offending spouse.

The acceptable grounds for fault-based divorce in Georgia include:

  • adultery by either party after the marriage
  • willful and continued desertion for at least one year
  • conviction of either party for an offense involving moral turpitude (murder, manslaughter) and the court sentenced the offending spouse to at least two years in prison
  • habitual intoxication or drug addiction, and
  • cruel treatment (physical or mental).

You may also file for divorce based on one spouse's incurable mental illness.

Unlike no-fault divorce, which only requires one spouse to state on the record that there is a breakdown of the marriage, if you accuse your spouse of marital misconduct, you will need to provide proof of your accusations to the court.

For example, in one case, a husband filed for divorce based on his wife's cruelty throughout the marriage. The husband proved his allegations by introducing testimony (witnesses) that the wife continually made the parties' children cry by waking them up and telling them that she was going to leave home. The wife repeated this behavior for the sake of hurting her husband. This testimony was enough to convince the judge to grant the divorce based on the grounds of cruel treatment.

If you can't prove your allegations to the court, you risk the judge denying or dismissing your request for a divorce. In that situation, you would need to reapply using the no-fault legal process, or file alleging a different ground.

What Are the Requirements for Divorce?

Like most states, Georgia has a residency requirement that you must meet before you file for divorce. Couples must show that at least one spouse lived in the state for a minimum of 6 months before filing for divorce.

In addition to the residency requirement, Georgia has a strict rule that absolutely no court can grant a divorce until at least 30 days from the date when the filing spouse (plaintiff) serves the other spouse (defendant).

What Is a Total Divorce?

A total divorce—or, annulment—is a legal process where the court declares a marriage void because it wasn't valid to begin with. This process is like divorce in that it ends a marriage, but it is unique in that after the court annuls your marriage, it's like the relationship never existed. Annulment is rare and strongly disfavored in Georgia, but if you meet the requirements, it may be an alternative to divorce.

The acceptable grounds for annulment include:

  • either spouse was mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage so was unable to consent and didn't get consent from a legal guardian
  • either spouse was under the legal age and failed to get parental permission
  • spouses are too closely related
  • one spouse was legally married to someone else at the time of the second marriage (bigamy), or
  • either spouse used coercion or fraud to obtain the marriage.

It's not enough just to allege a reason a total divorce. In fact, the court requires extensive proof of the specific grounds before it will approve your request. Even if you can demonstrate that you meet one or more of the grounds for annulment, if you and your spouse have children that were born during your marriage, the court will not approve your petition. In cases with minor children, or where you can't meet the strict annulment requirements, you will need to file for a traditional divorce.

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