Self Represented Divorce

How Do I Get Divorced?

Do I have to hire a lawyer?   No, but…

Did you know that you are not required to use a lawyer to get divorced? A self represented divorce involves completing all of the legal steps to file for divorce without a lawyer, but it isn’t a good idea in all situations.  Both uncontested and contested divorces can have legal consequences if handled improperly. The good news is that there is different degrees of attorney involvement in your divorce.  Learn more.

If you decided to go it alone, all counties in Georgia have the forms and procedures you need to complete a self represented divorce, and there are also various services available to guide you through the process.

What is the difference between an Uncontested Divorce and a Contested Divorce?

Represent yourself in an Uncontested Divorce

Many people think an uncontested divorce means that both of the spouses want to get divorced. However, it’s not that simple. An uncontested divorce means that the couple has agreed upon everything you have to decide when you get divorced. This includes the division of property and assets, child custody, child support, and alimony. A couple in an uncontested divorce are able to write a complete Settlement Agreement detailing how they plan to handle each of these issues, and they are in total agreement on the arrangements they have made.

Represent yourself in a Contested Divorce

On the other hand, a contested divorce is when the two parties disagree on aspects of the divorce and are unable to come to an agreement on their own. In a contested divorce, unless the spouses can come to an agreement, it can end up in court where either a judge or a jury will decide the aspects of the divorce. This is the biggest difference between an uncontested and contested divorce. Keep reading on for details on the basic process of both a self represented uncontested divorce and contested divorce.

Uncontested Divorce Process

1 Getting Started

When you decide you want to file for divorce, being prepared will make it easier to complete the paperwork. You will want to gather information about several things including:

  • Your income and your spouse’s income
  • Detailed listing of all assets, including real estate, vehicles, savings accounts, any whole life insurance policies, and retirement accounts
  • All of your personal property (furniture, jewelry, etc)
  • All of the debt that each of you have, both in your own names and joint debt.

In addition to the list of real estate, vehicles, and personal property, you will want to know approximately what each item is worth, along with what amount of money is still owed on each of them.

2 Prepare the Divorce Papers

Now you are ready to pick up the appropriate packet of paperwork from the superior court of your county. The superior court of each county will have a packet of forms that you can obtain for your individual divorce situation (i.e., whether you have minor children or not). For an uncontested divorce, you will be completing the forms together since you have already agreed on all of the issues. Each county has slightly different paperwork, but each county will have a Parenting Plan and a Settlement Agreement. If there is any way you can sit down and do some of it together, you will be saving yourself a lot of money in legal fees.

Parenting Plan & Child Custody

Obviously, this only applies to you if you have minor children. If you have children under 18, you will need to complete a Parenting Plan document. This document details whether you will have a joint custody arrangement, sole custody with visitation, or other arrangement. It explains which parent will have custody of the child each day and each evening, and also how the holidays and your child’s school vacations will impact custody. You will also make a distinction about who spends time with the child during his or her birthday, on Mother’s Day,  Father’s Day, etc.

Settlement Agreement

A Settlement Agreement is a document that describes how you and your spouse are dividing up everything you own. It addresses issues including alimony, property division such as the marital home, vehicles, and any other personal property. If there are children involved, it touches on child custody, visitation, child support, and health and life insurance for the children.

However, it does not go into very much detail in these areas, which is why the parenting plan exists. You do not need to make decisions in all of these areas for the court. For example, if you cannot afford life insurance, you would just indicate that you are not asking the court to address that issue.

Not agreeing on everything? Now would be a great time to go to mediation. It is during the mediation process that the issues on a Settlement Agreement and a Parenting Plan are discussed and negotiated. Chances are good that you would be able to come to agreements on these issues during mediation, and then when you go to court, you could still file as an uncontested divorce and have a more quickly granted divorce.

3 Filing for Divorce

Once you have all of the paperwork completed, you are ready to file for divorce.

Pay the Fees – Travel to the superior court in your county with three copies of the paperwork and money to pay the filing fee. Make sure to check the hours and whether you need an appointment. The fee is different in each county, but is typically between $200 – $220.

Serve Your Spouse – Once you turn in the paperwork, you will be asked if you need to serve the papers to the other party (your spouse). Since this is for an uncontested divorce, your spouse will have already signed an Acknowledgement of Service form in front of a notary so that he or she does not have to be served with divorce papers at home or work.

File Divorce Papers – The clerk at the superior court will make sure your paperwork is complete and then keep the originals of your paperwork. The other two copies will be stamped and given to you for you to give to your spouse and for you to keep for your records.

4 Waiting Period

When a divorce is uncontested, and there is a signed Settlement Agreement, there is a 31 day waiting period from when the respondent was served with divorce papers to when the final hearing can be held.

5 Finalizing the Divorce

The final divorce hearing will happen in one of two ways:

1   File a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings which requests that the judgment on your case be granted without a hearing, and without you having to go to family court. However, this option will not be granted if the divorce is contested, if any of the documents have not been filled out correctly, or if the family court judge has decided that more information is needed to decide the case.

2  Request a final hearing in family court where both parties will  appear before a judge. Either way, after the final hearing, the divorce should be granted and you will officially be divorced.

Contested Divorce Process

1 Getting Started

This process goes exactly the same way whether the divorce is going to be contested or not. When you decide you want to file for divorce, being prepared will make it easier to complete the paperwork. You will want to gather information about several things including:

  • Your income and your spouse’s income
  • All of your assets, including real estate, vehicles, savings accounts, any whole life insurance policies, and retirement accounts
  • All of your personal property (furniture, jewelry, etc)
  • All of the debt that each of you have, both in your own names and joint debt.

In addition to the list of real estate, vehicles, and personal property, you will want to know approximately what each item is worth, along with what amount of money is still owed on each of them.

2 Prepare the Divorce Papers

After you have gathered this information, you will be ready to get the appropriate packet of paperwork from the superior court of your county. Each county will have a packet of forms that you can obtain for your situation (i.e., whether you have minor children or not). For a contested divorce, you may be completing the forms on your own or you may complete some of them with your spouse and some independently.

Each county has slightly different paperwork, but each county will have a Parenting Plan and a Settlement Agreement. Since the divorce is contested, you will not be able to agree on every aspect of one or both of the documents. You can make a proposal of a Parenting Plan and a Settlement Agreement, based on what you think the best arrangement would be. This can be the starting point for negotiations with your spouse.

3 Filing for Divorce

Once you have all of the paperwork that you are able to complete finished, you are ready to file for divorce.

Pay the Fee – Travel to the superior court in your county with three copies of the paperwork and money to pay the filing fee. Make sure to check the hours and whether you need an appointment. The fee is different in each county, but is typically between $200 – $220.

Serve Your Spouse – Once you turn in the paperwork, you will be asked if you need to serve the papers to the other party (your spouse). Even though the divorce is contested, you still want to ask your spouse if he or she would sign an Acknowledgement of Service form in front of a notary before you go to file. This saves the time, expense, and embarrassment of having your spouse served with divorce papers at home or work. That is the easier and cheaper way to deal with the serving of papers in this situation.

If you are able to complete a signed and notarized Acknowledgement of Service, you will turn it into the clerk. If not, you will arrange to have your spouse served with papers when you go to file for divorce. Each county does this differently, but often the Sheriff’s Department or a process server agency will do it.

File Divorce Papers – When you turn in the paperwork that you do have, the clerk at the superior court will make sure your paperwork is complete and then keep the originals of your paperwork. The other two copies will be stamped and given to you to be passed along to your spouse, and to keep for your records.

If you do not turn in a signed Settlement Agreement, many judges will order couples to go to mediation prior to their final hearing. If you go through mediation first, you will be able to choose your mediator and complete it on your own timeline.  This avoids you both feeling rushed to finish mediation, and having to choose a mediator from a list that the court gives to you.

Want to settle the disagreements before filing? It may be beneficial to go to mediation prior to filing the paperwork to see if you can settle the disagreements you and your spouse have. There is a good chance that you will be able to settle the issues at mediation and change the divorce from a contested divorce to an uncontested divorce, leading to a shorter waiting period until your divorce can be granted.

4 Waiting Period

If you have not been able to reach an agreement with your spouse, and there is no signed Settlement Agreement, the waiting period for your final hearing is 46 days. Often, couples are ordered to go to mediation during this time period if they have not turned in a signed settlement agreement.

5 Final Hearing

Since the divorce is contested, you will go to family court and appear in front of the judge for your final hearing. The judge will make rulings on alimony, child custody, child support, and division of property if no agreements have been reached on those topics.

Again, consider going to mediation before your divorce reaches this point. Do you want a judge that doesn’t know your family to decide where your child lives or how your assets get divided?  Mediation is very effective, but even if it doesn’t solve all of your disputes, it can lead to compromises on the large important decisions.