Augusta GA Family Law – How It Works
Divorce: Your Guide Through the Process
In Family Law, the purpose of the divorce process is to end the marriage and decide or resolve issues including child custody, parenting time, child support, alimony/spousal support, division of property and debt, and attorney’s fees and costs of litigation.
A divorce judgment can be based on a written settlement agreement between the parties or from a judge at trial. Many times, an agreement crafted by the parties themselves with the assistance of a competent attorney can bring the most satisfactory result for the parties. This approach involves less stress and confrontation, and is generally much less expensive than a trial. The majority of divorce cases are settled by agreement between the parties and without the need for trial.
The divorce process is started by the filing of a Complaint or Petition for Divorce in one of the various Superior Courts of Georgia. The divorce petition is a formal declaration to the Court and your spouse that you are seeking a divorce, and sets out other relief you are seeking including, but not limited to, child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, property and debt division, attorney’s fees and costs of litigation, if appropriate.
Once a Complaint for Divorce is served upon the other spouse, the other spouse is entitled to file a response, commonly called an Answer, which admits or denies each paragraph of the Petition. These responses may also state that a response to a particular paragraph is not necessary or possible with the information the other spouse has available to them at the time. In Georgia, if a spouse is served with a Divorce Petition, a response needs to be filed within thirty (30) days from being served or acknowledging service, or there can be consequences for the delay.
The divorce process can take a considerable amount of time depending on the issues and parties involved. It’s often in both parties’ best interest to request temporary relief, such as temporary sole occupancy of a home, temporary responsibility for bills, temporary child custody, and temporary child and spousal support. Either party can request these or other types of appropriate temporary relief from the Court. Temporary relief can be agreed upon or ordered by a judge.
Each spouse is entitled to information from the other about the case. The legal procedure for obtaining that information is called discovery. The motions used in discovery can be a Notice to Produce certain documents or things, Interrogatories which are questions that must be answered by the other side under oath, Requests to Admit where the opposing party is asked to admit or deny the truth of certain statements from the requesting party, and formal deposition which is the process of asking questions of a spouse or other witnesses directly, under oath, and with a court reporter recording the responses for possible use at trial.
Mediation, Arbitration, and Negotiated Settlement
Most times, it is desirable for the parties themselves to decide how they want to resolve some or all of the issues they don’t agree upon. This tends to lead to the parties achieving a result that satisfies or at least comes close to satisfying each party. Lawyers and judges tend to agree that it is better to resolve a case by agreement and be in control of the resolution of the case than to have a judge decide the final outcome. A negotiated resolution affords parties more control over the outcome and affords them the privacy of resolving it without an audience in a courtroom. Because of the limited number of judges available to hear trials and the sheer volume of pending divorce cases in Georgia courts, most judges require that parties attend a mediation session.
In a mediation, the parties meet with a neutral individual who has had specialized training to help them reach an agreement. These “mediators” as they are called often help the parties understand the realities and practicalities of their particular situation. Many mediators are divorce attorneys themselves, and have vast experience with their own cases and judges which often have some of the same issues as the parties in the case in which they serve as a mediator. It is important to have independent representation throughout the mediation process. The parties should consult with their own lawyers about mediation and the legal ramifications of any proposed agreement. Mediation is required in many Georgia counties.
The parties may choose to submit some or all of their contested issues to an arbitrator who acts as a judge and decides those issues which can be made into a court order. Traditionally, the decision of an arbitrator is binding and final; however, there are methods of appealing an arbitrator’s decision.
In the event that a case, or some issues, simply cannot be resolved by agreement, a judge will set your case down for a final trial. There, each party will be able to tell the judge or jury their side of the case and to present witnesses and other evidence supporting your case.
Trial is more expensive and stressful than a mediated resolution; however, sometimes it is the only alternative if the parties are simply too far apart with no hope of a mutual resolution. Trials are uncertain, and no lawyer, no matter how long in practice, can predict the outcome because all cases are different. A judge likely has not been involved in the details of your case until the trial date. The judge to which your case is assigned may have a differing viewpoints, temperament, and values from yours. Giving a judge the power to dictate outcomes for you and your children can be an unsettling prospect.
If you believe an error occurred at trial, you may, under certain circumstances and within a limited time, appeal your case to either the Georgia Court of Appeals or the Georgia Supreme Court.
Below are guidelines to try to follow during the divorce process:
- Try to maintain good communication with your spouse and children. If your spouse is contentious, abusive, or will not communicate with you then keep a record of this through a hand-written journal, emails, text messages, voicemails or telephone calls.
- Talk to your lawyer before agreeing to any settlement.
- Do not say anything to others that you would not want your spouse or a judge to hear.
- Do not engage in excessive spending on yourself or others.
- Keep all financial records and other potential evidence.
- Do not attempt to hide evidence or assets. Subsequent discovery of this will damage your credibility.
- Always maintain your perspective and try to think and act rationally.
Divorce is very stressful, but you will get through it. Despite how hopeless things seem at the outset, a positive attitude will help you keep things in perspective, and help in bringing your case to resolution that is satisfactory for you. How you or your spouse act or react during your divorce can change dramatically as the case progresses. It is perfectly normal to go through stages of denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance on the path to a resolution.
After the Divorce
Whether the issues in your divorce are settled by you and your spouse or are decided by a judge, certain parts of your judgment can be modified or changed by a judge after a hearing. Child support, alimony, child custody, and parenting time can be modified under specific circumstances and if you can show that there has been a change in circumstances. Examples of a change of circumstances include job loss, job promotion, remarriage, and subsequent birth of children. Grounds to change child custody can include a party moving or the change in the needs of children as they grow older.
Some aspects of orders are not modifiable which includes the division of property. Also, if you and your spouse have agreed that any alimony is not modifiable, then it will not be.
If you or your spouse disobeys a judge’s order, there are ways to enforce those orders. Examples of failing to abide by an order are failure to pay support, failure to turn over property that was awarded and failure to abide by parenting time provisions, and failure to abide by other orders of the judge’s ruling which may negatively affect you or your children.
Orders to pay money can be enforced by having a judge order immediate compliance with the penalty of incarceration, ordering the garnishment of wages or bank accounts and by having a sheriff seize and sell property belonging to the non-compliant spouse. Orders for support, to turn over property and for child visitation can usually be enforced by contempt proceedings. A Motion for Contempt is filed against the non-compliant party and served on him or her, ordering that person to appear in court. After a hearing, the judge can put the person in jail or impose a fine as necessary to make the person obey the order.
Some Questions and Answers about the Divorce Process
Should I be the first to file? It depends. If your case ends up going to trial, the plaintiff, also known as the petitioner, is allowed to open and close the case first; however, in most cases which resolve by agreement, who files first really makes no difference.
Why did my spouse request so many things in the Complaint? I thought we agreed on some of those things. Before knowing what the issues will be and what might happen under the law and the facts of the case, no one wants to take the chance of asking for too little. People tend to ask for more than they really expect to receive. It is merely aspirational and does not necessarily affect what the end result will be.
May I date? In some states, the court is not concerned with your private life. In others, a relationship with someone other than your spouse before you are divorced may hurt your case. Whatever your local law, dating someone else may anger your spouse and impede settlement. If you have children, you should get some professional advice about how much your children should know about your love life.
May I spend money on my lover? There are at least two reasons why you shouldn’t. You may have to pay back the money when the property is divided, and your spouse may be very angry. That anger could lead to distrust that could complicate the divorce proceedings.
How long will my divorce take? That depends on a lot of things. Every divorce is different. Factors that can make a difference include the schedules of both parties, both lawyers and the court, the cooperation of witnesses, the speed of the appraisers, and the complexity of the case.
Nothing is happening in my case; what can I do? Talk to your lawyer. You are entitled to know the status of your case. There may be a very good reason for a pause or delay. For example, appraisals may not yet be completed, or more information may be needed.
Financial Affidavit Form
Every family experiences hardships that can create a lot of stress, financial worry, and even heartache. The family law attorneys at Fleming & Nelson in Evans GA will serve the best interests of you and your loved ones, with skill and compassion to help your family with all their legal needs.
Whether you are facing the difficult decision to end your marriage, challenge a custody or support agreement, or defend yourself against devastating accusations after a criminal or DFCS (Department of Family and Child Services) investigation, an experienced family lawyer who understands these sensitive matters can help you through trying times. An effective attorney can also be a useful resource when planning for your future with prenuptial agreements, estate planning, and completing your family with an adoption.
Win. But not at all costs.
At Fleming & Nelson we know family law is different. “Winning” is relative, especially in divorce. Emotional, personal and financial costs matter. We use our expertise wisely, with clear vision of your goals, we focus strength where it matters—to resolve your family matter with all costs considered.
A strategic approach to Family Law. The best possible outcome.
Fleming & Nelson takes a strategic approach to your case based on our experienced knowledge of how family law really works. The attorneys at Fleming & Nelson are committed to guide you to the best possible outcome, with an honest accounting of the costs – emotional, personal and financial.
We begin with a clear understanding of your goals, and develop an agreed-upon strategy to achieve them. With constant vision of those goals and strategy, we take a realistic, cost-benefit assessment of every decision, every step of the way.
We walk softly, and carry a big stick.
A negotiated settlement is often the path to your best possible outcome. And the best way to a negotiated settlement is to prepare for trial. That is why each Fleming & Nelson attorney is not only a skilled negotiator but also a tenacious litigator. We stress the value of early case mediation, choose battles wisely, and focus legal strength where it matters.
We drive the case forward.
The wheels of justice can move slowly. At Fleming & Nelson we do everything in our power to drive the case forward – with our professional experience in litigation and motion practice, and our personal commitment to our clients to return emails and calls promptly. We understand the emotional toll surrounding family law, and that an important factor in your best possible outcome is for finality to come as quickly as possible.
We keep you informed. We’re here when you need us.
Clear, timely communication is as important to us as it is to you. At Fleming & Nelson, we make sure that you have access to us, and we keep you informed of every decision and detail, every step of the way.