Glossary Of Family Law Terms In The State Of Georgia


Acknowledgement of Service
A statement signed by a person acknowledging that he/she has received certain specific documents, in a situation where personal service of those documents, by either a Deputy Sheriff or private process server, would ordinarily be required as a matter of law.

A married person commits adultery when he/she has sexual intercourse with a person other than his/her spouse. Adultery may be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence.

A written letter or statement that is signed before a notary public, in the form of a sworn statement. When permitted by the rules of evidence, an affidavit may be tendered to the Court in lieu of the person giving the affidavit appearing in Court to testify in person.

Typically, it is support that is paid to a spouse as part of a divorce case. Alimony can vary as to type (i.e., periodic or lump sum), duration (e.g., for a specific period of time, until the death or one of the parties, upon the remarriage of the party receiving the alimony, or for some specific period of time conditioned upon a contingency, etc.), and the tax consequences to the parties. Moreover, property or use of property (e.g., a house, etc.) can be awarded as alimony. In Georgia, if it can be shown that the cause of the marital break-up was the adultery or desertion of the party seeking alimony, then an alimony award will not be allowed.

A judicial declaration that the marital status was void from its inception, and thus, no legally recognized marriage ever came into being. Typically, such marriages involve persons unable to contract (e.g., not of age to marry, suffering a mental incapacity, etc.) or fraudulently induced to enter the marriage contract.

A formal written response to a complaint by the party being sued. Typically, an answer should be filed with the Clerk of Court and served upon the other party’s legal counsel within thirty (30) days of a person being served with a complaint.

The review by a higher court of a lower court’s decision. The State of Georgia has two (2) appellate courts to review the decisions of the trial courts: the Supreme Court of Georgia and the Court of Appeals of Georgia. There are different procedures and jurisdictional requirements for appeals to be heard by each of these appellate courts.


Child Support Guidelines/Worksheet
The child support guidelines are a basis for determining the amount of child support which sets forth the financial responsibilities of the parties to their children. Child support is based upon the combined gross incomes of both parents. The Child Support Worksheet is required to be filed in all cases involving minor children and to show the calculations that result in the child support to be paid.

A deliberate or willful act of disobeying a court order in a situation where the offending party has the ability to comply with the court order (e.g., such as paying child support and/or alimony to the other party) but refuses to do so. Normally, a “motion for contempt” would be filed with the court, and a hearing date scheduled, in order to compel the offending party to obey the original order. The Court, after listening to all of the relevant evidence, may hold the offending in contempt and, under certain circumstances, incarcerate him/her in the county jail pending compliance with the court order.


The person against whom the complaint has been filed (sometimes, also referred to as a “Respondent”).

A pre-trial discovery device by which one party (through his/her attorney) asks oral questions of the other party or of a witness of the other party, who answers these questions under oath. The questions and answers are recorded by a certified court reporter who can then make a transcript of the deposition.

The pre-trial devices that can be used by one party to obtain facts and information about the case from the other party, or third parties, in order to assist the party’s preparation for trial. Typical discovery devices include Interrogatories (see below), Requests for Production of Documents (see below), and Depositions (see above).

Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit
An Affidavit (see above) setting forth a party’s financial circumstances, including income, expenses, assets, and liabilities.


Equitable Division
In Georgia, Marital Property (see below) is divided in an equitable manner (as opposed those states that have community property interests). An equitable division of property is an allocation of assets between the parties based upon their respective equitable interests in those assets. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal.

Ex parte
A Latin term meaning “on one side only.” This term is used to describe communications between one side of a case and the judge. These communications are strictly prohibited except in emergency situations. It can also refer to an emergency order issued by the court after hearing from only one of the parties in the case.


Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce
An order, signed by a judge, which dissolves the marriage and sets forth the parties’ respective rights and obligations with regard to custody, parenting time, child support, equitable division of property, equitable allocation of debt, alimony and attorney’s fees.


A legal proceeding filed with the court to recover monies owed by a party, either by collecting a portion of that party’s wages or by attaching money held by a third party (e.g., a bank).

Guardian ad Litem
A person (usually an attorney) appointed by the court, as its expert witness, to represent a minor child’s best interests and ensure that a child’s rights are protected during a custody dispute. The Guardian ad Litem will perform an investigation into, and an evaluation of, the issues and claims being made by the parties seeking custody. A Guardian ad Litem will then typically make a recommendation as to the best custodial arrangement for the minor child.


An appearance in court where both parties argue their positions on a particular matter, in order to convince the judge why he/she should or should not do something that has previously been requested.


Income Deduction Order
A court order directing an employer to withhold court-ordered alimony or child support payments be withheld from the wages of the party being ordered to pay such alimony or child support.

A pre-trial discovery device consisting of written questions submitted by one party upon the other party, to obtain facts and information about the case. The answers must be given under oath within a certain time frame.


A court’s authority over someone (personal jurisdiction) and/or to hear certain types of cases (subject matter jurisdiction) in order to make a decision.


Legal Custody
The power given to one or both parties to make decisions concerning a child’s education, health, religious upbringing, and extra-curricular activities. It also gives one or both parties the right to have access to a child’s medical, school, and other records, as well as direct access to the doctors, teachers, counselors, coaches, etc. There can be “sole” or “joint” legal custody.

A legal action brought by the biological father of a child, born out of wedlock, who wishes to establish himself as a legal parent of a child, in order to be granted certain legal rights (e.g., custody, parenting time, rights of inheritance, child’s last name, etc.).


No-Fault Divorce
In Georgia, a spouse may file a “no-fault” divorce, thereby not requiring the spouse to prove the existence of a “fault” grounds (e.g., adultery abandonment, cruelty, etc.) in order to obtain a divorce. Typically, a spouse will claim that the marriage is “irretrievably broken with no chance for a reconciliation.”

Non-Marital (or Separate) Property
Property that is not subject to Equitable Division (see above) which consists of property that one spouse had prior to marriage, inherited, or received from a third party. Although Non-Marital (or Separate) Property is not subject to equitable division, it is possible for such property to be awarded to the other spouse as Alimony (see above).

Notice to Produce
This is a document that acts as a subpoena to a party (rather than being directed to a third party) in a case, requiring him/her to bring the requested documents to any future hearings or trials.


A document setting forth a judge’s decision on a matter brought before the court.


Paternity Action
This is a case brought by a mother of a child against the putative father in order to establish his paternity of the child in order to establish his child support obligation.

Permanent Parenting Plan Order (PPP)
An order signed by the judge which sets forth the physical and legal custodial arrangement as well as the parenting times for each of the parties. Typically, it will include a division of holidays and school breaks, which can be specifically tailored to the parties.

Physical Custody
Refers to a person who has actual and physical possession of, or control over, a child. There can be “sole” or “joint” physical custody.

The person who files the initial complaint that starts the case (sometimes, also referred to as a “Petitioner”).

Pre-Nuptial Agreement (or Antenuptial Agreement)
An agreement entered into by prospective spouses, prior to marriage, in which the property and other financial rights of the prospective spouses are determined. Such agreements can address issues concerning alimony, division of property, and allocation of debt. In Georgia, one of the largest determining factors to the enforcement of such agreements is whether full disclosure of income, assets, and liabilities was made at the time that the agreement was made.

Communications made by certain persons within a protected relationship which the law recognizes as so private and/or confidential that they need not be revealed; these include, but are not limited to, attorney-client and psychologist/therapist/counselor-patient privileges. Another common privilege is set forth in the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Georgia concerning the privilege against self-incrimination.

Pro Se
A Latin term meaning “one who represents himself.” A party is considered “pro se” if he or she is handling the court case without being represented by an attorney.


Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)
A QDRO is an order that assigns benefits from a qualified retirement plan to a spouse, former spouse, or a child of the plan participant. Some retirement plans cannot be divided, even with a QDRO. The laws and rules governing QDROs are very complex and technical, and require strict adherence to the law.


Request for Production of Documents
A pre-trial discovery device consisting of specific requests or categories of documents propounded to the other party or to a third party. Such requests may include tax returns, bank records, and e-mails between parties, but are almost limitless, so long as they involve documentation relevant to the issues in a case.

Residency Requirement (for Divorce Action)
In order for a court to obtain jurisdiction over a marriage to grant a divorce, the plaintiff must have been a resident of the State of Georgia for six (6) months before filing the action for divorce. If the plaintiff is not a resident of the State of Georgia, then the defendant must have been a resident of the State of Georgia for six (6) months before the action for divorce is filed.

Rule Nisi
An order that informs both parties in a case that a Hearing will be held on a specific date and time in order for the court to make a ruling on a specific issue(s) in the case (sometimes, also referred to as a “show cause” hearing).


Selection (Right of Fourteen (14) Year OId)
In all custody cases in which the child has reached the age of fourteen (14) years, the child will have the right to select the parent with whom he/she desires to live. The child’s selection for purposes of custody will be presumptive unless the child’s selection is determined not to be in the best interests of the child.

In Georgia, it is a status that must exist prior to the filing of a complaint for divorce. Technically, a separation occurs when there is an intentional suspension of marital/sexual relations, by one or both spouses. No minimum or specific period of time is required for the parties to be considered separated. Furthermore, no written filing must be made in order to signify the beginning of a separation.

Service of Process
Refers to the actual delivery of the initial legal papers which begin the lawsuit. Typically, this is performed by a Sheriff’s deputy or private process server. In lieu of service of process, a defendant can execute an Acknowledgment Of Service (see above).

A subpoena is a command to a non-party to appear at a certain time and place to give testimony upon a certain matter. A subpoena can require attendance at a hearing, trial, or deposition. It can also require the production of documents.

Suit for Separate Maintenance
This is a lawsuit that will address the same issues as in a divorce case except for the actual issue of the divorce itself (i.e., the parties are not able to get remarried). Typically, such lawsuits arise when the parties have a ideological objection to divorce or who do not meet the Residency Requirement (see above).

A cover sheet signed by the Clerk of Court and placed on a complaint notifying the person receiving the document that he/she must file an answer within thirty (30) days of receiving the document or suffer certain legal consequences.


Temporary Protective Order (TPO)
This is an order issued by a judge as a result of the filing of a family violence action or stalking action. Though the terms of such orders vary to some degree, they will typically include a prohibition from contacting the other party by all means (e.g., in person, by telephone, by e-mail, by social media, through a third person, from coming around within a certain distance of the person seeking the TPO, etc.). Violations of such order can result in aggravated stalking charges being filed (which are felonies).


The particular county, or geographical area, in which a court with jurisdiction may hear and determine a case. Typically, a lawsuit is filed in the county of residence of the defendant.