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Contested divorce frequently involves issues relating to division of property and assets, debt, alimony, child custody, and attorney fees. With so much at stake, it is crucial to have an experienced attorney advocating for you and your future.
A contested divorce can be draining. Due to the finality of the judge’s decision, along with the complex process required for traditional divorce litigation, it is imperative that you retain the services of an experienced family law firm. Typically, numerous court proceedings are involved in a contested divorce, which means it may take up to a year or two to finalize the case.
The State of Georgia recognizes numerous grounds for a fault-based divorce, including but not limited to cruelty, adultery, and desertion. Conversely, you and your spouse might agree on nearly everything in the agreement, except for one issue.
Do the grounds for divorce really make a difference?
Simply put, yes. If you or your spouse files for a contested divorce under the grounds of cruel treatment, for example, it could change the way the case is handled. Not only that, the emotional implications and impact is often far greater. According to O.C.G.A. § 19-5-3(10), cruel treatment consists of willful infliction of pain, bodily or mental, upon the complaining party, such as reasonably justifies apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health. Cruel treatment has been defined in Georgia case law as the wanton, malicious, and unnecessary infliction of pain upon the body or feelings and emotions of an individual; abusive treatment, inhuman or outrageous treatment.
In Georgia, desertion is a fault-based ground for divorce. However, there are several factors that go into this type of fault-based divorce. A spouse’s actions can qualify as desertion if: They left the marital home for at least one year without the consent of the other spouse, evidence shows that there was a willful refusal to cohabitate, and the desertion continued for at least one year prior to the filing of the divorce petition. Military deployment, job relocation, and marital obligations are not considered desertion unless there is proven intent.
Adultery is defined in the state of Georgia as one spouse having sexual intercourse with a person who is not his or her spouse while married. In order to prove that adultery happened, you will need more than just testimony from your spouse. Photos, recordings, phone records, bank statements, and witnesses are acceptable evidence when proving adultery. However, Georgia law does not require proof that sexual intercourse happened if you can prove that your spouse had the opportunity and inclination to commit adultery. Adultery can affect some things, like asset division and alimony, but it will never have an impact on child support in Georgia.
How does a contested divorce work?
Traditional divorce litigation is necessary when a couple cannot come to an agreement on any one aspect of the divorce agreement, even after mediation or collaborative divorce is attempted. This is referred to as a contested divorce, and it will take longer than an uncontested divorce. Most counties in Georgia require divorcing couples to first enter mediation before a final court hearing.
A major reason contested divorces take much longer is due to the discovery phase. This is the process by which both spouses, represented by their respective attorneys, seek to formally uncover information that will help their case. This often means asking for financial documents, interviewing friends and family, and logging marital property that will be subject to division by the judge. The discovery phase is typically around six months but is extended in some cases upon attorneys’ request.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, once the discovery phase has been completed, a trial will be conducted, and the Superior Court Evidence will be shown. Witnesses will testify, and each side will present their case in front of an impartial judge or jury.
Jury trials may be requested by either side, but these trials will be more expensive and require more time than bench trials (trials where the judge acts as jury). After closing arguments, the judge or jury will come back with a Final Judgement and Decree of Divorce.
Expect a minimum of six months to pass before you are legally divorced when going through a contested divorce.
It is vital that you have an experienced attorney that specializes in family law while going through a contested divorce. At Brown Dutton & Crider, our Atlanta divorce attorneys will advocate for you and make sure that your best interest is always the priority. Many factors go into the timeline and cost of a contested divorce, so it’s important that you speak to a knowledgeable family law attorney so that you can set realistic goals and expectations for the outcome of your case.