May 18, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions: Georgia Divorce

Question: My wife left me and took our children with her. I have not seen them for three years. How can I find her to serve divorce papers and seek custody?

Answer: Some lawyers and most private investigators have access to databases that should be able to show where the other party is living. If you are trying to handle the divorce without the help of an attorney, you will likely need to hire a private investigator to find our where she is. Once you find where she is living, you can then personally serve her with the divorce papers to start the divorce process.

Question: Can I legally ask my husband for a separation but not have to leave my home?

Answer: Georgia does not recognize a “legal separation.” When you file for divorce, you assert in the pleadings that you are living in a “bona fide state of separation.” That simply means that you and your husband have not had marital relations (sex) since a certain date. There is an action for separate maintenance that can be filed in certain circumstances, but you should schedule a consultation with an Atlanta divorce lawyer to determine whether your specific situation would fall into this category.

Question: How do I get a divorce if my spouse won’t sign the papers, attend the classes, or follow through with any of the requirements?

Answer: If your spouse won’t cooperate, you may have to schedule the case for a final contested hearing. Before you attend this hearing, however, it is strongly recommended that you consult with an Atlanta divorce lawyer to make sure that you have prepared all your paperwork correctly for a final divorce. If your spouse does not attend a parenting class, some judges will still grant the divorce but may deny visitation to the offending spouse until he/she attends the class.

January 20, 2012

Custody awarded to father in Georgia divorce case despite evidence of alleged family violence

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently affirmed a divorce action where the husband was awarded primary physical custody of the children despite evidence of alleged family violence. Finklea v. Finklea, S11F1804 (2012). At the final hearing in that divorce case, the parties “each testified extensively about acts of family violence committed by the other spouse, which led to multiple police reports filed against each other.” Id. at 2. In its final judgment, the trial court said it was making its decision “[a]fter hearing testimony of the parties and considering all the evidence tendered at trial.” Id. Neither party asked for written findings of fact supporting the custody award. Id. The trial court ultimately awarded primary physical custody to the husband.

The wife appealed, alleging that “in awarding primary physical custody of the parties’ two children to Husband, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to cosider evidence of alleged family violence perpetrated by Husband against her." Id. at 1. The Supreme Court of Georgia disagreed, holding that, under the circumstances described above, the trial court did consider evidence of family violence presented at the final hearing. Id. at 3. In addition, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s award of primary physical custody to the husband. The trial court exercised its discretion in awarding custody to one parent over the other and “[w]here there is any evidence to support the decision of the trial court, this Court cannot say there was an abuse of discretion.” Id. at 3, quoting Haskell v. Haskell, 286 Ga. 112, 112 (2009).

December 26, 2011

Prenuptial agreement upheld in Georgia divorce case

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently heard an appeal of a divorce case, which highlights the security, or risk (depending on which side you are on), of entering into a prenuptial agreement in Georgia. Sides v. Sides, S11F1140 (2011). In that case, the parties began dating in 1989 and, shortly thereafter, the Wife became pregnant. Id. Due to the great disparity in assets and income between the parties, they negotiated and signed a prenuptial agreement before marrying in 1990. Id. Under the agreement, “Wife would have been entitled to substantially more resources if the parties divorced after their twenty-year anniversary, and substantially less if the parties divorced prior to their twenty year anniversary.” Id. at 2. Nearly twenty years later, the Husband filed a Compliant for Divorce and Motion to Enforce the Prenuptial Agreement, which the trial court granted a mere 62 days prior to the couple’s twenty year anniversary, and the WIfe appealed. Id.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the enforcement of the prenuptial agreement. The Court first laid out the factors to be considered by the trial court in deciding the validity of the prenuptial agreement: “(1) [W]as the agreement obtained through fraud, duress or mistake, or through misrepresentation or nondisclosure of material facts? (2) [I]s the agreement unconscionable? (3) Have the facts and circumstances changed since the agreement was executed, so as to make its enforcement unfair and unreasonable?” Id., quoting Scherer v. Scherer, 249 Ga. 635, 641 (3) (1982).

In this case, both attorneys “deposed that they would not have allowed their clients to enter the agreement without full financial disclosures being made,” and Wife was long aware of the “vast disparity” between their incomes. Id. at 3. Thus, the evidence supported that full financial disclosures were made prior to signing and the agreement was not unconscionable. In addition, the increase in Husband’s net worth was anticipated and, therefore, it was not a “change of circumstance that would make the enforcement of the agreement unfair and unreasonable.” Id. at 4. The trial court, thus, did not abuse its discretion in upholding the prenuptial agreement.

November 25, 2011

Parenting plans in Georgia

With the holiday season upon us, many divorced parents in Georgia will look to their parenting plan for guidance on arranging their holiday schedules. Parenting plans are custody agreements that are submitted jointly or individually by each party in an action that involves child custody in Georgia. Except in those cases where emergency relief is necessary due to family violence, parenting plans are required in all actions in Georgia where child custody is at issue.

A parenting plan may be temporary until a final decree is entered, at which time a permanent parenting plan will go into effect. Under Georgia law, when considering either a joint plan or opposing plans of the parties, the court must make its determination based upon the best interest of the child. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3. The court bases its determination on a number of factors including, but not limited to, the relationship that exists between each parent and the child, and the ability of each parent to provide the child with basic necessities. Id. at a(3).

Parenting plans require that both parties acknowledge and decide on a variety of issues. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1. Holiday visitation is one such issue, and it can be difficult and emotional for parties to come to an agreement because it requires each party to agree to some holidays away from their children. It may never be easy to split time with your child and the other parent, but a successful parenting plan can alleviate tensions between the parties and allow each parent to enjoy time with their child.

If you need help creating a parenting plan, or seek to modify your existing parenting plan, please contact our Atlanta divorce attorneys to assist you in the process.

By Courtney Carpenter, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp LLC

November 18, 2011

How long does a divorce take in Georgia?

Georgia divorce lawyers are often asked how long an average divorce takes in this state. This is a difficult question to answer because there is not really an “average” divorce case. The length of time depends greatly on whether the parties are able to settle matters and, if not, what issues they are fighting about. Even cases with similar facts can be very different. For example, consider a case where both parties work, and have 2 children, a marital home, several joint accounts, and some separate property. Some parties with these facts are able to resolve everything fairly quickly and easily. Other parties with these same facts, however, may argue over every custody, child support, alimony and/or equitable division of assets. Even one contested issue can cause a divorce to drag on, especially if it is something about which both parties feel passionate.

The length of a divorce case can also depend on the County in which the divorce is filed because some courts are more back logged than others. Often, there is not much you can do about this issue.

In our experience, the average time range for a divorce in Georgia is 45 days for a completely uncontested divorce to about 3 years for a hotly contested divorce. However, as mentioned above, this time can vary greatly based upon the specific facts of your case.

October 31, 2011

Child's selection in Georgia custody disputes

In Georgia, child custody is determined using the “best interests of the child” standard. OCGA §19-9-3(a)(2). In custody cases where the child is under the age of 11, the court is not required to consider the child’s desires in determining which parent will have custody.

In custody cases where the child is 11, 12 or 13 years of age, “the judge shall consider the desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody.” OCGA §19-9-3(a)(6). The judge still has complete discretion in making the custody determination and, though he must consider the child’s desires, “the child’s desires shall not be controlling.” Id. The determination is still based upon best interests of the child and the child’s desires are a factor to be considered in making this determination.

In custody cases where the child is 14 years of age or older, “the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live.” OCGA §19-9-3(a)(5). The custody selection made by a child in this age group “shall be presumptive unless the parent so selected is determined not to be in the best interests of the child.” Id. Thus, the court will follow the election of the child, unless that election is not in the child’s best interest.

February 18, 2011

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry

Today in An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I’m going to discuss the brewing custody battle between Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry. Berry and Aubry have a daughter, Nahla, together, though they were never married. After they broke up last year, it appeared that they were amicably and informally sharing custody of Nahla, but this arrangement has recently transformed into a bitter custody battle. Aubry filed a petition to establish paternity and to have a formal custody arrangement, signaling that the parties are no longer able to work the arrangement out on their own.

According to People Magazine, Berry has stated that she has “'serious concerns' about Nahla’s well-being while in Aubry’s care,” and Aubry has denied these allegations. In a custody battle such as this, courts almost always appoint a Guardian ad Litem to assist in determining custody and it is likely a Guardian will be appointed in this case if the parties are unable to reach a settlement through mediation or otherwise. A Guardian ad Litem represents the child, and conducts interviews with the parties and other people with direct knowledge of the situation to piece through the various allegations. Upon completion of a thorough evaluation, the Guardian will make a custody recommendation to the court that is guided by the child’s best interest.

Unfortunately, even with a Guardian ad Litem, in a bitter custody battle such as this one, the allegations can get ugly (they already have here) and the child often gets dragged into the middle. Berry and Aubry both say they have Nahla’s best interest at heart but it remains to be seen if they will keep her best interest, rather than their anger toward each other, in the forefront of the custody battle.

November 29, 2010

Equitable Division and Property Owned by Third Party

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently heard a case regarding whether property owned by a third party can be equitably divided in a divorce. In Armour v. Holcombe, the husband’s mother purchased a house during the parties’ marriage and allowed the parties to live there. Armour v. Holcombe, S10AF0946 (2010). A few years later, the husband’s mother deeded the property to the husband as a gift. Id. The husband refinanced the property and both he and his mother made payments on the debt. Id. In March 2005, the husband deeded the property back to his mother as he was facing financial difficulty. Id. Six months later, the wife filed for divorce and added the husband’s mother as a defendant, alleging that the deed “was executed to deprive Wife of her marital interest in the property.” Id. at 2.

Despite the trial court ordering the home sold and proceeds held in escrow pending the outcome of the litigation, the wife decided not to pursue the fraudulent conveyance issue at the divorce trial. Id. Nonetheless, the trial court instructed the jury that the sales proceeds were a marital asset subject to equitable division, and the jury awarded the wife approximately 2/3 of the proceeds. Id.

The husband’s mother appealed, arguing that the trial court erred because “there was no evidence that the property was a marital asset,” and the Georgia Supreme Court agreed. Id. The Court emphasized that the wife did not cite any case law regarding property owned by a third party being subject to equitable division, “nor should authority for such a ruling be expected.” Id. at 5. The Court adamantly held “[i]t would be highly disruptive to the transfer and ownership of property to allow a divorcing spouse to claim that property held by a third party is subject to equitable division in the divorce action based merely upon that spouse’s actions regarding the property during its prior ownership by the other spouse.” Id. at 5.

The Georgia Supreme Court mentioned that the wife may have had recourse with a fraudulent conveyance claim, but the wife “chose to abandon” this avenue. Id. at 7.

November 26, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller

In this installment of An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I’m going to address the divorce of Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller. People magazine recently reported that the parties have each filed for divorce. Sheen is seeking joint legal and physical custody of their twin boys, and Mueller is seeking primary physical custody with visitation rights for Sheen.

Surprisingly, it appears that this divorce might not be as contested as one would imagine, given their history together. Apparently, while separated earlier this year, they entered into an agreement settling matters of child custody, child support and equitable division. It appears that spousal support may still be a contested issue. In addition, it appears that Sheen’s divorce filing differed from the purported agreement on the issue of custody.

If the parties do end up in court with a contested divorce, my guess, based upon their history, is that it won’t be pretty. Both parties have recently been in rehab for substance abuse – a fact the judge would seriously consider in awarding custody. In addition, Sheen was sentenced to domestic violence counseling stemming from their altercation over Christmas last year, and was recently hospitalized after an “incident” at the Plaza Hotel. Each party will likely drag the other through the mud in trying to prove to the judge that he or she should be awarded custody. If this case was in Georgia, the judge would hear all of the evidence and weigh many factors before awarding custody based on the best interests of the children standard.

November 12, 2010

Challenging your Georgia divorce decree? Don’t retain the benefits of that decree.

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently reinstated a bright line rule regarding a party retaining the benefits of a Georgia divorce decree that that same party is challenging. In Thompson v. Thompson, the Husband challenged the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, alleging that the trial court erred in its equitable division award by dividing funds and property that were his non-marital assets. Thompson v. Thompson, S10F1231 (2010). The trial court denied the husband’s motions for new trial, clarification, and reconsideration, holding that “he had availed himself of the benefits of the final order” and was, thereby, prohibited from challenging it. Id. The husband subsequently appealed the denial of his motions.

In affirming the trial court’s ruling, Supreme Court of Georgia followed long-standing principles of Georgia law. Specifically, the Court held that “one who has accepted benefits such as spousal support or equitable division of property under a divorce decree is estopped from seeking to set aside that decree without first returning the benefits.” Id. at 3. Thus, if you want to dispute a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce in Georgia, you must either not accept any support or equitable division from that award, or you must return any portion of the award that you have accepted, before initiating any challenge.

The Court clarified that a party “may collect an award of child support and still repudiate a final judgment, as those benefits belong to the child.” Id. at 3-4.

November 8, 2010

Evidence at temporary hearing vs. final hearing in divorce case in Georgia

In Georgia, there is a difference between the evidence that can be presented in a temporary hearing versus a final hearing in a divorce case. In Pace v. Pace, after a temporary hearing at which both parties testified, the husband was awarded physical custody of the children and the parties were awarded legal custody. Pace v. Pace, S10F0843 (2010). About a year later, a final hearing was held, at which both parties and multiple witnesses testified, and a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce was entered, awarding permanent physical and legal custody of the children to the husband. Id. The wife appealed after being denied a new trial.

In its review, the Georgia Supreme Court noted that “the trial court relied substantially on testimony adduced at the temporary hearing in making its determination on permanent custody,” that the parties were not on notice that this testimony would be considered for permanent custody, and that the trial court relied on its “memory and notes” rather than a transcript in reaching its decision. Id. at 2.

The Georgia Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in its reliance on evidence from the temporary hearing because an award of temporary custody “differ[s] in its nature and purpose from an award of temporary custody”. Id. at 3, quoting Foster v. Foster, 230 Ga. 658, 660 (1973). Further, temporary orders and final orders are not governed by the same rules of law. Pace, at 3. In a temporary hearing, only the parties and one additional witness for each side may testify. Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.5(A). In addition, minor children cannot testify at temporary hearings. Id. at (B). These rules do not apply at a final hearing. Thus, stated the Court, “the nature and quality of the evidence presented at a temporary hearing is likely to be different than that which is ultimately presented at the final hearing…” Pace, at 4. The Georgia Supreme Court held that “absent express notice to the parties, it is error for a trial court to rely on evidence from the temporary hearing in making its final custody determination.” Id. at 5.

October 29, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Courteney Cox and David Arquette

This week in An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I’m going to discuss the recent separation of Courteney Cox and David Arquette. After 11 years of marriage and one child together, the couple announced that they were on a “trial separation.” People Magazine, October 25, 2010. In their statement, they said “…[w]e remain best friends and responsible parents to our daughter and we still love each other deeply. As we go though this process we are determined to use kindness and understanding to get through this together…”

However, since the announcement, Arquette does not seem to be using “kindness” in the process. He has gone on Howard Stern’s radio show to detail the reasons for the split and even publicly admitted to sleeping with another woman since he and Cox separated. We have yet to see if the couple will reconcile and, if not, how their divorce will play out, but it is likely that the sting of Arquette’s actions will have some bearing on the outcome.

Unlike Arquette, non-celebrities don’t usually have the ability to speak to media outlets about their divorces. However, spilling detailed relationship troubles to everyone you know and rubbing your spouse’s face in your post-separation activities, such as Arquette has done, will likely make for a more bitter and litigious divorce, which, in turn, will cost both parties more money. As a colleague of mine always says, one thing that can drive up the cost of a divorce is emotion. There is simply no reason to make an emotional process even more difficult for you, your spouse, or your children.

October 22, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren

This week in An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I’m going to discuss the well-publicized divorce of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren. The scandal surrounding Tiger’s multiple extramarital affairs began around Thanksgiving 2009. For the next several months, it seemed like women with whom he had affairs were coming out of the woodwork and speaking to the media each week. Throughout what must have been a gut wrenching time for Nordegren, she remained tactful, continuing her life as privately as possible, and did not thwart the relationship between Woods and their children.

A lesson to take from Nordegren is, no matter what your spouse has put you through and how angry you are at him/her, put your children first. At a time when she could have easily badmouthed Woods in the media and to their children, possibly ruining their relationship with him, she remained discreet. She only spoke to the media once and, even then, she called Woods a good father and refused to share details of the previous 10 months. Due to her actions, the children will likely have a positive relationship with both of their parents despite the hurt and anger that may exist between the parents.

October 15, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Owner of Los Angeles Dodgers

In this weekly installment of An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I will discuss the ongoing divorce action of the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As you may have read in the New York Times or other news outlets, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers is going through a divorce, putting ownership of the Major League Baseball team in dispute. The key to this case is a post-nuptial agreement, of which there are two versions – one version gives the team to the husband/owner and the other version makes the parties joint owners of the team. The owner’s wife is asking that the agreement be thrown out and is alleging that the version giving complete ownership of the team to her husband was obtained fraudulently. If the agreement is thrown out, the team will be divided with the parties’ other assets under California’s community property law.

If this case was in Georgia and the agreement was invalidated, the team would be equitably divided. As explained in detail in previous blogs, equitable division does not necessarily mean equal. The judge would consider all the circumstances in deciding how (or if) to divide the team. Thus, the outcome of the case could be much different in Georgia than in it would be in California, where the parties would each receive 50% of the team. Closing arguments were recently completed and the judge now has 90 days to decide the fate of the parties and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

October 8, 2010

Georgia Supreme Court upholds short time period for lump sum alimony and property division payments in divorce case

The Georgia Supreme Court recently upheld a short time frame for payment of lump sum alimony and property division awards in a divorce case. Wier v. Wier, 287 Ga. 443 (2010). In that case, the parties were married for nearly 20 years and, following a jury trial, the wife was awarded $200,000 as lump sum property division to be paid within 15 days, and $600,000 as lump sum alimony to be paid within 90 days. Id. The husband appealed, arguing, among other things, that he was unable to timely make the alimony and property division payments. Id.

The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with the husband. The Court pointed out “the evidence showed that [husband] owns property valued at more than $1.6 million and his gross monthly income exceeds $16,600.” Id. Under long standing Georgia law, “a party can be required to sell or encumber property in order to pay equitable division and alimony awards.” Id.; Hollandsworth v. Hollandsworth, 242 Ga. 790 (1979). Emphasizing that the husband did not present any evidence of his inability to pay in a timely manner, the Georgia Supreme Court held that he can “sell or encumber his property, or take any other action he deems necessary, to comply with the trial court’s order.” Wier, 287 Ga. at 443.

October 4, 2010

Georgia Supreme Court affirms lump sum child support payment in divorce case

Though child support is generally thought of as being paid in monthly installments, the Georgia Supreme Court recently affirmed a divorce decree which ordered a father to make one lump sum child support payment. Mullin v. Roy, S10F1120 (2010). In that case, shortly after the wife filed for divorce, the husband was arrested for possession of child pornography, lost his $80,000/year job, and began living off a $422,000 inheritance. Id. The husband pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to five years in prison the day after the divorce trial. Id. at 2.

In its divorce decree, the trial court acknowledged husband’s argument that he will have decreased earning capacity due to his sex offender status upon being released from prison, and calculated child support by settling “on an amount halfway between husband’s and wife’s projections for his future earnings.” Id. Based on the husband’s guilty plea and impending sentence, as well as the dwindling amount that remained of his inheritance, the trial court ordered the husband to pay his entire child support obligation within 60 days. Id. at 3.

The husband appealed, arguing that the court did not have the authority to award lump sum child support. Id. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed, holding that the child support statute “explicitly authorizes trial courts to exercise discretion in setting the amount and timing of payment.” Id.; OCGA §19-6-15(c)(2)(B). Though child support is typically paid in monthly installments, “there is no indication that the 2007 version of the guidelines statute eliminated the longstanding discretion of trial courts to order lump-sum payment under appropriate circumstances.” Id.

September 27, 2010

Georgia Grounds for Divorce - Habitual Drug Addiction

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law, the twelfth of which is “[h]abitual drug addiction.” OCGA §19-5-3(12).

“Habitual drug addiction” is defined in the statute as addiction to the following controlled substances: narcotic drugs, marijuana, or stimulant drugs, depressant drugs, or hallucinogenic drugs. OCGA 19-5-3(12); OCGA 16-13-2(a). There must be a pattern of drug use resulting the party's addiction to the controlled substance. The terms "habitual" and "addiction" imply that a one-time use of a controlled substance will not be sufficient to obtain a divorce under this ground.

September 24, 2010

Georgia Grounds for Divorce - Incurable Mental Illness

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The eleventh ground under the statute is “[i]ncurable mental illness.” OCGA §19-5-3(11).

There are three strict requirements necessary to obtain a divorce under this ground: (1) the mentally ill party must be adjudged to be mentally ill by the court or must be certified to be mentally ill by two physicians who have each personally examined the party; (2) the mentally ill party must have been in a mental institution or under continuous treatment for mental illness for at least two years preceding the filing of the divorce action; and (3) a chief executive officer of the institution and one physician appointed by the court must make a thorough examination of the party and certify under oath that it is their opinion “that the party evidences such a want of reason, memory, and intelligence as to prevent the party from comprehending the nature, duties, and consequences of the marriage relationship and that, in the light of present day medical knowledge, recovery of the party’s mental health cannot be expected at any time during his life.” OCGA 19-5-3(11).

September 22, 2010

DeKalb County Parenting Seminar Information

Under Georgia law, both parties in a divorce are required to attend a parenting seminar if the parties have children under the age of 18. See Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.8. DeKalb County (Avondale Estates, Chamblee, Decatur, Doraville, Lithonia, and Stone Mountain) offers its Seminar for Divorcing Parents at three different locations in the county. All remaining 2010 seminars will take place in the 1st floor Jury Room of the Dekalb County Courthouse Judicial Tower, located at 556 N. McDonough Street, Decatur, Georgia. The schedule for the remainder of 2010 is as follows:

Friday, September 10, 9:30am – 1:30pm
Friday, September 24, 9:30am – 1:30pm
Monday, October 4, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Friday, October 22, 9:30am – 1:30pm
Monday, November 8, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Friday, November 19, 9:30am – 1:30pm
Monday, December 6, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Friday, December 17, 9:30am – 1:30pm

The cost of the seminar is currently $30.00 per person. Dates and time are subject to change so please check the DeKalb County Seminar for Divorcing Parents website for the most up to date information and for online registration under the divorce tab.

September 20, 2010

Georgia Grounds for Divorce - Cruel Treatment

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The tenth ground under the statute is “[c]ruel treatment, which shall consist of the willful infliction of pain, bodily or mental, upon the complaining party, such as reasonably justifies apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health.” OCGA §19-5-3(10).

In order to obtain a divorce under this ground, the offending party must intend wound his/her spouse. Connor v. Connor, 212 Ga. 92, 94 (1955). It should be noted, however, that actual physical violence is not necessary. Slaughter v. Slaughter, 190 Ga. 229, 232 (1940). Generally, a party may not obtain a divorce under this ground based upon a single act of cruelty or violence, but if the single act is “accompanied by circumstances indicating a probability of repetition of similar conduct,” this may be sufficient. Phinzy v. Phinzy, 154 Ga. 199, 213 (1922). In addition, in certain instances, nagging and mental anguish have been held sufficient to obtain a divorce based upon cruel treatment. Womble v. Womble, 214 Ga. 438 (1958); Ross v. Ross, 169 Ga. 529 (1929).

September 17, 2010

Georgia Grounds for Divorce - Habitual Intoxication

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The ninth ground under the statute is “[h]abitual intoxication.” OCGA §19-5-3(9).

To obtain a divorce under this ground, it is not necessary for the Petitioner to prove that his or her spouse was continuously and constantly drunk during the marriage. Fuller v. Fuller, 108 Ga. 256 (1899). However, evidence that party “was ‘drunk’ or ‘under the influence of liquor’ on one occasion prior to the separation is wholly insufficient to sustain a divorce on the ground of habitual intoxication.” Stimpson v. Stimpson, 213 Ga. 235 (1957). Thus, there must be a pattern of drunkenness, but does not have to be a constant, unending situation.

September 15, 2010

Gwinnett County Parenting Seminar Information

Under Georgia law, both parties in a divorce are required to attend a parenting seminar if the parties have children under the age of 18. See Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.8. Gwinnett County (Buford, Dacula, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville, and Suwanee) offers its Parenting Seminar at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive, Lawrenceville, Georgia 30045. The seminars are held in Conference Room A West Wing on the second floor. The schedule for the remainder of 2010 is as follows:

Weekday seminars from 9:00am – 1:00pm: September 2, September 9, September 23, October 7, October 14, October 28, November 4, November 10, December 2, December 9

Evening seminars from 5:00pm – 9:00pm: September 16, October 21, November 18, December 16

The cost of the seminar is currently $30.00 per person and registration MUST be received prior to the day of the seminar. You can find additional information and register online for these seminars at the Gwinnett County Parenting Seminar website.

September 13, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Offense involving Moral Turpitude

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The eighth ground under the statute is “[t]he conviction of either party for an offense involving moral turpitude, under which he is sentenced to imprisonment in a penal institution for a term of two years or longer.” OCGA §19-5-3(8).

Turpitude, in its legal sense includes “everything done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals.” Holloway v. Holloway, 126 Ga. 459, 460 (1906), quoting Black’s Law Dict. It is a very broad definition that can include almost any crime. There are three elements that must be proven in order for a court to grant a divorce under this ground: (1) the commission of the offense involving moral turpitude; (2) the conviction for said offense; and (3) a sentence of two years or longer in a penal institution. Holloway, 126 Ga. at 460.

September 10, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Desertion

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The seventh ground under the statute is “[w]illful and continued desertion by either of the parties for a term of one year.” OCGA §19-5-3(7).

Generally, desertion is “the voluntary separation of one of the marries parties from the other, or the voluntary refusal to renew a suspended cohabitation, without justification either in the consent or the wrongful conduct of the other.” Cagle v. Cagle, 193 Ga. 34 (1961). There are three elements that must be proven in order for a court to grant a divorce on the ground of desertion: (1) the parties’ cohabitation ended; (2) the offending party intended to desert his/her spouse; and (3) the desertion lasted for a minimum of one year. Id. It should be noted that “the pardon of the convict does not destroy the right to a divorce” under this ground. Id. at 461.

September 8, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Cobb County Parenting Seminar

Under Georgia law, both parties in a divorce are required to attend a parenting seminar if the parties have children under the age of 18. See Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.8. Cobb County (Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Springs and Smyrna) offers its Divorcing Parents Seminar at the Cobb County Superior Court Building (Building D; 6th floor jury assembly room), 30 Waddell Street, Marietta, GA 30090.

Cobb County offers a four-hour weekday seminar (from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm) or two two-hour evening sessions (from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm). The schedule for the remainder of 2010 is as follows:

Thursday morning classes (8:30am – 1:00pm): September 2, September 16, October 7, October 21, November 4, November 18, December 2, December 16

Monday evening classes (7:00pm – 9:00pm): September 13 AND 20, October 11 AND 18, November 8 AND 15, December 13 AND 20

The cost of the seminar is currently $30.00 per person. You can find additional information and register online for these seminars at the Cobb County Divorcing Parents Seminar website.

September 6, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Adultery

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The sixth ground under the statute is “[a]dultery in either of the parties after marriage.” OCGA §19-5-3(6).

Generally, a married person commits adultery when he or she “voluntarily has sexual intercourse with a person other than his [or her] spouse.” OCGA §16-6-19; Owens v. Owens, 247 Ga. 139, 140 (1981). Adultery includes “extramarital homosexual, as well as heterosexual, relations.” Owens v. Owens, 247 Ga. 139, 140 (1981). It is difficult to prove adultery with direct evidence and, often, the party only has circumstantial evidence. In Georgia, “[a]dultery may be proved by circumstantial evidence, but such evidence must infer as a necessary conclusion that adultery was committed.” Johnson v. Johnson, 218 Ga. 28 (1962). If the evidence can lead to more than one interpretation, it is not sufficient to prove adultery. Id.

September 3, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Pregnancy

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The fifth ground under the statute is “[p]regnancy of the wife by a man other than her husband, at the time of the marriage, unknown to the husband.” OCGA §19-5-3(5).

This ground is fairly straightforward, but all of the elements must be sufficiently proven. The Petitioner must prove that the wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage, that the child is not the husband’s biological child, and that the husband did not know that the wife was pregnant with someone else’s child. Since the party must prove that the child is not the husband’s biological child, there must be a paternity test and, thus, if the divorce is based solely on this ground, the parties will have to wait until after the child is born to obtain the divorce.

September 1, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Forsyth and Cherokee County Parenting Seminar

Under Georgia law, both parties in a divorce are required to attend a parenting seminar if the parties have children under the age of 18. See Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.8. Forsyth County (Cumming) and Cherokee County (Ball Ground, Canton, and Woodstock) are part of the 9th judicial district. All of the counties in this 9th judicial district work jointly to offer their seminar for divorcing parents throughout the judicial district.

The schedule for September 2010 is as follows:
• Gainesville (New Hall County Courthouse, 225 Green Street SE) – Thursday, September 2, 5:00pm – 9:00pm; Thursday, September 16, 5:00pm – 9:00pm
• Dahlonega (North Georgia College and State University, Continuing Education Bldg., Highway 60) – Wednesday, September 8, 9:00am – 1:00pm
• Blairsville (Haralson Civic Center, 165 Welborn Street) – Monday, September 13, 9:00am – 1:00pm
• Clarkesville (North GA Technical College, 1500 Hwy. 197 North) – Tuesday, September 14, 1:00pm – 5:00pm
• Woodstock (Woodstock Public Library, 7735 Main Street) – Saturday, September 18, 10:00am – 2:00pm
• Ellijay (Gilmer County Library, 268 Calvin Jackson Drive) – Monday, September, 20 1:00pm – 5:00pm
• Cumming (First Baptist Church Cumming, Kids Town Building, 1597 Sawnee Drive) – Saturday, September 25, 10:00am – 2:00pm

The cost of the seminar is currently $50.00 per person. There is no pre-registration. You can find additional information about these seminars at 9th Judicial Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution website.

August 30, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Force, Menace, Duress or Fraud

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The fourth ground under the statute is “[f]orce, menace, duress, or fraud in obtaining the marriage.” OCGA §19-5-3(4).

The Supreme Court of Georgia held that duress includes “any conduct which overpowers the will and coerces or constrains the performance of an act which otherwise would not have been performed.” Bryant v. Bryant, 192 Ga. 114, 116 (1941) quoting Dorsey v. Bryans, 143 Ga. 186, 188. Menace is “any overt act of a threatening character, short of an actual assault.” Bryant v. Bryant, 192 Ga. 114, 116 (1941) quoting Cumming v. State, 99 Ga. 662, 665 (27 S.E. 177). Thus, to obtain a divorce under this ground, you must prove that you were forced into the marriage and that, without the force, you would not have gotten married.

August 27, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Impotency

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The third ground under the statute is “[i]mpotency at the time of the marriage.” OCGA §19-5-3(3).

A party filing a Complaint for Divorce alleging impotency as a ground for the divorce must only allege that the impotency existed at the time of the marriage. Lovelace v. Lovelace, 179 Ga. 822, 830 (1934). The Petitioner does not have to allege that the Respondent knew of the impotency while she did not, nor that she “had not condoned the alleged impotency.” Id. Knowledge and condonation are potential affirmative defenses, which must be proved by the Respondent, and do not need to be alleged by the Petitioner in anticipation of these defenses. Id.

August 25, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Fulton County Parenting Seminar

Under Georgia law, both parties in a divorce are required to attend a parenting seminar if the parties have children under the age of 18. See Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.8. Fulton County (Alpharetta, Atlanta, Johns Creek, Milton, Roswell) offers its Family in Transition seminar at three different locations in the county. The following is a list of locations and schedule of seminars for the rest of the year:

• Saturday morning seminar once per month from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Downtown Justice Center Building located at 160 Pryor Street, S.W., Courtroom G33, Atlanta, Georgia. Remaining 2010 dates – September 18, October 16, November 13, and December 18.
• Weekday morning seminar once per month from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the South Fulton Service Center located at 5600 Stonewall Tell Road, College Park, Georgia in the auditorium. Remaining 2010 dates – August 31, September 21, October 19, November 16, and December 21.
• Weekday evening seminar once per month from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Dorothy Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex located at 6500 Vernon Woods, Drive, Building B, Sandy Springs, Georgia. Remaining 2010 dates – September 9, October 7, November 4, and December 2.

Please note that both the South Fulton Service Center and the Dorothy Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex locations require pre-registration. The cost of the seminar is currently $30.00 per person. You can find additional information about these seminars at Fulton County Families in Transition program website.

August 23, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Mental Incapacity

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The second ground under the statute is “[m]ental incapacity at the time of the marriage.” OCGA §19-5-3(2).

In Georgia, to have the mental capacity to be married, the party must be of sound mind and be at least 18 years of age (unless parental consent is provided). If either of these is lacking, the divorce can be based on the ground of mental incapacity so long as the incapacity is sufficiently proven.

August 20, 2010

Atlanta Divorce Lawyer's Guide to Grounds for Divorce - Intermarriage

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law. OCGA §19-5-3. The first ground under the statute is “[i]ntermarriage by persons within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity.” OCGA §19-5-3(1).

In Georgia, the prohibited degrees of relation are father and daughter/stepdaughter, mother and son/stepson, brother and sister (whole or half), grandparent and grandchild, aunt and nephew, or uncle and niece. OCGA §19-3-3(a). These marriages are void from their inception. OCGA §19-3-3(b). It should be noted that if a person marries another person to whom he/she knows is related, by blood or marriage, within one of these prohibited degrees, that person is subject to imprisonment. OCGA §19-3-3(a).

Because these marriages are void from inception, with this ground a person may get an annulment or a divorce. However, “where children are born or are to be born as a result of the marriage,” an annulment cannot be granted and the parties must pursue divorce. OCGA §19-4-1.

August 18, 2010

Telephone visitation

When one thinks of custody and visitation in a divorce case, the first thing that most likely comes to mind is: “When will I see my children?” An important aspect of visitation is not only when you will see your children, but also when you will be able to speak to them during the times in which your former spouse has custody/visitation. For many parents this is a no brainer – the children can speak to the other parent as often as they would like. In more adversarial divorces, however, this is not always the case. Sometimes one parent may feel that the other parent calls too often, disrupting his/her visitation or custodial time, or calls at inopportune times, when the children are doing homework or asleep.

Our family law firm recommends putting a clause in your settlement agreement addressing telephone visitation. It can be as simple as stating that the children may call the other parent at any time, but the parents may only once per day. It may also address issues such as one parent eavesdropping while the child(ren) is speaking to the other parent.

If you are unable to settle your divorce case and you believe telephone visitation may be an issue with your former spouse, be sure to bring it up to the Judge so that he/she may rule on it in the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce and your rights will be protected.

August 17, 2010

Joint Physical Custody and Legal Custody in Atlanta Divorces

As Atlanta divorce attorneys, we are often confronted with questions from parents who want to know more about joint physical custody and legal custody of their children. In order to answer these questions, further investigation is usually required on our end to discover exactly what the parent means by “joint custody.”

In Georgia, there are two aspects to custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parent has the right to make decisions concerning the care and welfare of the child. Physical custody refers to where the child will live on a daily basis. Absent serious misconduct by one of the parties, it is nearly routine in Atlanta child custody and divorce cases for the parties to be awarded joint legal custody of the children. This means that both parties are entitled to be made aware of all issues affecting the children’s welfare and that the parties must confer in good faith to try to reach an agreement regarding any major decisions affecting the children. Where the parties are granted joint legal custody, the court will also designate a mechanism for settling any disagreements between the parents (mediation, tiebreaking authority, etc.).

Joint physical custody is a different matter altogether. Many parents use the term “joint custody” when referring to the concept of 50/50 physical custody—an arrangement where the child spends equal amounts of time with each parent. This type of arrangement is most often set up so that the parents alternate week long periods with the child. There are many benefits to this type of custody arrangement, including giving the child the opportunity to build ongoing and lasting bonds with each parent. From a financial standpoint, it may also eliminate the need for either party to pay child support. If the parents cannot agree regarding joint custody, the Court will order that custody be awarded based upon the best interests of the child or children. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3.

August 10, 2010

What is a temporary hearing?

Unfortunately, it can often take a long time to finalize a contested divorce in Georgia. Often, there are issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later and, in those cases, a temporary hearing is held while the divorce action is pending. Issues addressed at a temporary hearing may be custody, visitation, child support, who will live in the marital home and who will pay bills while the divorce action is pending. The temporary order issued after the temporary hearing will direct the parties how to address these issues.

It is important to remember that a temporary hearing is, by it’s very name, temporary. The order issued after a temporary hearing will be a temporary order that will last only until a new temporary order addressing the same issues, or a final order in the divorce action. Though the judge may consider the temporary order and how it has been working in issuing his/her final order in the case, all issues may be re-litigated at a final hearing.

June 29, 2010

Equitable Division and the Declining Real Estate Market

As we have discussed on previous blogs, Georgia is an equitable distribution state, which means that a division of marital assets does not have to be equal, but merely a fair division of property dependent on the particular circumstances of the case. A major asset to be divided in many cases is the marital home. The options for equitably dividing the marital home are complicated by the declining real estate market.

If neither wants to nor can afford to remain in the marital home, an option is for the parties to put the house on the market. In this case, the parties can work together with an agent, or alternate, with one party being in charge of the sale for 6 months and then the other party being in charge for the next 6 months. Of course, this option presupposes that the house will sell in a reasonable period of time, which, in this market, may not be the case. During the time the house is on the market, the parties will continue to be responsible for mortgage payments, etc., and must work out who will live in the house and pay utilities.

Another option is for one party to keep the house and refinance to take the other party’s name off the loan(s). This seems simple enough, but the refinancing party must be able to take on the entire loan. Since all of the marital assets will be split incident to the divorce, each party will most likely end up with only half of what the parties had as a married couple. In addition, in the case of dual income families, the parties likely qualified for the mortgage with combined incomes. Both of these issues may make it difficult for the party who wants to remain in the house to qualify to put the entire loan amount into his/her name.

Finally, no matter which option the parties choose or the judge orders, there is the very real possibility that the house is worth less than the amount owed on it. In this situation, the parties may be faced with the possibility of having to come to the table with money upon the sale of the house, or possibly foreclosing.

May 18, 2010

Settlement Agreement Enforced Over Party's Objection

Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the enforcement of a divorce settlement agreement over the wife/mother's objection. In that case, the father filed for divorce and sought legal and physical custody of the parties’ children. Martinez v. Martinez, 301 Ga. App. 330 (2009). While the divorce proceedings remained pending, the father filed a motion to enforce a settlement agreement. He contended that the parties had reached the agreement wherein he would be the primary custodial parent and the mother would have visitation rights. Id. The trial court granted the father’s motion and entered a “Final Order on Custody and Visitation” in accordance with the terms of the settlement agreement. Id.

The mother appealed, alleging that the trial court erred in enforcing the settlement agreement “because she did not assent to the terms of the settlement and lacked capacity to contract at the time in question due to her medical condition,” and argued that the trial court “refused to receive any evidence from the parties” at the hearing on the father’s motion. Id. at 332. The mother’s allegations regarding evidence at the hearing, however, were disputed by the father and inconsistent with the trial court’s order on the motion. The Georgia Court of Appeals, therefore, affirmed, citing well established case law stating that “'[i]n order for the appellate court to determine whether the judgment appealed from was erroneous, it is the duty of the appellant to include in the record those items which will enable the appellate court to perform an objective review of the evidence and proceedings.'" Atwood v. Southeast Bedding Co., 236 Ga. App. 116 (1) (511 S.E.2d 232) (1999). Id. at 332-333. Further, "'where the proof necessary for determination of the issues on appeal is omitted from the record, an appellate court must assume that the judgment below was correct and affirm.'" Enchanted Valley RV Park Resort v. Weese, 241 Ga. App. 415, 417 (1) (c) (526 SE2d 124) (1999). Id. Because there was no transcript or other evidence in the record on appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals was bound to presume that the trial court was correct.

April 27, 2010

Custody and the child's choice

A judge can sometimes consider the child's choice in making a custody decision. In any contested custody case, the judge hearing and deciding the issue of custody has a duty “to exercise discretion to look to and determine solely what is for the best interest of the child and what will best promote the child's welfare and happiness and to make his or her award accordingly.” O.C.G.A. 19-9-3(a)(2). A factor that the judge will consider, as appropriate, is the child’s election as to which parent he would prefer to live.

In a custody case in which the child is 14 or older, “the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live,” and “[t]he child's selection for purposes of custody shall be presumptive unless the parent so selected is determined [by the judge] not to be in the best interests of the child.” O.C.G.A. 19-9-3(a)(5).

In a contested custody case in which the child is between 11 and 14 years of age, “the judge shall consider the desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody,” and “shall have complete discretion in making this determination.” O.C.G.A. 19-9-3(a)(6). For this age group, “the child's desires shall not be controlling.” The judge is to consider the child’s desires and has discretion in how to do so, but “the best interests of the child standard shall be controlling.” O.C.G.A. 19-9-3(a)(6).

April 22, 2010

How long do I have to pay child support?

According to the child support guidelines, a parent has a duty to support a minor child “until the child reaches the age of majority, dies, marries, or becomes emancipated, whichever first occurs.” OCGA 19-6-15(e). In addition, the court has the discretion to order a parent or parents “to provide financial assistance to a child who has not previously married or become emancipated, who is enrolled in and attending a secondary school, and who has attained the age of majority before completing his or her secondary school education, provided that such financial assistance shall not be required after a child attains 20 years of age.” Id. Thus, parents are required to support their children until the children reach 18 years of age, so long as the child is living, and not married or emancipated. However, the court has the option to extend the support obligation. For example, if a child turns 18 in March of his senior year of high school and continues to be enrolled in school, the court can require the child support to continue until the child graduates high school, but not past the age of 20. Parents have the option of including this extension in any settlement agreement as well.

May 14, 2009

Child Custody: Joint Custody vs Sole Custody in Georgia

Simply put, joint custody means that both parents share equal input and/or spend equal amount of time with the child/children. Sole custody is essentially the opposite – when only one parent has the decision making power and the child or children live almost all of the time with that one parent. Custody is actually broken into two categories (physical and legal) and then labeled joint or sole within each category. Physical custody describes where a child lives most of the time and what parent will have visitation, whereas legal custody describes access to records and major decisions such as to schooling, religion, extracurricular activities and non-emergency health procedures.

It is most common to see joint custody in the category of legal custody. Joint legal custody means that both parents have input and should be involved in major decisions. Per O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1, (Georgia parenting plan law) there must be a designated tiebreaker or final decision maker if the parties cannot agree (usually the primary physical custodian). This prevents the parties from needing the Court’s intervention every time there is no agreement on any one issue.

In the category of physical custody, the parties must designate a primary physical custodian and typically do not label physical custody under the “sole vs. joint” designation. The primary physical custodian is the person the child/children live with most of the time and the noncustodial parent has visitation or parenting time. According to O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 (Georgia child support law), even if the parties share equal amount of time with the child/children, the Court must still designate a primary custodian.

Continue reading "Child Custody: Joint Custody vs Sole Custody in Georgia" »

April 13, 2009

Divorce Settlement Agreements - Georgia Case Law Update

On January 29, 2009, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court, which held that the Husband’s claim for indemnification under the divorce settlement agreement was barred by res judicata. In Stone v. Stone, (A08A2020), the parties separated on August 28, 2005 and the Husband filed for divorce shortly thereafter. During the pending divorce, the Wife obtained five cash advances from an equity line of credit on the marital home and used the money for her own personal expenses. The Wife disclosed this action prior to finalizing the divorce and the parties’ settlement agreement reflected that the Husband would retain the marital home, but that the Wife would be responsible for, indemnify and hold Husband harmless from any liability arising out of this debt.

After the trial court entered a final decree incorporating the terms of the settlement agreement, the Husband sued the Wife for indemnification on the equity line of credit. The trial court dismissed the action after the Wife argued that Husband’s claim was barred by the prior divorce action because it could have been resolved at that time. The Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that “the breach allegation was not – and could not have been – adjudicated in the divorce proceeding, which concluded when the parties settled the case…” The Court of Appeals did not reach the merits of the Husband’s claim, but reversed the trial court’s dismissal.

March 20, 2009

Georgia’s Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit

Georgia’s Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (DRFA) is a sworn financial statement required by most counties in divorce and other family law cases in Georgia. The DRFA is an itemized list of your monthly income and expenses, and a list of your assets and debts including bank accounts, retirement accounts, houses, and credit cards.

The DRFA is extremely helpful for a number of reasons in family law cases. First, it is a good overview of the financial situation of the parties and of the marital estate. Second, the DRFA is extremely helpful in determining alimony. Alimony is awarded on a need vs. ability to pay basis and the DRFA quickly shows how much expendable income or deficit a person has on a monthly basis. Third, the DRFA requires the parties to think through the expenses for their children which they should receive credit for on the child support worksheets.

As a sworn statement, the DRFA is often relied upon in Court as a snapshot of your financial circumstances so it is important to be as honest and accurate as possible. Look at monthly bills and expenses and put the actual numbers on there. We recommend keeping all documents on which you based your DRFA numbers so they are easily accessible if your numbers are later challenged in Court.

October 30, 2008

What is the difference between a contested and uncontested divorce?

If you are thinking about filing for divorce and you contact an attorney, one of the first questions they will ask you is whether your divorce is going to be contested or uncontested. Often, the answer to that question is not so simple.

Generally speaking, when we ask that question we are trying to determine whether you and your spouse have discussed some (or all) of the issues that may be involved in your divorce and how far apart the two of you have been in those discussions. If you and your spouse have worked out all of the issues, such as equitable division, alimony, and child support, prior to contacting an attorney, then your divorce will most likely be uncontested. From an attorney’s perspective, in an uncontested divorce, an attorney for one of the parties will draft a settlement agreement reflecting the agreement, both parties will review it, there will be minimal, if any, changes to the agreement, and then it will be ready for the parties to sign and file with the court.

A contested divorce, on the other hand, generally refers to a situation where you may not have spoken to your spouse about the issues in your divorce or that you have been unable to come to an agreement upon the terms of the settlement agreement. In this type of matter, your attorney will negotiate the terms of the settlement agreement (if possible) with your spouse or, if applicable, the opposing attorney. While certainly some of these types of cases ultimately lead to litigation and eventually a trial, it is important to understand that the vast majority of these “contested” cases result in the parties ultimately resolving their differences outside of a courtroom.

Sometimes, it is difficult to determine whether a divorce is uncontested or contested in the beginning and what may seem to be an uncontested divorce can ultimately turn out to be contested in the end. The key question is whether you perceive that you and your spouse can work things out over the course of a divorce, but whether you have already done so. Hopefully this blog gives you a little better idea of what an attorney is really asking when he/she asks if your divorce is contested or uncontested.