Do I have to go to Court to finalize my divorce in Georgia?
In a contested divorce, the answer to this is simple – YES. Since it is a contested matter, a hearing before a judge or jury will be required in order for them to make a final decision regarding the division of assets, child support, child custody, alimony, etc. In an uncontested divorce, however, the answer is somewhat complex and confusing.
For an uncontested divorce, the following factors need to be reviewed when determining whether you need a final hearing: 1) the county in which your divorce is filed; 2) the judge assigned to your case; and 3) whether you and your spouse have children. Each of these factors provides an important role in answering this one simple question. According to O.C.G.A. § 19-5-10(a), there are two ways to finalize a divorce in Georgia once you and your spouse have entered into a settlement agreement. You can either attend a final hearing or by a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings”, which is an option available only to attorneys. If you and your spouse are representing yourselves in your divorce, you must have a final hearing.
It may seem unusual, but each judge in a certain county handles final divorce hearings very differently and not all of the judges in a particular county may allow a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” to finalize a divorce. You can have two judges in a particular county and one of them accepts a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” while the other judge requires a final hearing. Also, it is not uncommon for judges to accept a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” only if the parties do not have any children under the age of 18. If you and your spouse have children, the judge will require a hearing to finalize your divorce.
If the judge accepts a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” to finalize a divorce, the attorney will file a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings” with the Clerk’s office and forward a courtesy copy to the judge along with a proposed Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce after the settlement agreement is filed with the court and the thirty-one day deadline has expired. The attorney will attach a date-stamped copy of the Settlement Agreement and an affidavit, which the person filing the divorce must sign in front of a notary. The affidavit asks the same questions that the judge would ask the person filing for divorce at a final hearing. It lists the dates of the parties’ marriage, the date of their separation, and the date on which the opposing party was served or acknowledged service. It basically states that nothing has changed since you and your spouse entered into the settlement agreement. Once the judge receives the Motion, he or she will review the settlement agreement and the Final Judgment and Decree and if it meets with his or her approval, he or she will sign the Final Judgment and Decree and your divorce will be finalized without having to go to court.
A “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings”, however does have its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that it is cost effective because the attorney does not have to go to court and you do not have to take time off from work to attend a final hearing. The disadvantage is that we cannot calculate the date on which the judge will sign the Final Judgment and Decree. If you have a final hearing, your divorce is finalized on that day. If you are finalizing your divorce by a “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings”, it can sometimes take several weeks for a judge to sign the Final Judgment and Decree because of the judge’s schedule or caseload. Besides handling family law related matters, Superior Court judges typically also handle criminal and other civil matters.