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Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked
Questions

Civil Court Cases, Domestic Relation Cases

Civil Court Cases

1. Does the court have blank or standard forms for filing a complaint/petition?

2. In what court do I file my case?

3. How much is it to file a complaint?

4. What is a complaint or petition?

5. Can a complaint/petition be handwritten?

6. What is the procedure for filing a complaint/petition as a pro se litigant?

7. Do I file my case in the county of which the opposing party resides or in my county?

8. What do I have to do to serve an opposing party with a complaint or petition?

9. Does the Sheriff serve a complaint or petition to the opposing party or can I serve them myself?

10. How long will it take the Sheriff's Department to serve the opposing party with a petition?

11. How do I get the defendant served if he/she does not reside in my county?

12. Why does the opposing party need notice of the case?

13. What happens if the opposing party is not served with a petition?

14. Does my case have to be published in the paper?

15. I have been served with a complaint. What do I have to do to answer the complaint?

16. What is an answer?

17. How do I file an answer?

18. What happens if I do not file an answer?

19. Do I have to mail my answers to the attorney of the opposing party, to the Court, or both?

20. Do I have to pay the court filing fee again if my paperwork is done incorrectly?

21. Do I need to hire an attorney?

22. Can I call the attorney of the opposing party who filed this suit against me?

23. What legal resources are offered to those who cannot afford an attorney?

24. What can I do if I cannot afford to pay court costs?

25. I cannot afford an attorney and the legal aid office will not help me. What should I do?

26. If I do not know what court document(s) I need to fill out, who do I ask for help?

27. What is a motion?

28. How does a case get on the court calendar?

29. How much notice does the opposing party need to appear in court?

30. How long does it take to have a hearing scheduled?

31. Do I count calendar or business days?

32. How will I be contacted about the date of my (hearing, trial, divorce)?

33. Do I have to appear in court?

34. Do I need to bring witnesses to testify on my behalf?

35. What if I am unavailable to attend court on the specified day?

36. Can I ask for a continuance in my case?

37. How do I get an emergency hearing?

38. Can an attorney schedule a hearing without asking me?

39. Can I talk to the judge about my case?

40. What kind of questions will they ask me in court?

41. Where can I get an excuse for work or school for proof of being in court as a witness or party?

42. If I have been summoned for jury duty, can I be excused from service or get proof of service from the court?

43. How long do I have to wait for a final judgment from the judge or jury?

44. Does the court prepare the final order in my case?


Domestic Relation Cases

1. How do I file for divorce?

2. How much does it cost to file for divorce?

3. What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?

4. Are there rules and procedures that I must follow to get a divorce?

5. What are the different grounds for filing for a divorce?

6. Do my grounds have to be in the complaint/petition?

7. Do I have to appear in court if my divorce is uncontested?

8. Can I get a divorce without going to the seminar for divorcing parents (if this applies to your county)?

9. Who has to appear in court for the final divorce decree to be signed?

10. How long after filing for divorce do I have to wait before a decree will be granted?

11. When will the judge make a decision in my case if one was not made at the hearing?

12. How long do I have to wait to get remarried?

13. How do I get a copy of my divorce decree?

14. What is an annulment?

15. In what court are the family violence cases filed?

16. How do I obtain a family violence restraining order?

17. How do I file a restraining order if it is not family violence?

18. How do I get copies from an adoption file?

Civil Court Cases

1. Does the court have blank or standard forms for filing a complaint/petition?

Some legal action forms are included in the Georgia Code or in the Uniform Court Rules. Standard or example forms are available for many types of cases filed in the Magistrate and Probate Court. There are two web sites that contain examples of these forms: www.georgiacourts.org/aoc/selfhelp and www.gaprobate.org. In addition, the Family Division of the Fulton County Superior Court has developed various forms for filing domestic actions which can be found at www.fultonfamilydivision.com. Georgia Legal Services has forms for obtaining protective orders available on their web site at www.glsp.org. Other example forms may be located in form books available in law school libraries, county libraries, or on local court web sites.

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2. In what court do I file my case?

There are several different levels of trial courts in Georgia with each having specific jurisdiction to handle civil cases. These trial courts include: superior, state, probate and magistrate courts. The Superior and State Courts deal with many types of civil cases such as account, contract, and tort cases, but only a Superior Court can hear cases involving title to land, divorce, child custody, and requests for injunctive relief (including equitable relief). Magistrate Court can handle civil claims cases requesting a judgment up to $15,000.00 in damages. Probate court deals mostly with cases involving wills and other types of estates of deceased individuals, guardianships, and mental health issues.

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3. How much is it to file a complaint?

The fee for filing a civil complaint varies according to the court in which you file your case and sometimes by the type of action filed with the court. In Probate Court, the fee varies by the type of filing, such as whether the action is to probate a will in solemn form or to obtain letters of administration. The fees are set out in the state statutes. When filing a case, it is a good idea to contact the clerk of the court in the jurisdiction in which the case is going to be filed to obtain an accurate quote of the fees required for filing.

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4. What is a complaint or petition?

A complaint or petition is a document filed with the Court to initiate a case by one party against another party for relief. It is intended to give the defendant notice of the claim being made.

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5. Can a complaint/petition be handwritten?

Yes, but it must be LEGIBLE. However, it is better to type a complaint or petition.

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6. What is the procedure for filing a complaint/petition as a pro se litigant?

The procedures for filing a complaint are the same for a pro se litigant as for one who is represented by an attorney. The complaint should be written, filed and date stamped by the Clerk of Court, and a copy of the complaint must be provided to the defendant. Some complaints are required to be verified (sworn to under oath) such as domestic and probate court cases. Notice of the complaint/petition may be served on the defendant by one of the following types of process servers: the sheriff or marshal, an authorized private process server, by publication or by a letter requesting a waiver of service by the defendant. A pro se litigant should consult the statutes to determine the proper mode of service.

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7. Do I file my case in the county of which the opposing party resides or in my county?

In most cases, you must file your complaint in the county in which the opposing party resides. However, you are responsible for determining the proper venue or county in which to file your case. You will need to research the state law to determine the proper county in which to file your case.

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8. What do I have to do to serve an opposing party with a complaint or petition?

If a defendant does not waive service, then the Sheriff or Marshal or a private process server approved by the Court will attempt to serve your complaint on the defendant. You must provide a stamped copy of the filed complaint to the Sheriff, Marshal, or private process server along with an entry of service form. This paperwork should provide the server the name of the person to be served and the address where service should be delivered. You must pay the applicable fee for service. There is also a process for asking the opposing party to waive service found in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 9-11-4 (d and l). If as a defendant you fail to respond to this waiver request you may have to pay the costs of service.

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9. Does the Sheriff serve a complaint or petition to the opposing party or can I serve them myself?

Only the Sheriff or a duly authorized private server may serve a complaint. On the other hand, a party may request (in writing) the defendant to waive service.

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10. How long will it take the Sheriff's Department to serve the opposing party with a petition?

The time required to complete service will depend upon many factors, including the ease or difficulty of locating the opposing party. The better information you can provide the server about the location of the opposing party, the quicker service will be accomplished. The Georgia Code generally states that the Sheriff should make an attempt to serve the complaint within five days of receipt of the copy of the complaint and service form.

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11. How do I get the defendant served if he/she does not reside in my county?

The Clerk of Court can provide you with a stamped copy of the filed complaint which can then be served by the Sheriff or Marshal or by a process server which has been authorized by the court of the county where the defendant resides. You must provide the server with the proper legal documents and service fee.

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12. Why does the opposing party need notice of the case?

All persons are entitled to due process of law which includes notice of all legal proceedings affecting their legal rights.

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13. What happens if the opposing party is not served with a petition?

The other party must either waive service by notification or be served with a complaint or petition before a case can proceed. If you are unable to obtain either service or waiver of service by the opposing party, your case may be dismissed without prejudice. A dismissal without prejudice does not prohibit the plaintiff from re-filing the claim and proceeding as long as the claim is made timely (within the statute of limitations) and service can be secured.

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14. Does my case have to be published in the paper?

In most instances, civil case filing and disposition information is not confidential and is open to the public and media. In some cases, the media publishes information from the court files. There are also certain instances where there are requirements for publishing notices in the paper. Two examples are: in estate cases, publication may be required to notify potential heirs of the estate or creditors of the deceased ; in divorce cases where a defendant's location is unknown, notice of the filed petition may be given by publication. Some courts also publish their trial calendars ( a notice of the cases in which a hearing or trial is scheduled) in the paper to ensure that all interested parties are notified.

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15. I have been served with a complaint. What do I have to do to answer the complaint?

You must file a written answer to the complaint denying, in part or in whole, the claims made by the plaintiff and set forth a legal defense. If you, the defendant, fail to respond or if the response is not received by the court before the due date, you may automatically lose the case without receiving the opportunity to present your case in court. The court may enter a default judgment (judgment entered against a party who has failed to answer or defend against a claim that has been brought by another party) against you, which the plaintiff can enforce by court order. Your property may be sold or wages garnished (set aside) to pay the judgment.

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16. What is an answer?

An answer is your response to the complaint or petition filed by the plaintiff. It sets forth your position on the claims made by the plaintiff and allows you to deny the claims.

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17. How do I file an answer?

Your answer must be in writing and filed with the Clerk of Court within the time permitted by law. Usually, if the complaint was required to be verified (sworn to under oath), the answer must also be verified. You may need to research the time limitations on filing an answer with the court at your local county law library. A filed, stamped copy must then be provided or served on the opposing party.

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18. What happens if I do not file an answer?

Normally, when people do not file an answer, the Court will enter a judgment against you by a default judgment (a judgment entered against a defendant who has failed to defend the plaintiff's claims), and you will lose the case without being heard by the Court. The court's order may require you to pay the amount of the claim to the plaintiff.

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19. Do I have to mail my answers to the attorney of the opposing party, to the Court, or both?

You must file your answer with the Clerk of the Court either by mail or personal delivery and mail a copy to the attorney of the opposing party. If you file your answer with the court by mail you run the risk of any misdelivery by the postal service. Remember, if you, the defendant, fail to respond or if the response is not received by the court before the due date, you may automatically lose the case without presenting your case to the Court.

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20. Do I have to pay the court filing fee again if my paperwork is done incorrectly?

Some errors may not result in the need to re-file your case and therefore, no additional fee would be required. On the other hand, if for any reason you have to re-file your case with the Court, you will be responsible for paying a new filing fee.

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21. Do I need to hire an attorney?

The decision to hire an attorney is up to the individual. By law, all Georgia citizens are entitled to represent themselves in court. However, the procedures in court can be complicated and pro se litigants frequently lose cases because they do not understand courtroom procedures. The advice or representation of an attorney would probably be useful and could make the difference between winning and losing a case.

(Note: A corporation must be represented by an attorney in all trial courts other than Magistrate Court.)

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22. Can I call the attorney of the opposing party who filed this suit against me?

Yes, but contacting the attorney of the opposing party does not substitute for a written answer to the complaint. If a party is represented by an attorney, you should not contact the party directly, but instead speak with the party's legal representative.

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23. What legal resources are offered to those who cannot afford an attorney?

In civil litigation cases, some people may qualify for free or reduced legal assistance from organizations such as the Atlanta Legal Aid, Georgia Legal Services, or a local Pro Bono Project, or LegalAid-GA.  LegalAid-GA is a joint project of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Georgia Legal Services Program. . Telephone numbers for Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services are: (404) 669-0233; (404) 206-5175. Qualifications to receive legal services from these organizations are based on income and the type of case involved.  Pro Bono services can be reached by contacting the State Bar of Georgia at: (404) 527-8700. Further, some local courts keep a list of local attorneys and their fee information which are available from the clerk of court's office. Also, anyone may use the resources available in a law school library, county law library or public library to find adequate representation.

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24. What can I do if I cannot afford to pay court costs?

You can apply to file your case in forma pauperis (an affidavit made by an indigent person seeking free public assistance) to have the court costs waived. This requires completion of a financial affidavit.

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25. I cannot afford an attorney and the legal aid office will not help me. What should I do?

You have the legal right to represent yourself in a legal proceeding or try to find an inexpensive attorney who will take your case. You may obtain from some of the clerks of court lists of attorneys who will provide services based on a sliding scale related to your income.

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26. If I do not know what court document(s) I need to fill out, who do I ask for help?

The Court can not assist you or any other party in the presentation of your case, including the review of documents to be filed. If you are unsure of how to present your case or what court document(s) to file, you should seek the assistance of an attorney. The Court employees may not provide any party with legal advice. On the other hand, the clerk may provide you limited information about filing your case. For instance, in Magistrate court, the judge or clerk can assist you by recording your oral answer to the plaintiff's complaint.

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27. What is a motion?

A motion is a formal request by a party to have the Court rule on one or more of the issues involved in a case. The opposing party must be served with a copy of the motion and given notice of any hearing to be held on the issue. Most motions (except in magistrate court) require you to file a written response within thirty (30) days unless the judge sets a different deadline. If you receive notice of a hearing scheduled to be held, you must appear in court and be ready to present your response to the motion. The judge will generally make a decision about the issue in writing or after a hearing for that purpose.

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28. How does a case get on the court calendar?

This procedure may vary based upon local courts' practice or custom. In some courts, cases are placed on a trial calendar within a specific time set by statute. In other courts, cases are scheduled for trial within a ceratin amount of time following the filing of an answer. Still other courts will schedule cases on the court calendar following a request by one or more of the parties for scheduling on the court calendar. Be aware of how your case will be scheduled by asking the Clerk of Court in which your case is filed.

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29. How much notice does the opposing party need to appear in court?

The Court will notify all involved parties of dates and times of court appearances.

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30. How long does it take to have a hearing scheduled?

This will vary based upon many factors. In no case will a hearing be scheduled before the opposing party has received notice of the case. In most cases, the opposing party will have a certain amount of time to file an answer before the hearing will be scheduled. Another factor is the number and type of cases already on the judge's calendar and when there is time available to hold a hearing for your case.

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31. Do I count calendar or business days?

In almost all cases, you count calendar days. However, if the last date upon which an action may be taken falls on a day that the court is not open (weekend or legal holiday), you can take that action on the first day the court is open following that date.

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32. How will I be contacted about the date of my (hearing, trial, divorce)?

You may receive a notice from the Court of the date and time you are required to appear in Court. This notice may be mailed by the Court, or in some instances, by the opposing party. Some courts publish their trial calendars (a notice of the cases in which a hearing or trial is scheduled) in a particular newspaper to ensure that all interested parties are notified, and you may not receive a mailed notice from the court. You should ask the clerk how you will receive notice from the court.

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33. Do I have to appear in court?

Failure to appear in Court may result in either the dismissal of your case if you are the plaintiff or a default judgment against you if you are the defendant. The judge will decide your case based on the evidence presented during the hearing or trial. If you fail to appear and present evidence, you run the risk of losing your case. If you have been ordered by the judge to appear in court, you must appear. The judge may hold you in contempt of court for failure to appear, resulting in possible fines or imprisonment.

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34. Do I need to bring witnesses to testify on my behalf?

If the case goes to trial, you are responsible for making sure that witnesses who are to testify on your behalf and other evidence you plan to present, such as documents or audiotapes, are available for trial. You may obtain subpoenas from the court to compel witnesses to attend court, provide documents, and other physical evidence for court.

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35. What if I am unavailable to attend court on the specified day?

You may want to consult with the opposing party about whether or not a continuance is acceptable. If both parties agree on a continuance, then let the judge's staff (calendar clerk or Clerk of Court) know as soon as possible that you have a conflict and a written motion will probably not be required by the affected party. But if the opposing party objects to a continuance, a motion may have to be filed stating the circumstance of needing the continuance. Whether a continuance is granted is within the discretion of the judge.

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36. Can I ask for a continuance in my case?

Any party may ask for a continuance in a case. The Court will make a ruling on the request. All other parties in the case should be given notice of the request for a continuance. If you are going to ask for a continuance, you should first contact the other parties and then the judge's office - not the judge directly - to notify them of your request.

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37. How do I get an emergency hearing?

Any request for an emergency hearing should usually be communicated to the other parties in the case before the request is presented to the court. Then you must file a motion with the court to request an emergency hearing specifying the nature of the emergency. An emergency hearing must be scheduled by the judge assigned to your case.

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38. Can an attorney schedule a hearing without asking me?

An attorney can request the court for a hearing to be scheduled without asking you. In all cases except some emergency hearings, you should receive notice of the hearing even if you did not receive notice of the initial request for a hearing.

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39. Can I talk to the judge about my case?

No party to any case is allowed to discuss their case with the judge on an individual basis except in the presence of the opposing party or at a scheduled hearing or trial for which the opposing party had notice, but failed to appear.

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40. What kind of questions will they ask me in court?

The opposing party may ask you any questions about any issues that are relevant to your case.

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41. Where can I get an excuse for work or school for proof of being in court as a witness or party?

The Court does not provide an excuse for individuals missing work or school to appear in court. However, you can obtain a copy of the Court's calendar or the notice of the court hearing which you can provide to your employer or school.

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42. If I have been summoned for jury duty, can I be excused from service or get proof of service from the court?

The Jury Clerk or Court Clerk can explain the process by which to obtain a jury service deferral. If you are summoned for jury duty and you are a full-time student or a primary care giver for a child under four years of age, there are provisions for deferring jury service. If you are seventy years of age or older and you swear in writing to these facts, you may be excused from jury service. In other limited circumstances, you may be excused or deferred. Your request will be decided by the judge of the court. The Clerk of Court can further explain the process by which to obtain a jury service deferral, as well as provide you with a certificate of service as proof of service.

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43. How long do I have to wait for a final judgment from the judge or jury?

Once a case has been heard and both parties have rested their case, the Court will issue a decision as soon as possible. In most cases, there is no specific time limit for a judge to give a decision.

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44. Does the court prepare the final order in my case?

The practice of preparing a final order varies. In some cases, such as uncontested divorces, it is routine for the plaintiff to prepare the final order. In other cases, the judge will either instruct one party to prepare the order or the judge will announce the judge's intention to prepare the order. If you have questions about whether you should prepare an order, you should ask the judge at the time the judge rules on the case.

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Domestic Relation Cases

1. How do I file for divorce?

You must file your petition for divorce with the Superior Court. In most cases, this will be the county in which the defendant resides. Title 19 Chapter 5 of the Georgia Code describes the specific details your petition must include. Once you have filed in the office of the Clerk of court, the clerk will file, record, and date stamp your petition. You must notify the defendant of the petition either by a waiver of service, personal service made by the Sheriff, Marshal or a private process server authorized by the court or by publication as appropriate under the state statutes. The court will charge a filing fee and you may also be required to pay a service or publication fee.

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2. How much does it cost to file for divorce?

The Clerk of Court in the county in which you are going to file your case can provide you with an accurate estimate of the total court cost.

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3. What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?

The end result is different, but the procedure and most of the issues involved are the same. A legal separation does not dissolve the marriage and does not give either spouse the legal capacity to remarry. The order generally defines the rights and responsibilities of the spouses between each other while living apart. On the other hand, a divorce decree, dissolves the marriage. The familial relationship has ended. Tthe spouses can no longer share in the estate of the other spouse, there are no longer any mutual responsibilities of support between the spouses other than those stated in the divorce decree, and each party has the legal capacity to remarry.

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4. Are there rules and procedures that I must follow to get a divorce?

Yes. To obtain this information, you will need to research the Georgia statutes, uniform rules, and court procedures in your county law library or consult with an attorney. In the Fulton County Superior Court, the Law Information Center of the Family Court division may be able to provide you with some assistance on the rules and procedures in filing for a divorce. In addition, some Clerks of Court maintain lists of attorneys who can be retained to assist you or you may wish to contact the local bar association for a list of attorneys.

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5. What are the different grounds for filing for a divorce?

The Georgia statutes list thirteen grounds for divorce. Most divorces are granted on the no-fault grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The twelve other fault grounds may be found in O.C.G.A.§19-5-3.

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6. Do my grounds have to be in the complaint/petition?

Yes, O.C.G.A. §19-5-5 lists the items that are required to be included in your petition.

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7. Do I have to appear in court if my divorce is uncontested?

Some courts may grant uncontested divorces without a hearing. Other courts require a formal hearing to be held in divorce cases and all parties involved must appear. You should contact the judge's office to find out if you are required to appear in court in your case.

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8. Can I get a divorce without going to the seminar for divorcing parents (if this applies to your county)?

Many of the superior courts require parties to attend the divorcing parents seminar. You should contact the judge's office in the county in which the divorce action is filed to determine the requirements.

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9. Who has to appear in court for the final divorce decree to be signed?

If all the paperwork is in order and the defendant has signed all required documents before the final decree is scheduled to be signed, only the plaintiff (the person who filed the initial petition) must appear in court.

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10. How long after filing for divorce do I have to wait before a decree will be granted?

A final decree of divorce may be granted no sooner than thirty-one days following the filing of the petition. The time may be longer if there are issues that need to be resolved by the court.

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11. When will the judge make a decision in my case if one was not made at the hearing?

There is no specific deadline for a judge to give a decision. In general, the judge tries to reach a decision as quickly as possible after the conclusion of the hearing.

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12. How long do I have to wait to get remarried?

You will have the legal authority to remarry after your divorce decree is final.

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13. How do I get a copy of my divorce decree?

You may obtain a copy of your divorce decree from the Clerk of Superior Court in the county in which the divorce action was filed. Ordinarily there will be a fee for a copy of the decree.

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14. What is an annulment?

An annulment is a determination by the court that a marriage is void from the beginning. The length of a marriage is not an issue in an annulment. The grounds for an annulment are stated in O.C.G.A. §19-4-1.

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15. In what court are family violence cases filed?

Family violence cases are filed in Superior Court. The case must be filed in the county where the defendant resides.

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16. How do I obtain a family violence restraining order?

A written petition for a restraining order must be filed in the superior court. If the defendant resides in the state of Georgia, the petition must be filed in the county of the defendant's residence. Examples of petitions for such orders are available on the Georgia Legal Services web page at www.glsp.org and on the Fulton Family Division web page at www.fultonfamilydivison.com. There are also many legal services available around the state which can help you file your motion including Georgia Legal Services (GLS). You can also contact GLS at its headquarters by telephone at (404) 206-5175.

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17. How do I file a restraining order if it is not family violence?

A written motion is required to be filed in the county of which the defendant resides. There are no standard forms for filing a restraining order. You may want to do some research in your county law library on how to file a restraining order, consult with an attorney, or perhaps call the Fulton County Law Information Center for guidance.

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18. How do I get copies from an adoption file?

Adoption files are not open to the public. Adopted children, the siblings of adopted children, and the adoptive parents have limited rights to information in the adoption file under very specific circumstances. This limited access is explained in O.C.G.A. §19-8-23.

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