What Are My First Steps For Divorce?

two wedding rings on a document that reads "plaintiff vs defendant"

Your first step is to either file on your own or hire an attorney to help you with the divorce.  If there are any sort of issues between you and your spouse, it’s probably a good idea to hire an attorney so you are fairly represented during the process.  In Georgia, many divorces are no-fault. That means neither spouse must prove “grounds” for divorce, such as adultery or desertion. With a no-fault divorce, the filing spouse states that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” As a divorce is a lawsuit, the spouse filing the complaint becomes the plaintiff, while the other spouse is the defendant.  (Georgia actually does have fault grounds for divorce – 13 grounds for them, actually. However, one of the grounds can be “irretrievably broken ground,” which is same as the no fault ground.)
To qualify for a Georgia divorce, at least one spouse must have lived in the state for the past six months. In most cases, you will file a complaint for divorce in the county Superior Court where your spouse lives. If you spouse is living in another state, you should file in your county’s Superior Court. Your spouse can also consent to having you file in your county. If you were living together, and your spouse has been out of the marital home for less than six months, you can also file in your county.

The complaint must include pertinent information, including:

  • Children of the marriage
  • Current living situation
  • Marital debts and assets
  • Reason for divorce.

Once filed, a copy of the complaint is served on the spouse by the county sheriff. Serving refers to personal delivery. Your spouse may have a document notarized acknowledging the service. The defendant has 30 days in which to answer your complaint – 60 days for out-of-state residents. If your spouse fails to answer the complaint, the court can issue a final divorce decree. However, it is unlikely that your spouse will ignore such a crucial matter.

Immediate Help
You may need immediate help after filing to decide temporary child custody, support payments and property possession questions. You may request a short hearing, with both spouses presenting their case, and the judge issues a temporary order. That order likely includes warnings about selling or otherwise depleting assets, as well as taking the children out of Georgia.

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