Beginning a divorce in Georgia can trigger a range of emotions from anger, sadness, fear, uncertainty, stress, or maybe even joy and relief. Gaining knowledge about obtaining a divorce in Georgia will help make the emotions more manageable, and the process less daunting. Expectations for those facing divorce in Georgia vary from concern over the potential for an expensive prolonged court battle to questions about how to handle children, and the division of property, assets, and debts. One of the first and most common questions attorneys get is what is the difference between a contested and an uncontested divorce in Georgia?
An uncontested divorce is one where the parties are able to resolve all of their disputed issues prior to utilizing alternative dispute resolution or litigation. A divorce is uncontested when both spouses agree fully on how to divide property (bank accounts, retirement accounts, savings accounts, real estate, etc.), and debt, as well as an agreement on how to handle children, child support, and spousal support.
If you are able to resolve all issues between you and your spouse, then an uncontested divorce can be fast (finalized in as few as 31 days) and inexpensive. Uncontested means that you and your spouse know exactly how you want to divide your assets and debts, and you know exactly what you want to do with your children. Formal documents still need to be drafted, filing fees still need to be paid, and strict rules still need to be met before the Judge will grant a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, so it is still important that you retain an attorney. Some Courts still require you to attend a quick hearing in an uncontested divorce before the divorce will be finalized. However, your total fees should be around $1,500 or less, depending on the complexity of the estate and whether or not there are children.
Many folks make the mistake of being pennywise and pound foolish, and attempt to navigate the court system and handle an uncontested divorce themselves. This almost always results in improper filings, delays, and a failure to obtain a Final Judgment and Decree, because of a failure to meet statutory requirements. An uncontested divorce with children, for example, still requires the filing of a child support worksheet, formal parenting plan, summons and complaint for divorce, proof of service, and a final judgment and decree. If one or more of these documents are missing, then the divorce will not be granted, and the Judges do not give legal advice or help with document preparation.
Resolving as many issues between you and your spouse prior to hiring attorneys is certainly a wise decision and will certainly reduce your legal fees. However, even a truly uncontested divorce requires basic legal counsel.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on one or more of the issues in your divorce including how to divide your assets, and debts, or a parenting plan for your children, or child support and alimony, then your divorce is contested. This does not necessarily mean you are facing expensive attorney fees and litigation. Nearly every divorce has at least a few contested issues. Effectively utilizing alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation helps parties come to terms with the assistance of attorneys and a mediator, as professionals can offer an insight on issues that spouses may not understand or see when discussing things amongst themselves. Attorneys and mediators can also offer guidance about how a Court would handle a particular dispute, which oftentimes helps parties come to terms.
A contested divorce can still be inexpensive and efficient if handled properly by an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable about divorce law, skilled at conflict resolution, and trained in alternative dispute resolution methods. A contested divorce can be resolved privately, outside of the courtroom, and inexpensively if the right approach is taken. If the parties are unable to come to terms after mediation and settlement negotiations, then litigation may be necessary, as a Judge may be needed to determine how the parties should divide their assets, how much child support or alimony should be awarded, and who should get what time and decision making authority over the children. It is possible for the parties to agree on some issues, and then reserve other issues for the Judge. Typically, the more issues the parties can resolve, the less the total attorney’s fees will be.
The Judge can decide all of the issues, or some of the issues, depending on what the parties want the Court to resolve, and what the parties can resolve themselves. Similarly, the parties can resolve some issues between themselves, and reserve others for attorneys and mediation. A contested divorce can take anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the complexity of the case. Cases involving contested custody disputes often take the longest and are the most expensive.
Georgia is a “no-fault” state, which means that only one side needs to want the divorce, in order for the divorce to be processed through the Court. One side cannot refuse to grant the divorce, or withhold their consent to the divorce. If one side disagrees with the terms that the other side is proposing to resolve the divorce, then this simply means that the divorce is contested. Ultimately, the divorce will still occur, and the assets and debts, as well as the children, will eventually be sorted out by agreement of the parties, through settlement discussions between attorneys, through mediation, or through litigation.
The divorce attorneys at Bivek Brubaker & Prescott are here to help with any divorce needs. Contact us today to find out more!