The sanctioned grounds for divorce in Georgia straddle traditional values and modern trends. Divorce and related family-law matters in the United States have been, and continue to be, governed mostly by state law, and divorce law varies among the states. Historically, for one spouse to divorce another, the husband or wife suing for divorce must have been able to show a type of legally recognized “fault” on the part of the other spouse. The most commonly thought of spousal faults were — and still are, in some states — adultery, desertion and cruelty.
In 1970 — a time of social turmoil — California was the first state to pass a no-fault divorce law, wherein a marriage can be dissolved without proving one of the parties is at fault. Since then, every state has adopted some type of no-fault divorce provision.
Broadly, no-fault divorce recognizes that most people in modern times want the legal option to dissolve their marriages without having to allege serious faults in their spouses. They also want to be able to divorce for reasons other than the traditional behavior recognized as sufficiently bad to allow the end of marriage. Sometimes, people want to end their marriages because they are incompatible or unhappy, even short of the level of traditional marital fault.
Today, some states have completely abandoned their old fault-based divorce systems while others have adopted some sort of hybrid of the two systems.
The Georgia Model
Georgia adopted a no-fault option in 1973 by adding a 13th “ground” for divorce: that the marriage be “irretrievably broken.” Basically, one of the parties must be able to show that he or she no longer wishes to live with the other and that reconciliation is not possible.
The Supreme Court of Georgia has said that, with the adoption of the no-fault option for divorce, the public policy of the state changed from purposely making it difficult to end marriages to “facilitat[ing] the granting of divorces.”
Interestingly, the state kept its other 12 fault-based grounds as well, most of them having been part of the law since 1850. The same 13 grounds are still on the books today, but almost all divorces are granted on the basis of four of them:
- Irretrievably broken marriage (no-fault)
- Adultery (either party; heterosexual or homosexual; indirect evidence allowed)
- Cruel treatment (“willful infliction of pain, bodily or mental, upon the complaining party, such as reasonably justifies apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health”)
- Desertion (purposeful, but not in reaction to bad behavior by other spouse; either physical separation or refusal of intimacy; continuous for at least one year)
The other nine allowable, but little used, grounds for divorce in Georgia are:
- Illegal intermarriage with a close relative
- Mental incapacity at wedding date
- Impotency at wedding date
- “Force, menace, duress, or fraud” used to make the other spouse agree to marry (menace seen as threatening behavior)
- Pregnancy of wife by another man at wedding date
- Conviction for a crime of “moral turpitude” with at least a two-year jail term
- Habitual intoxication (alcohol only)
- Habitual drug addiction (controlled substance as defined by law)
- Incurable mental illness (extremely strict, complex requirements)
So, a wife or husband contemplating divorce in Georgia needs to decide whether to allege that the other spouse is at fault with regard to the marriage, or just that there are irreconcilable differences.
Fault Can Still Make a Difference
Why would a spouse choose to sue for divorce based on any of the old specific fault-based grounds when he or she can just allege the no-fault reason of an irretrievably-broken marriage?
Georgia law is clear that it is not necessary for a marital partner to have committed one of the bad behaviors contemplated in the list of recognized marital faults in order to get divorced. However, some types of bad behavior in a marriage will be considered by the court in deciding how much (if any) alimony / spousal support to order.
Specifically, Georgia statutes provide that if one spouse is found to have committed adultery or deserted the other, alimony may not be provided to that at-fault spouse. And in a case where alimony is ordered, bad behavior can also be considered by the court in deciding the amount of the alimony award.
Further, Georgia case law provides that misconduct of a spouse is relevant to the court when deciding how to equitably divide the property of the parties. When determining what split of property would be fair, the court can consider why the parties are divorcing and how they behaved while they were married.
Considering a Divorce? Consult a Family Law Attorney.
Georgia law hangs on to some tradition by continuing to make the faults of divorcing spouses relevant in questions of alimony and property division. While parties can use the no-fault provision to divorce, traditional marital fault is still relevant to these important questions.
If you have questions about ending your marriage in Georgia, consult a knowledgeable divorce lawyer.