Our Georgia law firm is a boutique law practice with offices in Atlanta and Augusta and focused on helping healthcare providers, professionals, businesspersons, and their family members protect their interests and peace-of-mind, including the safety of their children, their financial assets, and their family's general well-being.Contested v. Uncontested
You always have the right to seek and obtain a divorce in Georgia, regardless of whether your spouse is in agreement with the granting of said divorce. Having the agreement of your spouse as to the proposed fundamental terms of your divorce (including child custody, child support, alimony and property division), however, can save you (and your spouse) significant amounts of time, money, stress, and heartache. Unfortunately, obtaining the cooperation of your spouse in a divorce is often difficult, as one of the primary reasons that individuals seek a divorce is their inability to effectively communicate with and obtain the cooperation of their spouse. This is particularly true in situations where one or both spouses hold feelings of bitterness, resentment, or even strong feelings of attachment towards the other for whatever reason. Until you have spoken with your spouse openly and frankly about your reasons for wanting a divorce and your proposed specifics terms of divorce and they have stated their agreeableness to the same, you must assume that your matter will be contested and act accordingly.Fundamental Issues of Divorce
There are four fundamental issues that most divorces deal with, namely child custody, child support, alimony, and property division, each of which we delve into in greater depth in the following links. Needless to say, it is important to review the terms of your proposed divorce on both an isolated basis (i.e., is this a fair and workable compromise on this issue?) as well as a global basis (i.e., looking at this individual item in addition to all other terms of my divorce agreement, is this a fair and workable deal overall?).
While every divorce action experiences different twists and turn (and can come to an abrupt resolution at any point if settlement occurs), you can expect to go the following steps in a standard divorce:
- Plaintiff files for Divorce (i.e. Summons & Complaint for Divorce) with appropriate Superior Court;
- Service of Summons & Complaint for Divorce upon Defendant by sheriff or other authorized third-party (or Filing of Voluntary Acknowledgment of Service by Defendant);
- Filing of Defendant's Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint for Divorce;
- Temporary Hearing in Court to determine the parties' rights and responsibilities during the pending divorce action, including temporary child custody/support awards, temporary alimony awards, temporary division/use of marital property (including house(s), car(s), etc.), and assigning temporary responsibility for marital debts and other obligations (health insurance premiums, utility bills, etc.), among others) (CONTESTED DIVORCE ONLY);
- Discovery occurs (including Requests for Admissions, Interrogatories (i.e., written questions), Requests for Production of Documents, Depositions (i.e., formal recorded interviews by the opposing party), as well as Subpoenas and other requests for information from third parties, among others);
- Mediation & other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (CONTESTED DIVORCE ONLY);
- Final Hearing in Court to determine the parties' rights and responsibilities post-divorce (CONTESTED DIVORCE ONLY);
- Court grants & files Final Judgment & Decree of Divorce with Superior Court's Clerk (at which time the parties are formally divorced).
How long each step will take, and thus how long a divorce action will last from inception to final resolution, will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each case as well as the predispositions and resources of each party. While an uncontested divorce may take approximately thirty (30) days to fully resolve, a contested divorce can average anywhere between six (6) months to eighteen (18) months. At the same time, however, settlement can happen at any point, even in the most hotly-contested divorce actions, thereby resulting in a much more streamlined process.Standing Order Requirements & Prohibitions
Upon the initiation of each and every divorce action, an “Automatic Domestic Relations Standing Order” (the “Standing Order”) is made effective without the need for further action by the Court and/or the parties to the divorce action. This Standing Order is one of the most important parts of a divorce action, as it binds the parties to the divorce to comply with its stringent deadlines, obligations, and prohibitions. While the specific terms of the Standing Order vary between counties, you can expect each Standing Order to cover the following issues. As an initial matter, the Standing Order typically sets the date of the initial Temporary Hearing and compels the parties' attendance at the same. For parties with minor children, the Standing Order typically requires the parents to attend a parenting seminar for divorcing parents as soon as possible. The Standing Order may also compel the parties to a contested divorce action to engage in Mediation or other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, in an attempt to resolve the divorce without the need for further intervention by the Court. As well, the Standing Order typically also requires the parties to maintain the status quo until the parties have reached a full settlement or have received further direction from the Court, and thus typically prohibits the parties from: (a) threatening, harassing, or otherwise harming the other party; (b) removing the parties' minor child(ren) from the county and/or State without the other parent's permission; (c) interfering with the other party's mail; (d) disconnecting or otherwise stopping utility service to either party's residence; (e) discontinuing health, life, auto, homeowners, or other insurance for either party; or (f) buying, selling, trading, encumbering, damaging, destroying, or otherwise making any substantial change to the assets, debts, or liabilities of either party. Further, the Standing Order typically requires the parties to produce documents and other evidence regarding their current financial status (including monthly income and expenses, as well as their assets and debts). In sum, the Standing Order requires the parties to make certain disclosures, appear for temporary hearings, maintain the status quo, and satisfy other specific requirements set down by the relevant Court.Attorneys & Attorneys' Fees
Hiring an attorney that is well-versed in family law and the divorce process is critical to obtaining a favorable and workable Divorce Decree. While many individuals believe they can adequately represent themselves in either a contested or uncontested action, the margin for error is high as are the stakes at hand. As diligent as a pro se party may be, there is simply too much critical family law knowledge and experience for a non-family law attorney would need to learn in a very short time to successfully litigate, negotiate, and/or settle a divorce action. As well, for many individuals, their divorce is just the beginning of their troubles with their ex-spouse, and thus it is important to have a well-drafted settlement agreement that is supported by relevant information and evidence in the event that relations with the your ex-spouse decline even further and more litigation is necessary. Unfortunately, we have seen our share of settlement agreements and Divorce Decrees drafted by self-represented parties, and it is a rarity to see one that has not missed at least several critical points or that have clearly left “money on the table” with respect to prior negotiations. Further, there is no reason to proceed without an attorney, as there are several statutes under Georgia law that allow you to seek to have the other party made responsible for at least a part – if not all – of your attorney's fees. Remember, however, that just because one party requests their attorney's fees does not automatically entitle that party to such an award. Either way, it is much better to spend a few hundred or thousand dollars protecting your interests on the front end, rather than risking the safety and well-being of your children as well as tens or hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars on the back-end. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”Atlanta and Augusta Family Law Firm for Healthcare Providers and their Family Members
Hamil Little’s attorneys have extensive experience in family law and domestic relations actions in Georgia's courts and otherwise guiding and assisting healthcare providers, professionals, businesspersons, and/or their family members in avoiding legal pitfalls associated with their personal lives, relationships, and family. Our law firm has offices in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia. Contact us at (404) 685-1662 (Atlanta) or (706) 722-7886 (Augusta) to schedule a confidential consultation.