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Family Law

Divorce

Few things in life are as stressful as divorce. Divorce requires a married couple to unravel their lives together and define their rights with regards to property, debts, and (most importantly) children. The process can evoke profound emotions from everyone involved (such as anger and resentment) even if both spouses ultimately agree that they need a divorce.

The manner in which a divorce case is handled can have significant repurcussions.  Extended litigation can be both financially and emotionally draining.  Many times at the end of a contested divorce case neither spouse gets the relief they wanted from the court and they both end up feeling disappointed.

Divorcing parties

Whenever possible, our office take a collaborative approach to divorce. We believe that in most circumstances both parties will be best served by at least attempting to reach a negotiated settlement without the need for litigation. Oftentimes, this approach yields a better result than could be obtained through litigation, and in a shorter amount of time and with less costs. This approach is especially appropriate when minor children are involved, because the parents (despite their differences) will need to retain a working relationship to the greatest extent possible after the divorce is finalized.

Of course, the collaborative approach is not appropriate in all cases, and sometimes litigation is necessary to achieve a favorable outcome (especially when the other party has unreasonable expectations). Our office has extensive courtroom experience and is always prepared to take your divorce case to court if that is your best option. As in all cases, the decision about how to proceed with your divorce case is one that we will make together.

Legitimation

Georgia is one of the few states that distinguishes between the rights of biological fathers and the rights of legal, or “legitimate”, fathers. In Georgia, if fathers are not married to the mothers of their children, either at their birth or after their birth, then they have no parental rights of custody or visitation.  Even though these fathers have no parental rights, they still have the obligation to provide support for their children. This puts many fathers, who sincerely want a relationship with their children, in the position of paying support for children who they are not allowed to see.

When unwed fathers want to have a relationship with their children, and potentially gain rights of visitation or custody, they must file a court action for legitimation.  In a legitimation action, the father must show the court that it is in the children’s best for them to have a legal relationship with him.  If the court agrees that legimation is in the children’s best interests, it will then determine the extent of the father’s rights to custody or visitation.

Name Change

Changing your legal name is a relatively straight-forward process. It only requires filing a petition with the superior court where you live, publication of your notice of name change for four weeks, and (in some cases) a brief hearing. Assuming that you are not attempting to change your name to avoid creditors or commit some type of fraud, you can change your name to whatever you like.

A name change can often becomes necessary to resolve discrepancies between how a person’s name appears on their various forms of identification. For instance some people realize when they order a certified copy of their birth certificate that their name on that document is different than it appears on their Social Security card.  Even the slightest discrepancy between the various forms of identification can create big problems, such as being unable to obtain or renew a driver’s license. The only solution in such a situation is usually to file a petition for name change and, once that is granted, obtain an amended copy of your birth certificate.

Antenuptial Agreements

Prior to marriage, parties can enter into an agreement to waive a claim for alimony or property in case of divorce.  This sort of agreement could be desireable for many reasons.  For instance, if one spouse has children from a prior marriage, they may want to ensure that a divorce does not endanger their children’s inheritance.  Alternatively, one party may come into a marriage with a significant amount of wealth that they do not want to place in jeopardy.

antenuptial agreement

In order to be valid and enforceable, an antenuptial agreement must be an informed waiver of a potential claim that could be asserted in a divorce. That means both parties must come into the agreement with full knowledge of the other party’s income and resources (as well as their future earning potential).  The terms of the agreement also must be fair to both parties, both at the time it was made and at the time it is enforced by the court. That means that an antenuptial agreement entered into between a married couple can become unfair, and hence unenforceble, based upon changed circumstances.

Protective Orders

V ictims of family violence in Georgia can apply to the superior court for a civil protective order against their abusers.  This protective order can last for up to 12 months and prohibit the abuser from coming around or contacting the victim through any means.  The protective order can also provide other relief, such as child support if the parties had children together or a temporary division of their property.

To be eligible for a protective order, the parties must either have children together, be married or formerly married, be a parent (including steparent) or child (including stepchild) of the other party, or have lived together at some point.  The person asking the court for the protective order must show that the other party committed family violence against them, which includes simple battery, battery, simple assault, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, criminal trespass, or any felony.  The person asking for the protective order must also show that the other party may commit an act of family violence against them in the future in order to obtain a protective order.

Adoptions

In Georgia, there are six types of adoptions. The requirements for each of these types of adoptions are provided for by the Georgia Code. The six types of adoptions are:

  • A Department or agency adoption—where a child is placed with the petitioner through either the Department of Human Resources or a licensed child-placing agency, where the parents have surrendered the child to the department or licensed agency for placement by the department or agency for adoption (O.C.G.A. § 19-8-4);
  • An adoption involving an independent, non-stepparent, non-relative—where a child is placed with the petitioners directly by its parents for adoption (O.C.G.A. § 19-8-5);
  • A stepparent adoption—where the child is adopted by the petitioner who is the spouse of a parent of the child (which may or not involve a prior marriage by the parent) (O.C.G.A. § 19-8-6);
  • A relative adoption—where a child is placed with the petitioners who are related to the child within the definition set forth in the Code (O.C.G.A. § 19-8-7)
  • An adoption based upon a foreign decree of adoption previously obtained by petitioner and the child having legally entered the United States (O.C.G.A. § 19-8-8); and,
  • An embryo adoption (O.C.G.A. § 19-8-40).

Petitions for adoption may only be brought by individuals who have been a “bona fide resident” of the State of Georgia for at least six months. The Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction in all adoption cases, except where jurisdiction is granted to the juvenile courts. The Georgia Code contains several statutory forms that can be uses in adoptions petitions. However, given the detailed legal requirements for each type of adoption action, most petitioners would be well-served to hire an attorney.

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