Many Georgians facing the end of their marriage find that mediation can help reduce the cost and conflict of divorce. In divorce mediation, a neutral, trained professional meets with both spouses (either in person or remotely) and helps them come up with solutions to the important issues in their divorce—solutions they can agree on.
Mediation is an option at any stage in the process of ending a marriage—including after the divorce is final.
If you want to file for an uncontested divorce in Georgia, you'll need to reach an agreement with your spouse about the following issues:
If the two of you can't work out all the details on your own, a mediator can help you get to an agreement. When you take the path of mediation at this stage of the process, it's more likely that you'll be able to avoid—or at least minimize—the conflicts and resentments that often crop up during a traditional, contested (or "litigated") divorce. (Learn more about the pros and cons of divorce mediation.)
Finally, when mediation before filing leads to a complete divorce settlement agreement (known as a marital settlement agreement in Georgia), you can probably get through the rest of the process without hiring a lawyer.
You can also turn to mediation anytime during your Georgia divorce proceeding. In fact, the judge might order you to participate in the process (more on that below).
It's worth pointing out that some spouses who were initially reluctant to engage in mediation become more open to the idea after certain facts have come to light during "discovery" (a stage in litigation that allows spouses to get information and documents from each other). That's probably why the Georgia Supreme Court recommends that judges refer cases to mediation at the point when the discovery process has started to give spouses a realistic view about the strengths and weaknesses of their positions.
As most divorced people will tell you, a final divorce judgment doesn't necessarily end legal disputes between exes. Maybe one parent wants to move far away with the kids, which would require a change in the co-parenting arrangements. Or either ex might want to change the amount of child support or alimony payments.
You can avoid expensive court battles over these requests to change (or "modify") the original divorce orders by working out an agreement—and mediation can help you reach that agreement.
In Georgia counties with "alternate dispute resolution" (ADR) programs, judges may order any contested divorce cases to an appropriate form of ADR—usually mediation. Judges may still refer cases to mediation in counties without these programs, but only if it's reasonably available without additional cost to the spouses (more on the cost question below). (Ga. Code § 19-5-1 (2021).)
You can request to have your divorce case removed from mediation after you've been ordered to participate, but it will be up to the judge to decide whether to grant or deny that request.
Other than these statewide rules, requirements for mediation during divorce proceedings vary from county to county. Some Georgia counties require that anyone involved in a contested divorce or other domestic case must schedule mediation soon after the original petition is filed, unless they get an exemption from a judge.
Once you've been referred to mediation, court staff should give you the details about what comes next, including how to choose a mediator.
The price tag for divorce mediation will depend on the circumstances—especially whether you get the service through a court's ADR program, a nonprofit organization, or a private mediator or mediation service.
When a judge has ordered you to mediation during your divorce proceedings—or when you request a referral to court-connected mediation at any point after filing for divorce—the court's program will usually provide at least a certain amount of mediation at reduced cost. If the program requires any payment, it must allow fee waivers for those who can't afford to pay.
As with the requirements for divorce mediation, the cost of court-connected mediation varies from county to county. For example:
Several factors affect the cost of divorce mediation with a private mediator or mediation service, including:
The total cost typically ranges from $3,000 to $8,000 (which is usually split between both spouses). If that sounds like a lot, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Most divorce mediation follows the same basic stages, including:
The mediator will usually prepare a document that reflects any agreements you're reached with your spouse.
Divorce mediation in Georgia is confidential, with very limited exceptions. That means that the mediator may not reveal—to a judge or anyone else—anything you say before or during mediation, or share any documents you've provided. The exceptions to this rule include:
In divorce mediation, both spouses should be able to speak up and negotiate freely, without feeling pressured or afraid. That's why mediation is almost always inappropriate when there's ongoing domestic violence or abuse in a relationship.
When a divorce case is referred to mediation in Georgia, court staff must conduct a screening for any domestic violence or abuse. Ultimately, these staff members will decide whether mediation is appropriate, but they must give "great weight" to the preferences of the spouse who appears to be at risk of abuse. If the mediation goes forward, there must be certain safeguards in place to protect the at-risk spouse.
If you choose to go forward with mediation despite a history of abuse from your spouse, you can ask to meet with the mediator separately from your spouse (even if you use online mediation).
If you've reached an agreement in mediation, the next step will be to file the paperwork with the court. Check with the family division of your local superior court for information about the forms you'll need to file in your county. (As noted above, some mediators and services help with this step.)
If you've included the terms of your settlement agreement in the initial paperwork when you file for divorce, you might be able to ask the judge to grant your divorce without a hearing (by filing a form called a "Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings").
However, depending on your case and the requirements in your county, you may have to attend a brief hearing in court. A judge will ask you some questions, review your paperwork, and approve it if everything is in order—paying particular attention to whether provisions concerning your children appear to be in their best interests. The court will then issue a final divorce decree.
Even if a judge has ordered you to participate in the process, you never have to agree to anything in mediation. But if you don't reach a complete settlement agreement—either during mediation or later in the divorce process (typically through your lawyers)—you will have to go to trial to have a judge make a decision for you about any issues that are still in dispute.