Once a person has decided to divorce, the next logical step is to figure out how you will go about making this legal. Usually, this involves hiring an attorney. Historically, an attorney provided all legal assistance; filing the necessary papers, representing one of you, drafting a settlement agreement (who gets what, who pays what and where do the children live) and, giving you legal advice. The next step would be for your spouse to hire an attorney.
There are some other avenues open to you. You can also choose to use a mediator to help you resolve the issues surrounding your divorce. A mediator does not give legal or financial advice, but they will assist you in resolving all the issues surrounding your divorce. When you mediate, the agreement will be one that you and your spouse craft with the guidance of the mediator who will help with the division of assets and debts, a parenting plan and child support guidelines, both required by courts in Georgia. Mediation is family friendly as it does not involve two attorneys, each advocating for a spouse, but rather, the focus is on the children and how the family will move on after the divorce.
You can also file the divorce pro se, that means you represent yourselves and do all the work associated with divorce yourself. You can file the petition for divorce, draft your own settlement agreement and go before the judge. Most counties in the metro Atlanta area have classes that teach you how to accomplish this.
If you decide to hire attorneys, please ask carefully how they charge so you will not be surprised. There are two ways that they charge; hourly or flat fee. You should sign a written fee agreement for services that outlines how the charges are calculated. If you agree to an hourly rate, know that attorneys charge for all their time and the time of associates in their office. Expenses are usually charged separately and include copying, postage, delivery fees, filing fees, travel and research. They will ask for a retainer of between $2,000 and $10,000 which is paid upfront and the hourly rate comes off that. A common misunderstanding is that the retainer will cover all of the work on the divorce. It often does not so ask your attorney how that works and what could happen that would cause more charges. If you sign a flat rate fee agreement, be sure you clearly understand what that includes, but more importantly, what it does not include.
If you decide to explore using a mediator, our preferred choice, find out how they charge. I can share how Beyond Above and Conflict charges which may, or may not be typical of other mediators. We provide an extensive phone interview with both parties so they can ask all their questions about how it works, prior to mediation. There is no charge for this. Our hourly rate is $250.00 for the actual time spent at the mediation table plus an additional $250.00 to write the Memorandum of Understanding and go through the approval process that is done via email with both parties. Once both parties have “green lighted” the finished product, mediation is done. There are no additional charges for expenses. Mediators can refer you to attorneys that can look over the agreement and advise you. There is an additional charge for this service.
Both attorneys and mediators can help you find other professionals you may need during the process such as, financial advisors or counselors for you or your children.
In Georgia, The Legal Divorce cannot be finalized in less than 31 days from the initial filing but can take up to one year or more depending on how contentious you both are.
Based on the work of Paul Bohannon