Clients will often assume their divorce is uncontested because both spouses agree to the divorce or because they initially agree on the terms without fully understanding the implications. An uncontested divorce is one in which both parties are in total agreement as to the division of their marital property and all other terms prior to filing the petition for divorce. Uncontested divorce is not right for every couple seeking a divorce and is more likely to be applicable to couples with no minor children and no significant assets. A contested divorce is likely to arise when the parties have to resolve child custody and support issues or other material terms of the agreement. Material terms in a settlement agreement include such categories as: (1) child support; (2) custody and visitation (this includes agreement to a parenting plan); (3) debt allocation; (4) spousal support; and (5) division of real and personal property.
Uncontested Divorce in Georgia
In an uncontested divorce, the parties agree to the material terms up front. One party will obtain representation by an attorney who draws up the agreement. Both parties sign the agreement, and the attorney files for the divorce. If the parties want to make changes to the agreement before signing, this is likely a contested, not an uncontested, divorce. When one or both parties are acting irrationally in regards to the terms of agreement, an uncontested divorce is absolutely not an option.
Contested Divorce in Georgia
A contested divorce arises when there is a dispute as to the material terms of the agreement. The divorce process is much smoother when both parties recognize that they disagree about the material terms, prior to filing for divorce. Another way to recognize the need for a contested divorce is when both parties are not on “equal footing”. For example, when all of the assets are in one party’s name or when there is a history of domestic abuse within the marriage. In the case of a contested divorce, both parties should immediately seek representation and let the attorneys work with each other to reach an agreement as to the terms.
The Uncontested Divorce Agreement
Sometimes clients are hoping for an uncontested divorce because it is the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to obtain a dissolution of marriage. However, allowing an attorney to draft a document that ends up being contested after all, is a waste of everyone’s time and money. A quick divorce process may tempt couples to make hurried decisions that have not been well thought out therefore, leading to disputes in the future. A later modification of the settlement agreement will require going back to court. Thus, essentially the couple has only delayed, rather than avoided, the litigation process. This is why it is essential that couples truly agree on the terms at the time of filing. Where children are involved it is in the best interest of everyone to give thoughtful consideration to the terms of a custody agreement because it will save money and reduce stress on the family in the future.
Clients may assume a contested divorce means the case will be litigated at trial. This is not true. In fact, most contested divorces are settled through mediation and never get to trial. Litigation can be a scary prospect because it is expensive and may involve intimate details of the marriage becoming public but do not let this dissuade you from a contested divorce if you and your spouse cannot agree on the material terms of the settlement. Mediation is an excellent way to solve any disputes about the terms of the agreement in privacy while keeping costs down.
Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, once the parties reach an agreement, the attorney can file it with the court. Georgia requires a few additional forms, including a Domestic Relations Affidavit Form (as required by O.C.G.A. Section 19-6-15), a detailed statement of each party’s financial situation. Filing fees are around $220 but there may be additional administrative fees that vary from county to county. If the judge agrees that there are no discrepancies as to the terms and other information within the paperwork, he or she will sign off on the agreement. The divorce is then granted 31 days later.
If there are major issues concerning property division or child custody, the divorce inherently is not uncontested because these are issues that will need to be litigated. Uncontested divorce is a solution for a very specific group of couples. This is not to say that couples with large assets or children cannot get an uncontested divorce. Indeed, if the couple is capable of exhibiting the requisite diplomacy and peaceful negotiation, this option can resolve a divorce quickly and quietly. Consulting an attorney can help you decide which option is best for your situation so you do not waste valuable time and money.
If you are facing divorce and would like to explore your options in the context of an uncontested divorce, call us at 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our caring and experienced uncontested divorce attorneys.