Uncontested Divorce

The purpose of this page is to dispel the myth that there is a one-size-fits-all stack of forms in Georgia that can get people divorced. More and more residents here are trying to go without a lawyer and save money, regardless of how much money they spent on the wedding. Many people put the wrong information in the wrong forms and file them the wrong way in the wrong court. For starters, a divorce is not just one legal issue but several different issues that have to be analyzed separately and have different jurisdictional rules.

Divorce issues

  1. Marital dissolution
  2. Alimony (and attorney's fees)
  3. Equitable division of property and debt
  4. Child support
  5. Child custody
  6. Other civil issues affected by the divorce

Jurisdictional issues

  1. Jurisdiction over the marital res (rules over where someone must live in order to get divorced in a Georgia court)
  2. Personal jurisdiction (whether the court has the power to order someone to do something or issue a judgment against that person)
  3. In rem jurisdiction (whether the court has the power over property in order to affect it by a judgment)
  4. Child custody jurisdiction (a complex series of rules that many lawyers and judges do not understand)
Yes, with different rules over jurisdiction, it is common to have scenarios where you have to file a custody case in Georgia but a child support case in another state, or a divorce case in Georgia where you cannot ask for child custody without filing in a different state, etc. This depends on whether you have moved into or out of Georgia, in which state your spouse lives, in which state your kids live in, etc.

If this sounds complicated enough, then it gets worse:

Procedural issues

  1. Res judicata: If you learn later after your final decree is entered that some mistakes were made, can you just fix it somehow? There are rules in the Civil Procedure Act that specify under what circumstances a judgment can be changed. However, the doctrine of res judicata in Georgia is very broad, meaning that some issues are restricted for later lawsuits if you had the opportunity to address them.
  2. Initiation of lawsuit: Did you know that a judgment can be set aside if the respondent was not properly submitted to the jurisdiction of the court? In an uncontested divorce, the wording of the waivers signed by the respondent is crucial. For instance, if the respondent did not explicitly waive the issuance of summons, then the divorce decree can be set aside if no summons was issued. What if one of the people got remarried? Would the new marriage be invalid? Do you want to deal with this problem?
  3. Modification: Georgia law on Domestic Relations put limits of time and factual issues on the right to modify child support and child custody. If you made a mistake in your paperwork, are you able to go back to court and explain how you have the right to make changes?
  4. Venue: In which county do you file your case? The Georgia Constitution and Domestic Relations code have rules addressing when Georgia has jurisdiction and in which county the case may be filed. There is some disagreement among lawyers, but generally the rules deal with mandatory and permissive choices for the county in which the case must be filed. Not only might a deputy clerk allow you to file in the wrong county, they have also been known to tell people they are not allowed to file in a county where they were actually allowed to file. (TL;DR -- court personnel are not allowed to give legal advice.)
If the separation and divorce are uncontested but you cannot afford a lawyer, you should probably just wait until you can afford one, to make sure your interests and your childrens' interests are protected.