Changing Your Name Following a Georgia Divorce

Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Divorce, Family Law | 0 comments

How to Change your Name in a Georgia Divorce

Changing Your Name Following a GA Divorce | Attorneys | 770-609-1247In your divorce you have the ability to opt and change your last name back to a former or maiden name. In Georgia you may request the judge to restore a former name or birth name as a part of your divorce proceeding. See O.C.G.A. Section 9-5-19.  “In all divorce actions, a party may pray in his pleadings for the restoration of a maiden or prior name. If a divorce is granted, the judgment or decree shall specify and restore to the party the name so prayed for in the pleadings.” If the court rules that a requested name change is acceptable then the name change will be granted and included within the final divorce decree. Once the final divorce decree is signed and certified then it will act as the legal document proving the name change. Once you obtain this legal documentation you may use this document to prove your identification and alter your name on personal records. However, the court general limits these name change request to actual former names and not new or variations of former names.  For example, changing your first name from “Vernise” to “Bernice” would not be generally approved if Bernice was not your former name.

I’m Already Divorced in Georgia, Can I Still Change My Name Back?

In the case that your Georgia divorce decree does not include the language to restore your previous name then you may ask the court to modify the order to include the name change. In almost all situations it is possible to make this modification even after the divorce has already been finalized. This may be dependent upon your reasons for the name change.  However, the vast majority of name change requests for adults, especially to a former name are approved and granted by Georgia courts. If needed, your Georgia attorney can file a Petition for Name Change of an AdultSee O.C.G.A. Section 19-12-1. Even in the event that you aren’t able to file the application post-divorce there are other options such as a legal name change that will make it relatively easy to change your name back to its former state. All of the documentation that is generally necessary to obtain this name change is a legal document representing the former name; such as, a birth certificate or passport.  In summary, in Georgia, the legal process of changing a name, if not done as a part of the divorce process (or afterwards), is to file a petition with the court to change your name, satisfy the required public notice / publication requirements and to attend what is usually a brief court hearing to receive a court order officially changing your name.

Is It Legally Difficult to Change Your Name Back in Georgia?

Changing back to a former name is much easier than it is to change to a completely new name. This is primarily due to the fact that the state can legally trace back your identity to the former name via state records. However, a change to a new name may be requested if you are attempting to elude capture, are trying to commit fraud, or are trying to conceal prior arrest or conviction history and therefore the court must go through lengthy bureaucratic investigations to ensure that the name change request is not for the purpose of engaging in such activities. Lengthy bureaucratic investigations are also likely if you are a recent immigrant to the United States or if you are unable to provide documentation that can adequately verify your former name.

If you have questions or would like to inquire about changing your name back to its former state during or following a divorce then you may contact our attorneys at Coleman Legal Group LLC. Our attorneys are experienced in divorce and family law and have experience in legal name changes during and following divorce proceedings. Please contact us today (Phone: 770-609-1247) to schedule your legal consultation. Contact >>

Read More

Divorce, Annulment and Separate Maintenance in Georgia

Posted by on Mar 22, 2018 in Divorce, Family Law | 0 comments

Divorce, Annulment and Separate Maintenance in Georgia | Georgia Attorneys

Should the time come that a married couple no longer wants to be together, they may have some questions about their options regarding divorce, annulment or separate maintenance. Some couples automatically assume that divorce is the only way, but there is also the option of legal separation – and is some rare instances an annulment of the marriage is possible.  Below are some frequently asked questions our clients ask in regard to Georgia legal separation, annulment and divorce cases that can help you make an informed decision about your future.

What is a divorce in Georgia?

Simply put, a divorce is the legal termination of a marriage between two people.  The grounds for a divorce in Georgia are listed in O.C.G.A. § 19-5-3.

What is an annulment in Georgia?

It is the undoing or voiding of a marriage, as if the couple was never married.  Georgia’s law regarding when an annulment can be granted is listed in O.C.G.A. § 19-4-1.

Do we have to be living separately before getting a divorce, separation or annulment in Georgia?

No, you do not have to be living at separate addresses to get a divorce, separation or annulment.  However, there is a residency requirement (6 months) for divorce – and their is an expectation that the parties have not had sexual relations within thirty (30) days of the granting of the divorce or separation.  A divorce or separation can be dismissed if the parties reconcile – even if it is just for a short time.

What is legal separation / separate maintenance in Georgia?

Legally speaking, there is no legal separation in the state of Georgia, there is something called separate maintenance. Separate maintenance is the separation of spouses without the marriage being legally terminated. There are still decisions made about child support, custody and alimony just like a divorce. This means that the couple is still married but not responsible for each other.  The general provisions for separate maintenance are listed in O.C.G.A. § 19-6-10.

Why would I choose to still be married but be separated?

There could be some factors that don’t let you be fully divorced at the time. For example, should you not meet the residency requirement of Georgia to be divorced (which is 6 months) but you don’t want to be together with your spouse, you can for for separate maintenance (a separation) until you meet the requirements to for for divorce. The potential divorce filer may not be ready for divorce, but still needs financial support, or to maintain health insurance.  After a person has resided in Georgia for six (6) months, they can file for divorce.  Many cases start off as a separate maintenance action are later dismissed and refiled as a divorce case before the original case is completed.

Can I marry someone else if I am legally separated from my spouse in Georgia?

No, since you are not actually divorced, it is not possible for you to remarry while separated or under a “separate maintenance” order. In addition, it is against the law in Georgia to marry someone unless your existing marriage has been terminated by divorce or annulment, and Georgia will treat this as bigamy, which is a serious criminal matter, which includes arrest and imprisonment if convicted. If arrested for bigamy, you may need to prove your previous marriage was terminated by divorce or annulment to be released from jail. Previous marriages include marriages in other countries and states. See O.C.G.A § 16-6-20 for more information.

What happens to our children?

Just like in a divorce, there has to be determinations made about who gets custody of the children, visiting times, and child support.  Custody: See O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3. Child Support: See O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15.

What are the requirements to get a separate maintenance order in Georgia?

In Georgia, all that is required for a separate maintenance is that you have a valid marriage and live in a state of separation and the other spouse must be personally served (deliver the documents). If the other spouse cannot be personally served, the filing spouse will have to get a divorce instead.

Do I or my spouse have to move out?

In Georgia, it is possible to live in the same house but the spouses cannot share the same bed or have ongoing sexual relations. In general, their lives should be separate. A divorce or separate maintenance case can be dismissed if the court finds out that the parties have reconciled since the case was filed. While this is not common, it is sometimes used as a reason for one spouse to ask the court to dismiss the case if they do not want it to proceed. If a case is dismissed, it can be refiled later if the parties are separated again, but the whole case will need to start over.

Where do I file for divorce, separate maintenance or an annulment in Georgia?

Usually a case is filed in the county of the defendant’s (the spouse being served) residence.  But this is not always necessary; many divorce cases can be filed in Georgia by the plaintiff even if their spouse lives in another state or country.  However, the other party will need to be properly served with the divorce, separate maintenance or annulment case.  Proper service can include Service by Publication for parties that cannot be found.  Also, a case can almost always be filed in the county either party lives if the case is uncontested.  See O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4 for more information regarding service of process.

Do we still have to go to court in Georgia?

If it is a Georgia uncontested divorce or separate maintenance action  (meaning that the spouses can reach agreements), the only reason to see a judge would be to get approval for the agreements made. However, with the help of an experienced divorce and family law attorney, most court hearings for uncontested divorce and separate maintenance cases can be avoided.  In a contested case (the spouses cannot reach an agreement on some issues) the judge will have to make the decisions on issues that cannot be agreed upon by the couple.  This will almost always require the person bringing the case (the plaintiff) to appear in court.  Annulments in Georgia cannot be filed as an uncontested matter.

What if we want a divorce later?

You can get a divorce after a separate maintenance, however, the agreement signed during the separation will be used to for the divorce agreement, so be sure to carefully examine it before signing.

Who should I call for help?

It is best to start with an experienced divorce and family law attorney that practices in the jurisdiction and county you live, or your spouse lives.  If you have questions about a Georgia divorce, separate maintenance action, or annulment case, call us at 770-609-1247 to speak with one or our experienced attorneys.

Read More

Child Custody – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Posted by on Nov 7, 2017 in Divorce, Family Law | 0 comments

Child Custody – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Who will typically get custody?

In most cases, both types of custody (legal and physical) are shared by the parents. The court determines custody by deciding what type of arrangement is in the best interest of the child.

What is joint custody?

This is when parents share decision making authority over the child. Typically, there are four areas in which the decisions are to be made jointly: religious upbringing, education, medical care and extracurricular activities.

If both parents share custody does anyone pay child support?

Child support is calculated based upon income, so the parent with the higher income will most likely need to pay child support regardless of the custody situation. However, in an uncontested divorce, usually the parties can settle / agree on a child support amount, and if its reasonable the court will likely approve it.

Can a parent refuse to allow visitation if child support is not paid?

No, these are two separate issues. In addition, withholding visitation can cause you

Can my child decide who to live with?

If your child is fourteen or older, they can elect to live with one parent. If the court believes their election is not in their best interest, it can overrule it.

Do grandparents have custody / visitation rights?

No. Absent death, mental incapacity of both parents, or other special circumstances the grandparents will not be awarded custody and have no visitation rights in Georgia.

Do I need a parenting plan?

Yes! It should detail parenting time, set forth a visitation schedule as well as designate responsibilities for care of the child. It should also cover visitation for holidays and extended visitation time during the summer.

Will the terms of my separation agreement carry over into my divorce?

Georgia does not typically recognize legal separations. But the general answer is yes. Most courts will keep the status quo unless a burden of proof that circumstances have significantly changed can be met.

When is child custody typically decided?

Generally, custody will be decided twice – once at the temporary hearing and again at the trial of the case.

When can I file a modification action?

There are no time restrictions; however, there must be significant evidence as to the need for modification.

What if my spouse and I cannot agree?

The judge will make the determination in this case. The court can appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests.

If you facing child custody issues or just have questions about family law issies in general, call us at 770-609-1247 to speak with an attorney.

Read More

What is a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit?

Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Divorce, Family Law | 0 comments

What is a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit?

If you are in any divorce action for child support or alimony, or if you are in any action modifying child support or alimony, or if you are requesting for attorney’s fees, you must complete and file a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (commonly referred to as a “DRFA”).

A Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit is mandated by the Georgia Superior Court Rule 24.2. Failure to provide the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit may subject you to the penalties of contempt or other sanctions deemed appropriate by the court, and may result in the postponement of the hearing until you provide the financial information.

A DRFA is a sworn statement under oath. This means that you must swear that the information contained in the DRFA is true and accurate. If the information on your DRFA is false or misleading, you may be subject to court ordered punishment for making false statements under oath. It is therefore most important to provide true and accurate information. You will be required to summarize your assets, monthly income and monthly expenses.

Sample blank Domestic Relations Financial Affidavits are provided by the Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Superior Courts.  Below are links to several blank DRFAs are listed below:

You must file your DRFA with the court and serve it upon the opposing party at least fifteen (15) days before any temporary or final hearing. In an action filed during emergency situations, the fifteen (15) day rule may not be strictly adhered to and filing a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit may be delayed under the Georgia Superior Court Rule 24.2. “Emergency situations” typically refer to the possibility of domestic violence, abuse, or kidnapping.

Filling out a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit is very time consuming and may seem like a waste of time, but it is important to take your time to accurately report your assets, income, and expenses. In a divorce action, the amount of child and spousal support is based on the financial circumstances of the parties, and most Georgia courts look to the financial information provided in the DRFA to determine the proper amount. Thus, the accuracy of your DRFA is critical to the outcome of your divorce actions. If you are completing a DRFA, we recommend you give full attention to each and every question and take time to go over your answers with an attorney. Below are a few tips you can keep in mind when completing your DRFA.

Do Not Leave Blank Spaces on the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit

You can either complete the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit electronically or hand-write the information in. Do not leave any blank spaces on the form. When you are completing all fields in your DRFA, use “n/a” if a field is not applicable.

Fill out your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit with figures that can be proven

The Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit will require you to list details of your assets, income, expenses and debts. You must limit your response to figures that you can prove by using receipts, bank statements, or other financial documents. Try not to guess or speculate. Save your receipts, saving bank statements, and other financial documents in case the figures are challenged. Some of the items in the “Expenses” section of the DRFA may be difficult to know the average monthly amounts. For example, it may not be easy for you to figure out how much you spend every month on “gifts” to others. In such cases, please consult with your attorney.

Assets include non-marital, separate property

Non-marital property and any income or assets kept in a separate account must be listed on your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit. Non-martial property is property acquired before the marriage as gift, inheritance or pre-marital ownership. If you have a bank account or safety deposit box that your spouse does not know about, you must also list it on your DRFA.

Health insurance cost for the children must be included separately

The Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit specifically requests the cost of health, dental, and vision insurance for the children. You may not list the full cost of your monthly premium if that includes insurance for yourself. If you pay your monthly premium for both you and your children together, you can ask your office manager or administrator and find out the sole cost of the children’s insurance.

Debts are any other expenses not already mentioned on the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit

The “Debts” section of the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (“Payments to Creditors” section) asks for all other expenses not mentioned in the “Expenses” section. This include student loans, payments for back taxes, credit card payments, and any other outstanding money that is owed. The “monthly payment” should be the full monthly payment, even if you are not currently making full payments.

Complete your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit as soon as you can

You need to complete your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit as soon as possible and provide it to your attorney with two current pay stubs attached. The DRFA must be filed with the Clerk of Court at least fifteen (15) days prior to the temporary hearing or trial. Georgia Superior Court Rule 24.2. Failure to comply with the fifteen (15) day rules, however, does not mean that the court is estopped from admitting a lately filed DRFA as evidence. Hendry v. Hendry, 292 Ga. 1 (2012) (holding that a court may decide to review a lately filed DRFA as evidence even if a party failed to comply with the fifteen-day rule under Georgia Superior Court Rule 24.2). Failure to file a DRFA, on the other hand, may result in the penalties of contempt, the postponement of the hearing or trial, and other sanctions deemed appropriate by the court. Rule 24.2. It is, therefore, most important to complete and file your DRFA.

Make sure your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit is notarized

You must sign the completed DRFA in the presence of a notary. This is because the DRFA by definition is an affidavit, and affidavits have to be notarized to be admissible in court.  The notary will first confirm your identity by checking your identification. Then you may sign the DRFA in front of the notary.

Revise your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit anytime your financial circumstances changes

You can update your Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit when there is a change in circumstances. If you get a raise or lose a job, you need to revise your DRFA accordingly. However, revising your DRFA too many times may question the validity or credibility of your DRFA.

Be honest on the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit

DRFA - Coleman Legal Group, LLC

The most important thing to remember when filing out your DRFA is to be honest. You may want to lower your income or increase your monthly expenses on your DRFA. However, doing so will only allow the opposing party’s attorney to attack your credibility during cross-examination. Because you swear under oath that when you submit your DRFA, you may also be subject to court ordered punishment for making false statements under oath. Refer to our other article titled “Why the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit is Important” for further reasons why you have to honestly and accurately complete the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit.

If you are facing divorce in Georgia and have questions or need assistance, call us at 770-609-1247 to schedule a meeting with one of our experienced divorce and family law attorneys.

Read More

Child Custody in Georgia

Posted by on Mar 10, 2017 in Divorce, Family Law | 0 comments

Child Custody in Georgia

Child custody will be a major issue if you are in the process of going through a divorce. Divorce proceedings can become overwhelming, especially when there are minor children involved, as a divorce can have a tremendous emotional impact on children. Similar to other states, Georgia has its own rules when it comes to making a custody determination. Georgia court’s focus on the “best interest” of the child. This article is written for educational purposes and it will highlight the basics of child custody. The main focus of the article will be on how child custody is determined. As always, it is generally advised to consult your local experienced family law attorney before determining what custody arrangement will be most suitable in your child’s case.

Basics of Child Custody in Georgia

In an event of a divorce, a custody order determines who has the legal right to keep the child. A child custody order transfers responsibility of care for a child to parents or someone in place of parents who keeps best interest of child in mind.

Child custody can be divided into two different parts:

1) Legal Custody

Under Georgia law, legal custody determines which parent has the authority to make major decisions on behalf of a child. The decisions pertain to areas such as: Medical treatment, Education, Religion, Extracurricular activities.  Legal custody can further be divided into: Sole legal custody and joint legal custody.

  • Under the Sole Legal custody, only one parent gets the primary authority to make the decisions concerning child’s major life areas.
  • On contrary, under the Joint Legal custody, both parents equally get a say in the important areas pertaining to the child’s life.

2) Physical Custody

Under Georgia law, physical custody determines with which parent the child will primarily reside with. In the state of Georgia, most courts give one parent primary physical custody, while the other parent is deemed to be the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent is generally provided with the visitation rights.

However, often times, the visitation rights are confused with the custodial rights. Under O.C.G.A. § 19-9-22(a), visitation is not the same thing as custody. The non-custodial parent is provided with the parenting times under which the non-custodial parent may visit the child. Furthermore, under the Court’s discretion, the visitation may be supervised depending on the external factors.

The joint custody can come in both legal and physical custody and it focuses on the responsibilities of each parent separately instead of both parents together. Unmarried parents who live separately have joined custody. Full joint custody allows both parents to make decisions together and have physical control of the child.

Determining Child Custody in Georgia Courts

In Georgia, custody is determined under the “Best Interest of Child” standard. Under O.C.G.A 19-9-3, the judge has the discretion to determine custody. If the child is 14 years or older, he has the right to select the custodial parent. Further, under O.C.G.A 19-9-3, if the custody of the child is issue between the parents, there is no “prima-facie” right for father or mother to claim the custody of the child. “Prima-facie” right is defined as legal presumption, which means on face of it at first sight. The Court should not favor one form of custody over another, nor should the Court favor either parent. Furthermore, during the custody determination hearing, the judge will have the sole discretion to make the decision, and Jury shall not hear the matter.
In determining the “best interest” of the child, the judge will take into consideration all the circumstances surrounding the case.

In determining what is likely to fall under the best interest of a child, the Court evaluates the standard under the following factors:

  • Child’s age
  • Child’s health
  • Emotional ties between the child and parents
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child
  • The child’s ties to home, community, and school
  • History of family violence (if any)

Sometimes, if custody harms the child, the court can give custody to somebody else because it is in the best interest of a child. This is called guardianship, where a person who is not the parent asks for custody.

Non-custodial parent cannot be denied right of visitation, if the non-custodial parent were never married to other parent, or because the non-custodial parent has a disability, or a different lifestyle.

Child Support Orders

When awarding the child custody, the Court also awards child support orders to the primary custodians. It is important to keep in mind the child custody and visitation isn’t the same as the child support order. Therefore, just because a parent cannot be stopped from visiting the child because he or she is not making the court ordered payments. On the contrary, a parent is still obligated to make the payments, even if the custodial parent is not allowing the non-custodial parents visitation rights. The Court in Beasley v. Lamb held that, “in an order changing child custody from one parent to another, the court can provide therein that the child support shall be payable to or by the person to whom the custody is awarded.”

Once the child support order is in effect, the Court has the discretion to modify the child support order, if the circumstances call for it. The Georgia courts are likely to modify the child support order if there has been substantial change in financial circumstances.

Going through a divorce is a roller-coaster ride, but it can be made less painful with the help of a professional. When minor children are involved, it is important to keep your child’s well being in mind, as well. A child demands affection of both parents, and nothing should come in between. Child custody determination can become complicated.

When child related matters are at stake, it is important to seek an experienced attorney who can assist you in your matter. Call us today at 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our experienced divorce and family law attorneys. You do not have to go through this alone, and we are here to help.

Read More

Child Custody Modification Basics

Posted by on Sep 9, 2016 in Family Law | 0 comments

Child Custody Modification Basics

Facing a child custody modification issue? Now is not the time to sit on your rights and gamble away your child’s life. Now is the time to take an action that will serve the “best interest” of your child. “Best Interest of Child” Standard is the common standard used when determining the basis for custody and parenting orders.

Different Requirements for Modifying Visitation and Custody

A Court can generally modify a visitation or parenting time once in each two (2) year period following an initial entry of judgment without the show of change in circumstances.  Child Custody Modification can be allowed on the basis that significant change in family circumstances has taken place since the original order. If the change impacts the best interest of the child, Court will likely find the Custody modification to be appropriate. The parent requesting the custody change is required to submit a new proposed parenting plan to the court.  See O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3

Factors constituting Changed Circumstances

1. Relocation of Custodial Parent

Child custody may be modified if a custodial parent plans to move to a new residence. Under Georgia law, custodial parent may be allowed to move with a child unless non-custodial parent can show that the move will be detrimental to the child.

If the custodial parent plans to change the residence, non-custodial parent must be informed of any planned change in the residence. Under Georgia law, a custodial parent must give anyone with visitation rights or court-ordered parenting time at least 30 days advanced notice before planning a move. Lastly, in addition to the 30 days advanced notice, full address of new residence should be provided to the non-custodial parent.

2. Child’s Request to Change Custodial Parent

In Georgia, if a child is 14 years or older, he/she may choose the parent to live with. Judge is likely to honor that decision as long as it is in the child’s best interest. If the child is over 14, and requests a change in custodial parent, that will automatically be sufficient change of circumstances for custody re-evaluation. Judge gives consideration to child’s wishes, but has the discretion to evaluate other factors relating to the best interest of child standard.

If a child is at least 11 years old, the child may have discretion to choose which parent to live with, however the judge will review the overall circumstances closely. In some cases, Court is likely to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), a neutral third party to represent the child and assist the judge in making a decision as to custodial preference. The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is likely to monitor child’s environment: home, school etc.

A judge has the discretion to grant temporary change of custody for period of 6 months if the child is between ages 11-14. If a child has an older sibling and wishes to accompany that sibling, to preserve family unity, judge is likely to honor a request for a change in custodial parent. Parent may also request a judge to modify custody orders for younger kids on the basis that an older child has requested change in custody.

If non-custodial parent can meet its burden in proving that custodial parent has become unfit or unable to take care of a child, custody modification may be granted. Furthermore, if the situation is serious as in custodial parent has mental illness or drug dependency and this will affect child’s safety, custody modification may be granted.

Process to modify child custody can be very complex. A child needs affection of both parents. When it comes to modifying child custody, it can be a roller coaster ride. Therefore, it is advised to consult your local family law attorney with any questions or concerns you may have.

Read More