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Filing for a Georgia divorce when your spouse lives elsewhere

Because they usually live in the same place, most couples have little problem using Georgia courts to end their marriages. If either you or your spouse resides outside the state, though, you may face some challenges.

Whether you live in the Peach State or elsewhere, you may be able to pursue a Georgia divorce decree. Before you do, though, you must be certain the court has jurisdiction to hear the matter. In Georgia, establishing jurisdiction has three components: proper venue, subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction.

Proper venue

The Georgia Constitution designates the superior court in the county where the defendant lives as the proper venue for a divorce filing. Thus, if you file for divorce, you should do so in the county where your soon-to-be ex-spouse lives. If your spouse lives outside Georgia, proper venue is the superior court in the county where you live. This is likely true even if you do not know where your spouse is.

Subject matter jurisdiction

Before filing for divorce, you must also be sure the court has the legal authority to end your marriage. This requires establishing subject matter jurisdiction. For a court to have this type of jurisdiction, either you or your spouse must have resided in Georgia for six consecutive months before filing for divorce.

Personal jurisdiction

Finally, to issue a divorce decree, a court must have personal jurisdiction over both you and your spouse. If you file for divorce in Georgia, you automatically subject yourself to the court's jurisdiction. To establish personal jurisdiction for your spouse, you generally have three options:

  1. If you know where your spouse lives, you may serve your spouse with a divorce complaint and have him or her acknowledge service.
  2. If you do not know your spouse's whereabouts, a court may allow you to serve the complaint in a publication in the county of his or her last known residence.
  3. If your spouse does not reside in Georgia but owns or uses property in the state, a court may use the state's long-arm statute to establish personal jurisdiction.

If divorcing your spouse is a possibility in more than one jurisdiction, you should carefully consider the pros and cons of filing in all available places. After all, there may be meaningful advantages to choosing one jurisdiction over another.

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