Can I Get a Divorce in Georgia if I Don't Live in Georgia?
Divorce Residency Requirements in Georgia
Columbus GA Divorce Lawyer Mark P. Jones Discusses Residency Requirements for Divorce in Georgia
(1) You Can Get A Divorce in Georgia Only After Being a Bona Fide Resident of Georgia for 6 Months.
In Georgia, a Superior Court will only have subject matter jurisdiction if one of the divorcing spouses has been a “bona fide” resident of Georgia for six months prior to the filing of the divorce action. This confers subject matter jurisdiction — or the ability to hear the case — onto a Georgia Superior Court, which is the only court that can grant a divorce in Georgia. See OCGA § 19-5-2 (2014).
There is a military exception to this rule whereby a non-resident member of the armed forces who has resided on post for 1 year at a military reservation may file for divorce in Georgia. Of course, oftentimes, a member of the military who has resided in Georgia for 6 months will meet the test for a “bona fide” resident of Georgia so this exception is not really helpful. See Midkiff v. Midkiff, 275 Ga. 136, 137 (“A member of the military may abandon his former domicile and establish a new domicile in this state by meeting the same statutory requirements that apply to any other citizen.”).
So what exactly is a “bona fide” resident of the fine State of Georgia? Divorce jurisdiction in the United States has always been based on domicile. See generally Williams v. North Carolina, 325 U.S. 226, 229 (1945) (“Under our system of law, judicial power to grant a divorce-jurisdiction, strictly speaking-is founded on domicil.”). A bona fide resident of Georgia is therefore someone for whom Georgia is their domicile. Conrad v. Conrad, 278 Ga. 107, 108 (2004)(“As used in OCGA § 19–5–2, “resident” means “domiciliary.”). Domicile simply means actual residence (at some point) and that you have an intent to remain in Georgia. Williams v. Williams, 226 Ga. 734 (1970). Factors a court uses to consider domicile include: (1) state of driver’s license; (2) state of voter registration; (3) state of residence listed on tax return; (4) state that party has a home.
(2) You Do Not Necessarily Have to Live in Georgia for 6 Months to Divorce if You Have an Intent to Remain/Return to Georgia.
Just because you are not presently residing in Georgia does not mean that Georgia is not your domicile, i.e., just because you are not living in Georgia does not mean that you are not able to obtain a divorce in Georgia. This is so because Georgia’s Supreme Court has held: OCGA § 19-5-2 (2014) “properly construed requires that the plaintiff in a divorce action must be domiciled in this State for the period of time fixed therein and does not require in addition that the plaintiff shall have actually resided in this State during such period.” Williams v. Williams, 226 Ga. 734 (1970). But see Conrad v. Conrad, 278 Ga. 107, 108 (2004) (disapproving of Williams “floating intention to return” statement) (4-3 decision with Fletcher, J. dissenting). So, a person can actually leave Georgia temporarily, take up actual residence elsewhere, and still have an intent to return to Georgia so long as the person has an actual residence in Georgia plus an intent to remain in Georgia. See Williams v. Williams, 226 Ga. 734 (1970) (“if a person leaves the place of his domicile temporarily, or for a particular purpose, and does not take up an actual residence elsewhere with the avowed intention of making a change in his domicile, he will not be considered as having changed his domicile.”). Pretty cool, huh?
(3) Why Does This Matter?
Different states have different separation periods and residency requirements. Some states have residency requirements as long as 1 year (Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia). New York apparently has a 2 year residency requirement if the parties were not married in the state. If you are only temporarily in one of these states and only happen to be residing there, but you have an intent to return to your residence in Georgia, you may be able to file for divorce in Georgia, depending on the circumstances. If you are contemplating divorce in Georgia and have questions about whether you meet the residency requirement, feel free to give the Law Offices of Mark P. Jones a call to discuss your case.
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