Divorce: A legal action which ends a marriage and addresses issues such as child custody, visitation, child support, division of property and debt, alimony and attorney's fees.
Grounds for Divorce: There are thirteen legal grounds for divorce in Georgia, including adultery, cruel treatment, habitual intoxication and desertion. Georgia allows a "no fault divorce" on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If one person in the couple wants a divorce, the other person cannot prevent the divorce.
Uncontested Divorce: The most cost efficient divorce (financially and emotionally) is when the parties agree on all issues and, before the lawsuit is filed, the parties sign a Settlement Agreement prepared by an attorney. This is the best way to become divorced. However, no one should verbally agree to a settlement or sign any paperwork without having a competent, family law attorney who is working on their behalf review the agreement.
The Complaint: The Plaintiff (the spouse who files first) files a verified Complaint with the Clerk of the Superior Court. The Complaint tells the Court and the Defendant that the Plaintiff wants a divorce, why the Plaintiff wants a divorce, and what the Plaintiff is asking for as a resolution to the divorce action (i.e., to live in the house, have custody of the children, receive child support, etc.). The Complaint is served upon (handed to) the Defendant by the Sheriff or a private processor server. Alternatively, the Defendant can "acknowledge" service by signing a form.
The Answer: The Defendant has thirty (30) days to file a written response to the Complaint (the "Answer to the Divorce Complaint") with the Court. In the Answer, the Defendant responds to the Plaintiff's Complaint, and often, files a Counterclaim which details for the Court and the Plaintiff what the Defendant would like the resolution of the divorce to be.
The Discovery Period: The Discovery Period is usually six months but can be shorter or longer. Discovery is when parties use the legal process to obtain information. A spouse may require the other to formally answer written questions under oath or to produce certain documents. A spouse may require the other spouse or other witnesses in the case to answer questions in person under oath at a deposition.
Entities who are not parties to the lawsuit (such as employers, lovers, banks, babysitters, etc.) can also be required to produce information. Discovery is a time consuming and costly process that can sometimes be handled informally. Nichole makes discovery requests when she believes there will be a benefit to the case and after discussing the pros and cons of the discovery process with her client.
The Negotiated Settlement: Divorce litigants are usually required to attempt to settle the case through the process of mediation prior to the Court hearing the case. Settling a case should be less costly and less time consuming than having a trial. Voluntary compliance is more likely when a person has agreed to something than when it is forced on him/her by a judge. This is important because enforcing court orders is an expensive and frustrating process.
There are the emotional benefits to not airing the family's "dirty laundry" in public and to having the certainty of knowing what the order will say. A litigant should attend mediation with a flexible plan about what he/she would like the result of the case to be.
Nichole will guide and direct her clients during settlement negations; however, Nichole cannot and will not force a client into settling a case. The decision to settle (or not to settle) belongs solely to the client. For more information on divorce mediation in Henry County (and the surrounding area), visit the website for the Office of Dispute Resolution, Sixth Judicial Circuit at www.adr6th.org.
The Trial: For litigants, trials can be expensive, stressful and risky. However, trials are necessary to end unreasonable settlement negotiations. At the trial, the Plaintiff presents his/her side to the judge or the jury through witness testimony and documents. The Defendant is able to question the Plaintiff's witnesses (cross-examination) and object to documents that should not be considered under the rules of evidence.
Then, the Defendant presents his/her side in the same manner, and the Plaintiff has the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and object to documents. Then rebuttal information is presented. At the end of the trial, the fact finder (the judge or the jury) determines what happens. If the case is before a judge, the judge may tell everyone the ruling that day or the judge may take the case "under advisement" and rule at some later date. Once the court's ruling is reduced to a written order and filed with the Clerk of Court, the parties are divorced.
Nichole likes trials. Nichole's fierce competiveness and fondness for a good fight was what drove her to work her way through Agnes Scott College and the University of Georgia School of Law and become a trial attorney. However, because of the expense and the risk involved (no one can ever predict what the outcome of trial will be), Nichole seriously and thoughtfully pursues negotiating a settlement before recommending a trial.
Post Trial: For the thirty (30) days following the date of the divorce, either party may file an appeal. In addition, for a limited time, either party may file post-trial motions, asking the court to reconsider or change its decision. Under some circumstances (especially in cases involving children), a party may later file for a modification of the original order, starting a whole new lawsuit.
The above is limited information about a topic which could fill several books; by its nature, it is incomplete and generalized. No one should rely on the information above as legal advice. Each case is different. Nichole gives individualized advice to clients who have paid her and have a written contract with her.