FAMILY LAW ATTORNEYS COMPASSIONATELY ADVISING ATLANTA RESIDENTS
Divorce is a matter of state law, and these laws address everything from waiting periods to how property is divided in divorce to how spousal support or child support are calculated. Variations from state to state can have a tremendous impact on how difficult it is to obtain a divorce, how expensive it is to obtain a divorce, and what your financial situation may be in following divorce. Because of these variations, you may find that the process—and consequences—are different than what you may have expected. To help you to understand the process, here are some answers to common questions that Atlanta residents may have regarding divorce and related family law matters. However, the advice of a lawyer has no substitute, and the Law Office of Thomas C. Rowsey is available to assist you if you are going through the dissolution of a marriage.
HOW CAN I GET A GEORGIA DIVORCE?
To obtain a divorce in Georgia, one or both spouses must be Georgia residents for at least six months before filing. The current filing fee for divorce is $218. However, you may incur other costs in preparing the necessary papers and supporting documents.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET A DIVORCE?
If you and your spouse agree on all terms, you may be able to obtain a divorce in as little as 31 days. However, the average time for filing and processing all the necessary paperwork for most couples is about 210 days (seven months).
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO DIVORCE?
Marriage is a civil contract. Legally, you have three options for altering or terminating this contract: a divorce, a civil annulment, or a decree of separate maintenance. All require action by a civil court.
MUST ONE OF US BE AT FAULT TO GET A DIVORCE?
Georgia recognizes 13 grounds for divorce, and at least one of these must be cited as the basis for seeking a divorce. Twelve of these grounds involve forms of fault like abandonment, adultery, and substance abuse. The other ground, which is that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” is essentially a “no fault” ground for divorce.
WHAT IF ONLY ONE OF US WANTS THE DIVORCE?
If one part refuses to live with the other spouse, and there is no chance of reconciliation, that spouse can file for divorce on any valid ground.
DO WE HAVE TO LIVE SEPARATELY TO FILE FOR DIVORCE?
There is no requirement that you reside separately. You can be legally “separated” if you do not share the same room and are not having an intimate relationship.
HOW DO I FILE FOR DIVORCE?
One spouse (the plaintiff) files a complaint against the other spouse (the defendant) in the appropriate court, which is normally the superior court of the defendant’s county of residence. The complaint must include certain information, including the grounds for divorce, the present living arrangements, a list of marital assets and debts, designation of the children, and so on. The complaint must also be served on the defendant, or the defendant can choose to acknowledge the service by law.
WHAT IF I AM THE DEFENDANT?
The defendant spouse may contest the grounds for divorce or contest any of the claims in the complaint by filing an answer with the court. These must meet legal procedural requirements as to their form and timeliness.
HOW CAN I GET SUPPORT BEFORE THE DIVORCE IS FINAL?
Spouses occasionally have difficulty agreeing on temporary support and child custody arrangements while a divorce is pending. In these cases, a spouse can seek a temporary order to address these matters during the waiting period.
WILL I HAVE TO GO THROUGH A TRIAL?
Many divorcing couples never have to go to court. If they can reach a settlement between themselves regarding all financial and child custody and visitation matters, they can submit their agreement to the court for approval and obtain a final judgment and decree. However, many couples can only reach agreement after working with a knowledgeable family law attorney, or after mediation. In addition, a court will scrutinize all matters related to child custody.
WHY WILL THE COURT LOOK AT CHILD CUSTODY MATTERS IF MY SPOUSE AND I AGREE?
The court must base any custody or visitation decisions on the “best interests of the child.” The court cannot simply assume that the parents’ agreement regarding custody or visitation meets this standard, but it must instead make an independent judgment.
CAN MY CHILDREN CHOOSE WHERE THEY WANT TO LIVE?
If a child is older than 14, he or she may choose which parent to live with upon the consent of the court, but the court may override the child’s decision if, in the court’s view, the choice is not in the child’s best interest.
MUST WE SHARE CUSTODY?
Georgia courts generally believe that children should maintain strong relationships with both parents, unless there are countervailing reasons that make maintaining a relationship with one or the other detrimental to the child, such as domestic violence or criminal convictions. The court has significant discretion in making child custody and visitation decisions, and there are as many different ways of fashioning custody arrangements as there are different family situations.
HOW ARE CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS DETERMINED?
Georgia has a worksheet that applies a formula for determining each parent’s child support obligations. However, working it out can be a little complicated. Your best option may be to consult a knowledgeable attorney who can help you not only to do the calculation, but also to determine what that calculation will mean in terms of payments between spouses.
HOW LONG ARE CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS ENFORCED?
Under Georgia law, both parents have an obligation to financially support their children until they turn 18 or graduate from high school, whichever comes later, or until the child marries or becomes emancipated. A court cannot force a parent to pay for a child’s college tuition, although the parents may separately agree to provide this support.
WHAT IS ALIMONY?
Alimony, also called spousal support, is a payment from one spouse to the other to provide support. In most cases, alimony is awarded for a limited period, to allow the spouse who receives the alimony to become financially independent. In a few cases, however, alimony may be required to be paid until the receiving spouse remarries or dies.
HOW DO WE DIVIDE ALL OF OUR POSSESSIONS?
In divorce, the marital assets—that is, assets that belong to the couple jointly, and not the separate property of each—are divided “equitably” between the spouses. The same is true of all marital debts. There is no fixed formula for how a court will divide property, and there is no requirement that it be divided equally. If you and your spouse can agree on the division of assets, the court is likely to approve your agreement.
HOW DO I KNOW THAT MY SPOUSE WILL COMPLY WITH THE FINAL DECREE?
Since the decree is issued in the form of a court order, failure to comply may be enforced by garnishment or by filing a contempt action.
DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY?
Although there is no requirement that you consult or retain an attorney, there are many ways an attorney can help you and prevent you from making serious errors or oversights, particularly if your divorce involves child custody and support issues, significant assets, or other complicating factors. An attorney’s help can also be invaluable if you believe your spouse may be hiding assets.
CONTACT AN ATLANTA LAWYER WHEN SEEKING A DIVORCE
If you are considering divorce, you probably have many questions running through your mind about what is involved and what will happen to you. It may be hard to confront these questions when also dealing with the emotional trauma that accompanies the dissolution of a marriage in the Atlanta area. To consult an experienced divorce attorney who can address your questions, contact the Law Offices of Thomas C. Rowsey at 770-993-5317 or use our online form to set up an appointment. We represent individuals in Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, and other communities throughout Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb Counties.