Under O.C.G.A. 19-1-1(b), the Georgia Superior Court will issue the Domestic Relations Standing Order (commonly referred to as the Standing Order) once you file any domestic relations actions. A domestic relations action includes an action for divorce, alimony, child custody, child support, legitimization, annulment, and determination of paternity. When you file for a divorce, the Standing Order (also often referred to as the Automatic Domestic Standing Order) will immediately go into effect.
Although not typically a problem with uncontested divorce cases, the Standing Order mainly prevents asset transfers and spouses from removing children from the jurisdiction of the Court. It is a mutual order requiring both you and your spouse to comply with its obligations and prohibitions. The Standing Order will continue to apply throughout the duration of the case, unless and until such time as it is modified by the judge. Below are a few things you need to know about the Standing Order when you file any domestic relations actions in Georgia.
To whom the Standing Order applies?
When you file for a divorce in Georgia (including uncontested divorce cases), the Superior Court will generally issue the Standing Order that binds you and your spouses’ actions as long as the divorce case is pending. The Standing Order can also apply to “agents, servants, and employees of the parties, and all other persons acting in concert with such parties.” O.C.G.A. 19-1-1(b)(1). Because the Standing Order governs the actions of not only both spouses but also all others acting in concert with the spouses, you cannot (and must not) hire a third party to do something on your behalf that would be in violation of the Standing Order.
When does the Standing Order apply?
The Standing Order applies to you immediately and automatically upon the filing of a divorce action. However, it does not apply to the opposing spouse until the person is served with the Complaint and the Standing Order. In an uncontested divorce, the signing of the Acknowledgement of Service is sufficient service of the Complaint for Divorce to invoke the Standing Order.
What does the Standing Order require and restricts?
In general, the Standing Order requires the parties to a divorce action to make certain disclosures (such as the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit), appear for temporary hearings, maintain the status quo, plus other specific requirements. The detailed terms of the Standing Order and how strictly they are enforced can vary from county to county. However, you can expect each Standing Order to cover the following issues.
First: the Standing Order directs the parties to restrain selling, encumbering, or removing of assets except for ordinary and necessary living and business purposes. O.C.G.A. 19-1-1(b)(4). This ensures that both spouse do not get rid of (or hide) their assets in an attempt to prevent the other spouse from acquiring them.
Second: the Standing Order also prohibits both spouses from threatening, harassing or stalking the other party or the children of the parties. O.C.G.A. 19-1-1(b)(3).
Third: if custody of the minor children is involved, the parties cannot remove the children from Georgia without the permission of the court, or take away the children from the other party. O.C.G.A. 19-1-1(b)(2).
As mentioned above, every court has its own Standing Order for domestic law cases. For example, the Fulton County Domestic Standing Order additionally prohibits the parties from changing or terminating “any active insurance coverage” or from disconnecting “water, gas, electricity or any other utility services from the marital residence.” If there are minor children involved, the parties may have to attend the “Families in Transition” seminar. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly and carefully read the Standing Order that is issued by the relevant Court (in which your case is pending). Be sure to ask your attorney any questions that you may have.
What happens if you violate the Standing Order?
It is critical that you abide by the Standing Order, or otherwise you could be held in contempt of court which is punishable by sanctions, fines, and imprisonment. To sanction a party in violation of a Standing Order, there must first be notice and an opportunity to be heard on the issue. If the court finds that the party failed to obey the Standing Order willfully, (i.e., deliberately), however, the court may impose sanctions without holding a hearing. It will be therefore in your best interest to consult with an attorney before you take any action violating the Standing Order, or if you are not sure whether one of your actions could be in violation of the Standing Order.
When exceptions to the Standing Order can be made?
Exceptions to the Standing Order may be made subject to court approval. If you think that you have a valid legal reason why you will not be able to abide by the Standing Order, you can appeal to the court and wait to see if there is an approval. For example, you may want to take your children outside Georgia for vacations. Georgia courts will allow vacations or excursions outside the state of Georgia for a period not exceeding fourteen (14) days. This is the only exception to the Standing Order prohibition on removing minor children from Georgia. In case the children are removed from Georgia according to this exception, you must provide an advanced written notice to the other spouse outlining the dates of travel, travel destination, and contact number(s) where the children will be staying. Although you may take your children outside Georgia for activities such as camp attendance or boarding school, in no cases you may remove the children from the Untied States.
Examples of Georgia Standing Orders
Below are links to various metro-Atlanta area counties’ Standing Orders. Not all counties have their own standing order. Before ever filing a divorce or family law case, one should become acquainted with the Standing Order for the county the case will be filed in.
- Forsyth County Georgia
- Gwinnett County Georgia
- DeKalb County Georgia
- Fulton County Georgia
- Cobb County Georgia
If you feel like your spouse may violate the Standing Order and fear that he or she will injure or threat to injure you (or your children), you can also file a Temporary Restraining Order. If there are violence acts or threats against you a restraining order can prohibit your spouse from communicating with you in any way. In addition, if you believe that your spouse is selling or otherwise disposing of assets to prevent you from acquiring your share, the restraining order can prevent the other spouse from engaging in further action. You can also request a restraining order against a third party such as a bank to prevent your spouse from disposing of marital assets.