Divorce can be an emotional process. But it usually has defined and predictable steps. Understanding these steps can help you cope with the stress of a divorce.

Here is a guide to the steps of the divorce process, including insight into the ways that these steps are usually handled by Gwinnett county courts.

Preparing for Divorce

The divorce process begins before you file any documents. In fact, many steps you take in preparation for divorce can have a significant impact on its outcome.

Check Residency Requirements

At least one spouse must be a Georgia resident to file for divorce in Georgia courts. To establish Georgia residency, you or your spouse must live in Georgia for at least six months before filing the divorce petition.

If you are a service member or military spouse living on a U.S. military installation, you must have lived on a base in Georgia for one year before filing for divorce. If you lived off-base, the six-month residency requirement applies.

Determine Where to File

Under Georgia law, the proper venue for any lawsuit, including a divorce petition, is the county in which the defendant lives. In other words, you will file your divorce petition in the county where your spouse lives.

The Constitution of the State of Georgia provides an exception to this rule. If your spouse moved to a different county and you stayed in the marital home, you have six months to file in your county regardless of where your spouse moved.

Gather the Documents You Need for the Divorce Petition

You will need documentation for your petition. You will have a lot of information to gather, from your marriage certificate to your financial records.

Some key documents include:

  • Property deeds
  • Vehicle titles
  • Bank, mortgage, and broker statements
  • Tax filings

A divorce will divide the couple’s property and debts, so you will need a full accounting of what you own and what you owe.

Speak to a Lawyer

Georgia courts will accept a divorce petition from unrepresented spouses, but the courts strongly recommend speaking to a lawyer. A divorce will decide some important issues in your, your spouse’s, and your children’s lives. Getting these issues resolved fully and fairly will be critical.

Filing the Divorce

The next stage of the divorce process is initiating the legal proceeding to dissolve your marriage.

Prepare and File the Divorce Petition

You can find the relevant divorce forms on the Superior Court website for your county. 

These forms include:

  • Domestic Relations Case Filing Information Form
  • Verification
  • Summons
  • Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit
  • Mutual Restraining Order
  • Sheriff’s Entry of Service

You will also need to prepare a divorce petition. The petition is the pleading that gives all of the facts about you, your spouse, and your children. You can also include a listing of property, income, and debts to the extent that you know them.

Although you must include a reason for the divorce in the petition, Georgia permits no-fault divorce. This means you can allege that your marriage is “irretrievably broken” to seek a divorce.

Serve Your Spouse

Before anything happens with the divorce petition, you need to serve your spouse with the divorce papers. The sheriff’s department will use the information you provided on the Sheriff’s Entry of Service form to deliver the divorce papers to your spouse.

Attend the Mandatory Parenting Seminar

If you and your spouse have minor children, each of you must attend a mandatory parenting seminar within 30 days of service. The court does not require or recommend that you attend together.

The seminar teaches you skills for helping children to cope with divorce and post-divorce life. If you do not attend the seminar, the court can hold you in contempt.

The Divorce Proceeding

After you serve the petition, the divorce litigation begins. Your spouse will respond to the petition.

Discovery

In discovery, you and your spouse will request documents and deposition testimony from each other. If you gathered your documents while preparing for divorce, you may have everything you need or know which documents you must request.

Discovery allows you to obtain recent documents if you and your spouse have been separated. You can also request information if you believe your spouse is hiding income, assets, or debts.

Settlement Negotiations

You and your spouse can save time and money if you can settle some of the issues in the divorce outside of the courtroom. 

Most divorces resolve four issues:

For example, if you already have a custody arrangement in mind and your spouse agrees to it, you might avoid litigating that issue.

Mediation

Georgia law allows courts to order divorce mediation. Mediation can help you and your spouse to resolve at least some of your issues.

Mediation is not ordered in every case. But if mediation is ordered, you should discuss a mediation strategy with your divorce lawyer to decide where you will compromise and where you will not.

Pre-Trial and Trial

If your case does not settle, you will prepare for trial. This usually includes a series of motions that are filed with the court to define how the judge will conduct the trial.

At trial, each lawyer will present the arguments for their preferred outcome. Again, the divorce will deal with many different issues, so you could see evidence and testimony relating to your finances or your involvement with your children.

Divorce Decree

At the end of the proceeding, the judge will issue a divorce decree. If you and your spouse have an uncontested divorce, the divorce decree will usually follow the settlement agreement unless the judge finds the settlement to be legally defective. 

If you contest your case, the divorce decree will include the judge’s decisions resolving the contested issues.

After the Divorce

Divorce is a difficult legal issue because it can loom over the family long after the judge issues a divorce decree. Ongoing disputes over alimony payments, parenting time, and child support could require a return to court.

Navigating the Steps of the Divorce Process

Having a guide as you go through the divorce process can be essential for reducing stress. Talking to a lawyer before you start can help you to navigate your divorce.