First, you decide if you really want to be divorced and understand all of the consequences of a divorce. Divorce means that you are severing the legal relationship you have with your spouse and all interaction as a result of this will be determined by a final decree which clearly orders what will be paid, how it will be paid and what and how you will interact with one another and your children. Once you find yourself in the position that must divorce then it is highly recommended that you seek competent counsel.
In Georgia the first step to filing a divorce is the preparation and filing of a legal complaint seeking divorce. The complaint must state the legal grounds and put statutory references for these grounds. The court will require a fee for this filing and a fee for service. You do not have a lawsuit or a proper action until the other party is served with divorce. This can be done by the sheriff and requested at the same time as filing or done by a private process server. If using a private server you may need to motion the court, depending on the server or jurisdiction. This can also be done by publication. Remember if you do not have proper service you will never have your day in court.
After the individual is served they have thirty days to file a formal answer to the complaint. This is important. In domestic matters you are not going to lose by default but by not filing an answer you do waive certain protections in the litigation process involving discovery and the exchange of information. After the answer is received formal discovery should begin.
Some counties, like Fulton, make this discovery mandatory and actually provide a packet of necessary information to be exchanged between the parties. Usually this if filed by the parties and what documents and questions are necessary is determined by the individual case. This is a very frustrating and expensive part of the process.
Many attorneys send out a pre-printed package of general questions and request for documents, much of which is not necessary but relevant enough to be valid. This requires both parties to spend a great deal of time compiling and responding to this information. The response to this information is very important and cannot be avoided. If the questions or for harassment or not relevant then the matter can be argued but if the questions are relevant the court will always force a response. This is the method in which the parties prepare for trial.
During this period there may also be depositions in which the parties are made to go to the other attorney’s office with a court reporter and face questions regarding the case. The attorney is preserving the record and can use this as testimony I the trial. All of this process known as discovery can take several months and in more complicated cases longer.
After this process is complete you may have a mediation and/or trial. Mediation is required by most counties and is simply a negotiation facilitated by a third party negotiator attempting to guide the parties to resolution. This individual is not a judge or arbitrator and has no authority in the matter nor will they testify in court. Everything that is stated at these negotiations stays in the room and if you cannot reach an agreement you will go to trial.
During the process you may have had a temporary hearing which is a mini trial in which the parties are limited by time and can only present one witness. A temporary is usually necessary when the rules of support, custody and possession of the home need to be determined and this can take place at any time during the process. A final hearing is the actual trial and is just as you see on TV. There are witnesses, evidence, a judge and sometimes a jury.
This is the process to filing and the procedure that will follow. It is always best to reach an amicable conclusion, if possible. You will save thousands of dollars and a great deal of grief; however, if you are not able get an attorney. This is real litigation and there is a real legal process that must be followed.