What to Expect in the Divorce Process

Introduction The legal divorce process is intended to end the marriage and determine issues of child custody, visitation, child support, maintenance, property and debt division. A divorce can result from an agreement between the parties or from a trial. An agreement is usually less traumatic for you and your children, and less expensive than a trial. Ultimately, most cases are resolved without a trial.

1. Filing for Divorce A divorce begins when a Summons is filed. This document notifies the court and your spouse, once served, that you want the court to end your marriage. It also lists what you are asking for, such as child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, property division, attorney's fees and costs. The person who starts the divorce is called the Plaintiff.

2. The Response If you are served with a Summons, you must respond promptly (usually 30 days) or you may lose your right to present your side of the case to the court, and the court might give your spouse everything asked for in the Summons. If you are served with papers for divorce you are called the Defendant.

3. Temporary Orders Temporary child support or alimony for a spouse may be awarded. Child support work sheets calculate child support. Alimony is based on several factors. The Judge considers the length of the marriage, the relative earning capabilities and education of the parties, whether one person was supported by the other spouse while earning either a specialized degree or license, among other things.

4. Discovery Each party is entitled to financial and other information from the other about the case. The procedure for obtaining that information is called discovery. Discovery may be simple, or time consuming, depending on the complexity of the issues and assets involved.

5. Reaching a Settlement Most lawyers and judges agree that it is better to settle a case by agreement and have your own input than to have a trial where a judge or even a jury makes decisions for you. Georgia is one of the two states that permit jury trials in divorce cases. Custody is decided by the judge. For these reasons, - at all times, even up to trial - the parties and their lawyers should continue efforts to negotiate a settlement. Most courts require the parties and their lawyers to attend a mediation in which a mediator attempts to bring about a settlement. It is often very persuasive to hear from the Court how a judge would likely rule if the case went to trial. The decision to settle or not to settle is yours.

6. The Trial If your case does not settle, it will go to trial. At trial you each tell your story to the judge or jury. It is told through your testimony, the testimony of your witnesses, and documents called exhibits. Trial is likely to be expensive and stressful. Sometimes though, it can be the only alternative when settlement fails. Still, the outcomes of trials are uncertain. Every case is different. Sometimes, a trial does not end the case. Either party may, within a limited period of time, appeal the Judge’s decision to a higher court. An appeal adds more time and expense to the divorce process. What Should You Do? Here are some good rules to follow during the divorce process:

  • Try to maintain good relations with your spouse and children.
  • Talk to your lawyer during negotiations and before agreeing to a settlement.
  • Don't argue or confront your spouse or children.
  • Don't say anything to others that you wouldn't want your spouse or the judge/jury to hear.
  • Don't move funds around or spend money unnecessarily without talking to your attorney.
  • Keep all financial records or other possible evidence.
  • Don't move or try to hide evidence or assets.
  • Keep your perspective, try to stay reasonable, and communicate with your attorney regularly.