In order for a divorce to be truly uncontested, the spouses must have resolved all their marital issues. This means they’ve reached an agreement on such things as custody, child support, visitation (parenting time), alimony (spousal support) and distribution of marital property.
Although a divorce may be uncontested in Georgia, there are conditions you have to meet before you can move forward. The first regards residency. In order to obtain a divorce, Georgia requires either you or your spouse to reside in the state for six months prior to filing for divorce. (O.C.G.A. § 19-5-2.)
A second requirement is that you must have “grounds” (legal reasons) for divorce. Georgia has both “fault” grounds and “no-fault” grounds. (O.C.G.A. § 19-5-3) Fault-based grounds are those in which one spouse alleges that the other spouse did something wrong. No-fault grounds don’t point a finger of blame at either spouse.
Some of the grounds for divorce in Georgia are:
Of the above list, only the last item is considered a no-fault ground. “The marriage is irretrievably broken” basically means the rift between the spouses is so significant, the marriage can’t be saved. Using this ground for divorce is typically the easiest way to proceed, because a spouse on the receiving end of divorce papers is much less likely to object to this ground than a fault-based one.
Note that the law specifically states that the court can’t grant a divorce based on an irretrievably broken marriage until at least 30 days from the date your spouse receives “service” of the divorce papers. We’ll discuss “service” later in this article.
There are a number of steps you must follow to obtain an uncontested divorce in Georgia. If you’re representing yourself, it’s important that you understand them in order to successfully navigate the process. You begin by completing a “Complaint For Divorce”. (The complaint is sometimes referred to as a “Petition”.) If you’re the one filing the complaint, you’re referred to as the “Plaintiff” or “Petitioner”. Your spouse is the “Defendant” or “Respondent”.
Divorce complaint forms differ, depending on whether or not you have children. If you’re looking for an easy divorce in Georgia, an uncontested action with no children involved is probably the fastest route. The complaint form in this scenario is relatively uncomplicated. As an aside, a no-children uncontested divorce is also likely to be the most inexpensive divorce in Georgia.
The complaint form for an uncontested divorce in Georgia with a child involved is more complex, because there are more issues you need to address (custody, child support, visitation and so on). These forms also require the spouses to fill out a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit, in which you’ll provide detailed information on your income, expenses, and assets.
Divorce complaint forms may also vary slightly depending on which county you live in (which is usually where your divorce will be heard). If you go to the county’s website, you should be able to access the particular forms you’ll need. You can also obtain them from the court clerk at your county’s Superior Court.
When you’ve completed the complaint, you’ll have to file it with the court. You do this by delivering it to the Superior Court Clerk in the county where you’ve lived (or if you’re a non-resident, the county where your spouse has lived) for the six months immediately prior to filing the complaint.
If you’re concerned about the cost of an uncontested divorce in Georgia, note that the court charges filing fees. But you may be able to have these fees waived if you believe they’re unduly burdensome for you. You’d make the waiver request by filing an “Affidavit of Indigence” (also known as a “Poverty Affidavit”) with the court.
Once you file the complaint with the clerk, it has to be “served on” (delivered to) your spouse, together with a “summons”. There are a number of ways you can do this. The simplest is to have your spouse sign an “Acknowledgment of Service”. This means the spouse is accepting receipt of the summons and complaint without the need for the documents to be served by the sheriff’s office.
If your spouse is unwilling to sign an Acknowledgment, then you’ll have to contact the sheriff’s office in the county where your spouse lives, to have that department serve the divorce papers. If your spouse is attempting to avoid being served, or if you don’t know where your spouse is living, you can apply to the court for the right to serve the spouse by “publication”, meaning by posting a notice of the divorce in a newspaper or in such other manner as the court directs you.
Once spouses are served with divorce papers, they have 30 days to respond. If no response is filed, then the court can enter a “default”, which means the case can proceed without the other spouse’s participation.
Once you and your spouse have resolved all the issues in your divorce, you’ll incorporate the terms in a divorce settlement agreement (sometimes referred to as a “property settlement agreement” or a “marital settlement agreement”). This agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse, and is binding on both of you. Each Georgia county Superior Court has agreement forms, which you’ll fill out and provide to the court in order to complete the uncontested divorce process.
Considering the stress that accompanies even the most amicable divorce, it often helps to have attorneys or a qualified mediator help you with your written divorce settlement agreement, especially if you have young children or there are considerable financial factors involved. Agreements prepared by attorneys or mediators tend to go into greater detail than the court-provided forms. This can be helpful, because it can prevent future arguments about the meaning of a particular provision in the agreement. This could save you time, money, and anxiety down the road.
Even if you and your spouse settled your differences on your own, it pays for each of you to have your own attorney review the settlement terms with you, to ensure you fully understand the legal consequences of your agreement.
Scheduling your divorce hearing will depend on the method used to serve your spouse with the divorce complaint. If both spouses consent in writing, the court can grant a divorce any time starting 31 days after the defendant spouse was served, or signed an acknowledgment of service. The waiting period is 46 days from the date of service if the defendant defaulted (didn’t respond to the complaint). If the defendant was served by publication, 61 days need to have passed from the date of the first publication. (Superior Court of Georgia Uniform Rules: Rule 24.6)
As to whether you’ll have to appear in court for your uncontested divorce hearing . . . well, it depends. The necessity of an appearance can vary from county to county, so you’ll need to check with your county’s Superior Court Clerk.
If you don’t want to go to court, you can file a form known as a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings”. In effect, you’re telling the court you’re content with the judge making a decision on granting the divorce based on the documents you’ve submitted, without your being present. Obviously, it’s up to the court to decide whether to grant your request.
On the hearing date, try to get to court a little early. That way, you can familiarize yourself with your surroundings and check in with the court personnel. Hearings for uncontested divorces are usually brief. The judge will determine whether you’ve met all the necessary conditions for the divorce. If you have, the court will issue the final divorce decree. This form is also available through your county Superior Court Clerk or online.
One final thing you should be aware of is that if you have children, you might have to attend a parenting seminar. Superior Court of Georgia Uniform Rules: Rule 24.8 leaves it up to the individual courts to decide whether to impose this requirement.