- DivorceWhen two people marry, it is with the expectation that the relationship will last forever. Unfortunately, circumstances can change leading one or both spouses to believe that their relationship is broken beyond repair and, despite their best efforts; divorce is the only remaining option.
If you find yourself considering divorce, or you are ready to begin the process, it is best to proceed with the protection of an experienced attorney by your side. At HWS, we understand that clients involved in a divorce are under enormous emotional and financial pressure. Therefore, we work diligently to resolve each divorce in a manner that best meets our clients’ needs, while also considering the impact of divorce on our clients, their families and children.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, a divorce involves many issues, including custody and parenting time, child support, alimony, division of assets and property, and attorney’s fees. Our attorneys will be there to educate you, support you and provide you with legal guidance as we work together to negotiate and settle your divorce case or, if necessary, proceed with litigation and trial.
- Legal SeparationIf divorce is not the best option for you at this time, you may have considered a Legal Separation. Termed “Separate Maintenance” in Georgia, this process allows a couple to remain married but still address all the issues that arise when they elect to physically, and often financially, separate. There are a myriad of reasons that may motivate a couple to remain married but choose to separate. Some are seeking the space and time to consider reconciliation, while others may have a need to continue health insurance for themselves or their spouse. Some may choose a legal separation due to religious or faith-based reasons. The fact that Georgia law does not require parties to give a reason for their decision to separate makes this a viable option for couples not ready to make the decision to enter into a final divorce.
A Legal Separation allows couples to address all of the same factors included in a divorce such as equitable division of property, child custody, child support and alimony (as applicable) but the parties remain legally married.
- Property DivisionWhen it comes to divorce law in Georgia, we are what is known as an “Equitable Division” state, as opposed to Community Property. While Community Property states require a 50/50 division of all marital assets and personal property, our law requires that the Court make an equitable distribution instead. Equitable is defined as “fair”, which does not necessarily mean 50/50 in every case. This applies to division of every kind of marital asset including financial accounts, vehicles, businesses and business interests, equity in the Marital Residence, retirement accounts, furniture and household items. Marital debts such as credit cards and other debts must also be equitably divided at the time of divorce. Having your sole name on a title to property, or as the only name on a financial account, quite often has very little to do with a final determination of how that account should be equitably divided. The attorneys at HWS have vast experience in all aspects of property division and work with our clients to help them not only gain a firm understanding of what assets are subject to division but also how to create a division that makes financial sense for you and your particular situation.
- AlimonyIn many cases, alimony is a relevant issue that must be addressed before a divorce can be resolved. The confusing aspect of alimony and spousal support is that Georgia does not have specific laws or legislation regarding when alimony and spousal support apply or how it is calculated (i.e. how long does an individual require alimony and how much alimony do they need). With that said, the Court will often look at many factors in coming to a decision on alimony including the length of the marriage, earning potential of either spouse, a party’s ability to pay alimony, and the other party’s demonstrated need for alimony or spousal support. The experienced
Family Law attorneys at HWS have addressed numerous cases involving alimony and can assist you obtaining a favorable outcome in your case.
- CustodyIt is the policy of the State of Georgia to assure that minor children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interests of their children and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their children after the parents have separated or divorced.
In all cases involving children, the law requires that the parties determine both physical custody and legal custody arrangements. Physical custody addresses issues such as where a child will live and each parent’s “parenting time” during the week, weekends, holidays and summers. Legal custody addresses how decisions will be made for the child particularly related to a child’s health, education, religion, and extracurricular activities. There are numerous ways to resolve these issues and craft a physical custody and legal custody arrangement that best meets your child’s and their parents’ needs.
- Child SupportThe State of Georgia requires both parents to provide for a child’s maintenance, protection, and education by way of child support. An income shares model, which takes into consideration both parents’ incomes, is used to calculate child support in Georgia. This method of determining child support replaced an older model of using a strict percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income for child support purposes on January 1, 2007.
Today, parents involved in a child support action (whether it is as a result of a divorce, legitimation, or a modification of child support action), are each required by law to submit a Child Support Worksheet to the Court, which identifies the child support amount each party is seeking to receive or proposing to pay. Completing the Child Support Worksheet can be complex and is done on a case-by-case basis, taking into account each family’s individual needs and expenses. While some consider the Child Support Worksheet to be the end of the conversation, there are multiple factors and potential deviations that the Court still must consider before settling on a final amount of child support to be paid in each case. Over the years, our attorneys have had the opportunity to address child support from every possible angle. With these experiences, we are well-versed in the most beneficial ways to present your families’ unique financial needs to the Court in a way that gets positive results.
- Modification ActionsWhether it relates to child support, alimony, custody or parenting time, things change over time and the original Divorce Decree/Settlement Agreement may contain provisions that no longer apply or have become too burdensome in light of these new circumstances. When life changes affect your legal situation, working with an experienced Family Law attorney is your best option to help you formalize these changes in a new Order or Agreement for your family.
A modification may be sought every two years, or if there has been a “substantial change of circumstances.” The term “substantial change of circumstances” is not defined and can include a wide variety of possible changes. Perhaps the parenting time schedule created at the time of your divorce no longer fits due to a new work schedule, a parent's relocation, or even something as simple as your children getting older or changing schools. Other times, more serious issues may arise that require an actual change in your custody arrangement. If the changing needs of your family are affecting you or your children adversely, a formal modification of custody or parenting time may be the remedy for your situation. The attorneys at HWS can help you explore your legal options when it comes to your modification action.
Financial changes often times have a greater impact on families of divorce than they do an intact family. Whether these changes occur as a result of a decrease in your income, an increase in your former spouse's income, or a change in the financial needs of your children, a modification of child support or alimony may be needed. Considerations in these modification actions might include whether a party has lost their job, changed jobs, or received a raise in salary, among many other potential changes in a party’s financial situation. Additionally, most alimony awards can be terminated if a former spouse gets remarried or begins cohabitating but you still need to file a modification action in order to have this change take effect. If any of these issues apply to your situation, speaking with an attorney at HWS can help you learn about your rights regarding changing your Court Order or Agreement.
- Contempt ActionsIs your former spouse or the other parent overdue on his or her monthly child support or alimony obligation, or are they interfering with your Court-Ordered visitation? Is your former spouse or the other parent violating terms of your Court Order and/or Settlement Agreement? Perhaps you are being accused of one of these violations yourself?
In the event you are the victim of another party's failure to comply with a Divorce Decree or other Family Law-related Court Order or you are the party being accused of violating a Court Order, we encourage you to contact the attorneys at HWS. You have a right to seek enforcement of the Decree/Order by filing a Motion for Contempt against the non-complying party and to seek attorney's fees associated with the filing of your Motion. In the alternative, if you have been accused of contempt for failing to follow your Court Order, the attorneys at HWS will help you defend against those accusations, or work out a settlement when necessary.
- Paternity & LegitimationMany people do not realize that when a child is born to parents who are not married, only the mother has legal and custodial rights over the child until a Court enters an order of Paternity or Legitimation. Signing a birth certificate at the hospital does not establish custodial rights. That being said, it is important to remember that both parents are responsible for child support and have an obligation to financially provide for their child’s maintenance, protection, and education. In many situations where a child is born out of wedlock, a Father may pay child support even though he has not yet established his legal and custodial rights to the child. This means that he may have no rights to be informed regarding the child’s well-being, access to school or medical records, or the right to visitation and parenting time with the child. A Father’s legal and custodial rights to the child can be established either through a paternity action or a legitimation action. Both of these types of cases will establish the identity of the child’s biological father and legitimately name him as the child’s “legal father.” Once parentage is established, the Court will also address child support, custody and parenting time. The Family Law attorneys at HWS have helped both mothers and fathers address these sensitive issues in a multitude of situations. Using our expertise and experience, we stand with you as we secure your legal rights and insure that your child has the help and support of both parents.
- Pre / Post Nuptial AgreementsAlthough previously considered with much controversy, Prenuptial Agreements (often referred to as “Prenups”) have become more commonplace in Georgia. Prenuptial Agreements offer couples who are getting married the security of an agreement that can assist in protecting assets that you are bringing into your marriage, as well as assets that may be accumulated while already married. Prenuptial Agreements can eliminate the trials and tribulations of going through a contested divorce by carefully spelling out both parties’ rights and obligations should a marriage come to an end. Prenuptial Agreements are not created out of cynicism nor are they a precursor to divorce. They simply represent smart planning.
Georgia law recognizes the validity of Prenuptial Agreements provided that certain conditions are met. The most important of these relate to the disclosure of assets and the circumstances in which the agreement is presented to the other party. An experienced attorney at HWS can help you create an agreement that fully addresses all of your concerns and that will work for you and your spouse in the future, should the need ever arise.
While most people know of Prenuptial Agreements which are done before spouses marry, the same types of provisions can also be addressed in a “Post-nuptial Agreement” after the spouses have already married to address how property would be divided in the event of a divorce. The same careful planning and thoughtful drafting is required to create and enter into a binding Post-Nuptial Agreement, as is necessary for the premarital version.
Our attorneys have drafted these Agreements to address virtually every possible need that can arise, whether it’s protection of previously owned wealth, family or personal business interests, or setting aside assets for children and other family members. If you are considering a Prenuptial or Post Nuptial Agreement, the attorneys at HWS can provide invaluable advice and insight from the begging of preparations through drafting and signing.
- Domestic Partner DissolutionWhen ending their relationship, same-sex partners have to address the same issues that other couples address such as equitable division of property, child custody and parenting time, child support, alimony and other issues. While the State of Georgia may not recognize same-sex marriages at this time, the Family Law attorneys at HWS understand and respect that there are numerous same-sex couples and domestic partners residing in the State of Georgia who may need help with their Family Law matters.