Family Law Attorney - Chatham County
When divorce and other family law challenges come into your life or your family's life, it can be difficult to know where to turn. For many of us, our family relationships form the foundation of who we are. Divorce and other family law matters challenge that foundation by redefining those relationships or causing those relationships to end. Cole Law provides experienced attorneys based in Savannah that specialize in several areas regarding family law.
If you are in need of a divorce attorney, child custody lawyer, or are facing other family law issues, you are likely feeling a variety of emotions. Or, you may simply wish to have your situation behind you as soon as possible. When facing a divorce or family law issue, it helps to have an honest and compassionate litigator on your side. The Gore Law Firm utilizes a client first approach to all of our cases by providing experienced legal insight and compassionate representation to all of our clients. This approach allows us to provide individualized legal services to accomplish your goals. Our focus is what is best for you and for your family. We will help you resole your situation while protecting your legal rights as a parent or partner in marriage.
Georgia has 13 grounds for divorce. One ground, that the marriage is irretrievably broken, is not based upon the fault of either party. This no-fault ground for divorce is the most commonly used. To prove that the marriage is irretrievably broken, you must only prove that the parties are living separate and apart and that there is no hope of reconciliation. The other 12 grounds are based upon the fault of one or both of the parties. The fault grounds for divorce are adultery, desertion, mental or physical abuse, marriage between persons who are too closely related, mental incapacity at the time of marriage, impotency at the time of marriage, force or fraud in obtaining the marriage, pregnancy of the wife unknown to the husband at the time of the marriage, conviction and imprisonment for certain crimes, habitual intoxication or drug addiction and mental illness.
How Long Will It Take To Get My Divorce?
How long the divorce process takes depends on many factors. First, if the parties have reached an agreement as to how they will handle the issues of property division, child custody, child support, and alimony, then this is what is called an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce may be obtained as quickly as 31 days after the complaint is served on your spouse. However, even where the parties have reached an agreement and are filing an uncontested divorce, the court must hold a hearing. The exact timing of the hearing will be based upon the schedule of the judge assigned to your case.
If you have not reached an agreement with your spouse as to all issues in the divorce, you will have what is called a contested divorce. A contested divorce will take much longer than an uncontested divorce. Once the complaint is served, both parties are allowed a 6 month period to conduct discovery. Discovery in a legal proceeding is the process of obtaining information about matters that are relevant to your case. Most commonly, we will send written questions to your spouse and take your spouses deposition. We may also send requests to financial institutions or other people or companies to obtain documents relevant to your case. When discovery is concluded, we will request a trial date, which will be subject to the court's schedule. The entire process of obtaining a contested divorce can take as long as one year, if the case progresses all the way through trial.
An uncontested divorce is a divorce where both parties agree on every detail of the divorce. This means, that both parties must agree on how property will be divided,whether and how much alimony will be paid,the specifics of any child custody arrangement,whether and how much child support will be paid, and so forth.
If any issue cannot be agreed upon, down to which vehicle each party will take and what holidays you will each see your children, your divorce cannot be uncontested. The benefits of an uncontested divorce are two fold: (1) an uncontested divorce is considerably less expensive than a contested divorce, and (2) you have certainty in the result, because you created the result.
Do I need an attorney for an uncontested divorce?
Even though you may have reached an agreement on all issues surrounding your divorce, you may still need an attorney. Reaching the agreement may be much easier than properly getting that agreement into a format that will comply with the law and operate as you intend. A failure to have your agreement properly documented can become a problem in the future. An attorney may also direct you to consider issues you have not yet thought about. Hiring an attorney will increase your up-front cost, but will likely save you money down the road.
When retaining an attorney for an uncontested divorce, please be aware that we can only represent one party. We cannot represent both you and your spouse. The Gore Law Firm will make sure your divorce is handled appropriately while also ensuring that your rights are protected.
How long will my uncontested divorce take?
An uncontested divorce may be obtained as quickly as 31 days after the complaint is served on your spouse. However, it takes time to put together the paperwork and have it filed with the court. Further, even where the parties have reached an agreement and are filing an uncontested divorce, the court must hold a hearing to finalize the divorce. The exact timing of the hearing will be based upon the schedule of the judge assigned to your case. Typically, an uncontested divorce will take roughly sixty days.
A contested divorce is a divorce where both parties cannot or have not agreed on at least one issue to be decided in the divorce. The contested issue could be any issue that must be decided in a divorce, including child custody, property division, alimony, or child support. While we encourage clients to try to reach an agreement, this is not always possible or appropriate for the given case. If your case is contested, you can expect it to be a long and difficult process. However, the contested issues are likely the most important issues in your life, and must be dealt with appropriately. We can help guide you through this difficult process.
A contested case begins with the filing of a complaint, just as any civil lawsuit. Once the complaint is filed, it must be personally served on your spouse by the sheriff or a court approved private process server. If you have received service of a divorce, do not be alarmed. This is a normal procedure and must be accomplished in order to begin the process. However, you will only have 30 days from the date you were served in which to answer the complaint, so you must act quickly to retain counsel if you have not already done so. As with any lawsuit, divorces have a plaintiff and a defendant. There may be strategic advantages to either situation, and if you are the one thinking of getting a divorce, we can discuss which may be better for you. One primary advantage to filing first as the plaintiff is that you can present your case first at trial.
After the complaint is served and an answer is filed, a temporary hearing is often the next step. If you have a contested case, there will probably be issues that must be resolved on a temporary basis prior to a final trial. If so, we may request a temporary hearing. At the temporary hearing, the court will set temporary guidelines directing how the parties must treat issues pending the final resolution of the case. The temporary hearing will usually address child custody, child support, parenting time, alimony, treatment of debts, and possession of property such as cars and the marital house. The court's decision as to how these issues are handled will not be final, but will only control until the final hearing.
Discovery is the process by which each party is allowed to obtain detailed information from one another through a variety of processes. This information may be obtained from the opposing spouse or from third parties with information or documents relevant to the case. Most often, we will send written questions called Interrogatories; written document requests called Requests for Production, and conduct a deposition of your spouse or other parties with relevant information.
Every divorce in Savannah must be mediated prior to a final hearing or trial. Chatham County has a standing order requiring that all divorce cases be mediated. Mediation is a structured settlement conference with an independent third-party neutral acting as mediator. The mediation generally consists of the two parties sitting in separate rooms with their attorneys, sending messages related to settlement back and forth through the mediator. You are not required to settle your case at mediation, but you are required to attend and participate in good faith. Many cases are settled at mediation. However, if your case does not settle at mediation or any other time, you will be required to have a trial.
A trial can be in front of a judge or a jury, depending on your case. At trial, each side will present witnesses and cross examine the opposing witnesses. After hearing both parties witnesses and considering the documents presented at trial, the judge or jury will come to a decision on all contested issues. Unless your case is appealed, this should be the end of your case, and your divorce will be finalized.
If you have children and are thinking about divorce, you will also have to think about how the divorce may impact your children. As part of the divorce process, the court will award custody to one of or both of the parents.
Custody is divided into two types: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right of the parent to make major decisions affecting the child's life, such as religion, medical care, and education. Physical custody refers to which parent has the actual possession and control of the child or children. Both types of custody can be given to either spouse, or the court may award, or you may agree on joint custody. Joint legal custody means that both parents share in the decision making. Joint physical custody means that the children divide their time more or less equally between the two parents.
In awarding custody to one or both parents, the court's only job is to do what is in the child's best interest. While this is the only goal of the court, in reaching this decision, the court considers many factors, including:
- The wishes of the parents
- The wishes of the child
- The relationship of the child with the parents, siblings, and others in the child's life
- The mental and physical health of the parents or others in the child's life.
Depending on the child's age, the child's preference to be with one parent or the other will be given greater weight. For children under age 11, the child's wishes are not considered. For children ages 11 to 14, the child's wishes are considered but are not binding. For children ages 14 or over, the child has the right to select the parent that the child wants to live with, unless the parent is determined to be unfit.
Our Savannah law firm aims to provide each of our clients with legal support from the beginning to ending of any case involving family law. Whether you need an adoption attorney, divorce attorney, or child custody lawyer, we are here to help you through this time and enable you to fully understand all of the steps in family law processes.