There are many common (and less common) questions that come up in separation and divorce. These questions often involve major changes, unfamiliar processes, and stress.
Crash Course Divorce is designed to help with understanding the legal process and options through it in Georgia. It is a strong place to start to understand what will be expected. It also will make you a better client to an attorney (and you will better understand what your attorney tells you).
However, several other common questions are listed below. Got a different question, submit it and we may add it here.
We don't know whether your marriage can be saved. We do know that the legal process of divorce only requires one spouse to "want a divorce."
Sometimes people question whether they've exhausted all resources to save the marriage or rebuild the relationship. While marital counseling is commonly known and used, many people are not aware of "Discernment Counseling" as an option.
Financial stresses and differing priorities can create conflict. Daily Money Managers often can help the "family business" get organized and on track, even helping to align priorities.
Parenting can be very hard work. If the parental team is not singing from the same page of music, it can be harder. There is no shame in getting a professional (like a child development specialist or psychologist) or a parenting coach (yes, there are coaches and they are phenomenal) to help.
In short, this question is almost impossible to answer. But, three lesser known resources that may help answer that question are listed here.
The State of Georgia doesn't have a legal status of "Separated." Many other states do. The closest thing to a separation offered by Georgia is something called "Separate Maintenance."
Under federal laws, however, there is a status of legally separated that may apply to Georgians that typically applies in the taxation context. Yes, the feds can categorize a couple as legally separaed while the State of Georgia will not.
Divorce has an emotional component and a legal component. Both are a process...and the legal process usually takes less time than the emotional process.
The legal process of divorce is often described as clinical, unfeeling, and cold. It is structured to view the divorce more in line with a business transaction that has three parts: equitable division of marital assets and marital debts; support (child support and/or alimony); and child custody/parenting time. Punishment is not part of the equation.
So, to "get" a divorce - the legal process must be navigated. How a family navigates those waters can take many different routes, but all will require a judge's decree. See Video "Four Ways to Divorce in Georgia".
Every state addresses child support differently.
In Georgia, child support is based upon the earnings and/or earning capacities of both parents. It is a two-step process outlined in this video "Explained: Child Support in Georgia" and that utilizes both of the Parent's DRFA's and the Child Support Worksheet (aka Calculator). Ultimately, parents can use the Calculator to get a fairly good idea of what the State may expect when it comes to child support.
See the blog article "5 Documents" for Divorcing Parents.
The question is incorrect. It assumes that the children are a prize awarded to one parent over the other parent. The legal process of divorce is different from the legal process of terminating the parental rights of any individual. Confusing these two process is a misstep.
Where both parents are legally "fit" to parent, the court will generally focus its attention on how parents will share physical and legal aspects of their custody of their child(ren) and/or how they will share time parenting their children (visitation) and/or how they will share financial support obligations to their child(ren).
Review the State's "Parenting Plan" form to get an understanding of what the Court will be interested in establishing for post-divorce parenting duties and responsibilities of the parents. A copy of this form is reviewed in our Crash Course Divorce seminar.
Utimately, a judge will issue the order that will "equitably" divide marital assets and debts. This term - "equitable" - can mean a 50/50 split, but usually it is not such a precise split of the marital estate. A video here on equitable division in Georgia.
Many individuals "want the house" and attempt to negotiate that item in a settlement agreement. But, often they want the house without taking the time to evaluate whether they can truly afford to keep it. Too often getting the house leads to financial harships after the divorce is final.
Drafting the "Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit" (Video Here) with an eye to projecting a "post-divorce" financial budget can be a very helpful exercise to determine whether you really will be in a position to maintain and own the house.
The larger question, beyond getting the house, is whether the house will be a financial burden or if you will be financially secure enough after the divorce to weather the costs of a house and its planned and surprise maintenance needs. It's a stress-filled question for most. It is one that a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst can help you to answer because of their training and software resources. More on CDFA's here.
First, alimony is governed by state law. So, the legal issue of alimony can differ from state to state.
Secondly, alimony in Georgia is not based upon a formula. Instead, the judge is given several factors to consider in deciding whether alimony is warranted and, if so, how much and for how long.
Third, the statutory factors break down into balancing the "need" for alimony against the "ability" of the other person to pay for alimony. But what may be more informative than this balancing act is knowledge of what the judge in your case (or your jurisdiction) has a history of doing. This is a reason to "sit in" on a case and/or buy an hour of an attorney's time who practices frequently (very frequently) in that judge's courtroom.
Fourth, in Georgia, a judge will not be able to award alimony to be paid to an individual whose infidelity lead directly to the demise of the marriage. If you suspect that this bar to alimony may apply to your situation, it is worth buying an hour of an attorney's time to find out. Simple facts can make significant differences.
An attorney can help with the legal process, but not with the emotional processing of divorce. Remember that counselors take insurance; attorneys do not (and don't have that kind of training).
So, why talk about counselors here? Because knowing what you need from a lawyer is critical in divorce because overpurchasing legal services is a common issue. Watch "4 Ways to Hire an Attorney."
Many people hire an attorney believing that the attorney will work out the details of the divorce with the other side in a collaborative manner (problem solve), but they actually hired the attorney to litigate their divorce (legal battle). These are two different services, and clients must be clear about what they want their attorney to do for them (often both of these services are desired).
There are other ways to use a lawyer. And the decision to hire an attorney should be made with consideration of what you need, what attorneys can provide, and what you can afford. Note: a common complaint from divorce attorneys about clients is that their clients look to them for help processing the emotions of the divorce. And, it's an expensive misuse of an attorney's time (who bills by the hour).
Some say, "Mediate Now, Mediate Later." Why? In Georgia, it is a state court rule that in all but a handful of cases, divorcing parties must participate in mediation before they can proceed to trial. The rationale behind this rule is the fact that mediation works.
So, it may not be an issue of can you mediate, but rather that you likely will be required to participate in mediation if your divorce case doesn't settle.
Mediation is a negotiation process. In divorce mediations, the spouses work with a mediator (with or without legal counsel) to work out some or all issues of the divorce. If all issues are resolved, the spouses can submit their agreement to the court to resolve their pending divorce case or to file for an "uncontested" divorce.
Except when the court orders (or "refers") a case to mediation, going to mediation will require both spouses to agree to participate in mediation. So, outside of a court's referral, spouses can mediate at any time if they both agree to do so (this is often called "private mediation" rather than court referred mediation). So, you can mediate at any time....so long as everyone agrees to do so.
in starting the legal process of divorce, preparation can be key if there is time to do so. Sometimes, a divorce has been filed and the court's time-line and deadlines have begun - making the process more of a scramble than a manageable set of tasks.
Assuming that you have time to prepare and step through the transitions that divorce prompts, a starting point is getting informed. Sure, you can Google-search a storm, but ensure that your online research is specific to the state in which your divorce will occur. For Georgians, there are significant informational courses and seminars such as our 90-minute "Crash Course Divorce" (which can be taken as an onine class or a traditional class) or a seminar with Divorce 911.
A next step is the DRFA. This document asks for an inventory of debts and assets, as well as a monthly budget. It is a lot of work and feels like a tax return. Consider using a CDFA to get the financials in order.
If there are children, parents should consider taking a divorcing parents course (in many Georgia courts, such a course is required). More below. Also, it can be helpful for both parents, when possible, to consult with a child therapist on the how, when and what to tell the child(ren), how one parent moves out, and what to be on the "look out for" as they are processing the changes.
For divorcing parents...there's an app for that. It's never to early to get organized for the kids' sake. Consider using a scheduling app like "Our Family Wizard" and setting up a joint email account for communications involving the children (schools, sports, doctors, the children's friends' parents, etc.). The faster you begin, the faster the wrinkles will be ironed out.
There are many online classes for co-parenting. There also are in-person classes. Take one! You're no expert, and on-the-job training errors can be avoided.
Additionally, most metro-Atlanta courts require that parents take such a course before a divorce will be granted. The "certificate of attendance" is typically submitted as evidence of the satisfaction of this requirement. Regiser sooner rather than later - the classes are usually around $30. More here.
Taking a class, such as Crash Course Divorce, can help you understand what to expect, what resources are available, and what options exist.
Getting advice on the emotional impact, the financial impact, and the legal aspects of divorce from professionals can be the best step to avoiding mistakes and misspending time, money and emotional capital.
The emotional process of divorce typically lasts longer than the legal process of divorce. The stress, impact to identity, and more can affect you in unexpected ways...and for years to come if not addressed.
While a therapist or psychologist can assist in this processing, there are other options that may be helpful...particularly if counseling isn't working for you. Divorce Recovery programs (many churches offer them - some are called "Journeys") are short-term programs that are designed expressly for individuals who are in the first-year after divorce. Some programs are single-sex; others are co-ed.
There are also some individuals who specialize in post-divorce and/or grief coaching. Coaches differ from counselors in that they focus on short-term goals and actions rather than on processing events of the past. For individuals who are in a rut, despite counseling, a coach may be a helpful supplemental support.
At 2 Step Divorces, our divorce mediators hold 3-Hour appointments as the normal appointment. Mediators charge $250/hour, a fee that is divided between the parties (unless another arrangement is made).
Between appointments, parties often have a "homework list" of things to do to move discussions forward. It also provides them with time to review drafted agreements that they can have an attorney, CPA or other professional review before finalizing.
This format allows parties to focus energy on necessary tasks, keep control of the process and timing, and avoid unnecessary fees by doing things that they can without paying a mediator to "wait."
For families with minor children, typically parents will schedule 3-5 appointments. For spouses without minor children, typically 1-3 appointments are scheduled. For 9 hours of mediation services, the total cost is $2,250.00.
In contrast, 9 hours of attorney time for each spouse (9 hours x 2 Attorneys) totals $6,300.00 (assuming a billable rate of $350/hr).
Online appointments can be made here.
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