What Are the First Steps I'll Take When I File for Divorce?

While some see filing for divorce as a liberating experience, be aware that it is more often hard, time-consuming and expensive, on both emotional and financial levels. Unless your marriage was built upon fundamentally broken concepts (such as abuse or addictions), it is important to investigate all avenues before filing for divorce. This process is not easy, and it will not solve all your problems. But sometimes, a marriage that comes back from the brink of divorce is made even stronger by the hard time the spouses went through.

But that happy ending isn’t possible for all spouses seeking permanent separation. If you’re ready to fly solo in Georgia, the following article will give you a good overview of how to file for divorce and what to expect in those first few stages.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

Begin by ensuring you are filling forms out for the correct county and have proof of residence. In the state of Georgia, either you or your spouse will need to have been a resident of that county for a minimum of six months before filing.

The first form you’ll complete is the Complaint for Divorce. The spouse filing for divorce is named as the ‘plaintiff’ or ‘petitioner’ while the other spouse is the ‘defendant’ or ‘respondent.’

You will also need to state a legal ground for divorce. In Georgia, you may file for a ‘no-fault divorce’ and state only that the marriage is irretrievably broken. This legal reason is the best choice for marriages in which spouses have simply grown apart and are no longer in love.

You may also file with one of the following fault grounds:

  • Adultery
  • Being too closely related, such as cousins
  • Cruel treatment
  • Desertion for one or more years
  • Forced or otherwise made to marry under fraudulent terms, such as a marriage coerced on false paternity grounds or to collect military benefits
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug/gambling addiction
  • Impotence
  • Incurable mental illness or disorder
  • Mental incapacity at time of marriage

In addition to listing the reason for divorce, you may also identify other issues you want the court to address. These include issues like child custody, alimony, and the division of assets and debts.

If you and your spouse have agreed independently on these issues, you may file a request for an uncontested divorce. With an uncontested divorce, you will need to prepare and sign a separate settlement agreement listing you and your spouse’s agreed resolutions of all issues.

Filing Your Divorce Forms

Filing for divorce means distributing copies of the Complaint for Divorce to the county court. You will give a signed copy of the complaint to the clerk’s office of the superior court in the desired county. They will notarize and date stamp a copy for the court, a copy for you, and a copy to go to your spouse.

Serving Your Divorce Forms

When you give your spouse their copy of the notarized Complaint for Divorce, you are ‘serving’ your complaint. There are several ways to do this.

  • Spouse-to-spouse. If your spouse is okay with the divorce, they or their attorney may agree to accept the service. By agreement is the friendly and easy method. The superior court clerk’s office will have a form entitled Acknowledgement of Service. Your spouse or their attorney will sign and notarize this document for you to take back to the court. This paper proves they have received the Complaint for Divorce and are ready to proceed.
  • Process server. You may also opt to hire a process server to deliver the complaint to your spouse. A process server is any off-duty deputy sheriff or anyone over 18 who has passed the necessary certification process and sought to list their name with the superior court clerk’s office. A process server needs only to deliver the Complaint for Divorce into the hands of your spouse. He or she will then return to the court and make the necessary notation in the court document stating that the defendant was served.
  • Certified mail. Some spouses may, for whatever reason, refuse to accept service of the complaint. In these cases, it is necessary to inform the court clerk, who will send the complaint to your spouse by certified mail. The court uses proof of accepting the mail to show receipt of servicing.
  • By Publication. Finally, if you are no longer in contact with your spouse and do not know where they live, you can serve by “publication.” This method requires you to sign a court affidavit affirming you cannot reach your spouse and listing their last known address. The clerk will then publish a notice of the case in a local newspaper four times in a 60-day window. You will need to pay for each publication.

Making Financial Disclosures

Depending on the county you file in, you may need to make certain financial disclosures to the court during filing. Such requested financial information may include:

  • Assets and debts
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Tax returns

Once these first steps are complete, you, your spouse, any attorneys and the court will begin the long process of dividing up finances and settling any custody and alimony issues. Are you ready to file for divorce but still have questions? Contact our legal team at Reeder Law Firm now to get the answers to your questions.