Divorce by Publication in Georgia: Procedure & How to File (2024)

Divorce by publication is a form of marriage dissolution when you can’t find the spouse to serve them with the papers. If the court is satisfied with the proof of your fruitless attempts to locate your spouse after an honest and diligent search, it will sign the order allowing service by publication. It means placing a notice about divorce in an official newspaper and giving the defendant a certain time to respond. After this period expires with no response, the judge may grant divorce by default. The process is quite demanding and should be regarded as the last resort when the missing spouse cannot be found or contacted in any other way.

What is a Divorce by Publication?

Divorce by publication in Georgia is a marriage dissolution method when the defendant is missing and cannot be found. The notice about the initiated divorce action is published in the legal newspaper in the location where they are most likely to be.

In fact, divorce by publication is the “last resort” for someone who wants to terminate their marriage but has no idea where their spouse is to deliver the documents. The process is rather complicated and costly, so it should be chosen only after other methods have been tried but have failed. You cannot request the court’s permission for service by publication simply because you do not want to contact your spouse.

At first, you must perform due diligence to find the defendant by using all possible contacts and search methods. When all the attempts prove fruitless, you should provide the evidence to the court and file a motion asking for permission for service by publication. If allowed, you will be able to notify your spouse about the pending divorce through a newspaper announcement.

What Are the Qualifying Factors?

For you to be eligible for a publication divorce, your case must meet certain requirements. You can’t serve your spouse by publication simply because you dread contacting and communicating with them. The qualifying factors are:

1. Absent Spouse

Your spouse must really be missing, with no opportunity to get in touch with them.

Some couples may live separately and have no contact for a long time before one of the parties decides to file for divorce. They may not even know that their spouse moved out of the county, state, or country long ago. So, the necessity of serving the divorce papers on the other party may bring a sudden revelation that you have no idea how to contact them. If you do not know how to reach out to your spouse to hand-deliver them the papers, you may need a service by publication.

2. Lack of Response

You must have tried other service methods and got no response from the defendant.

For the start, try your best to resume contact with your spouse through the last known address or phone number. If they are still there, there’s a chance they will agree to accept the service, or at least you will know where to deliver the papers. Continue your attempts to find the missing spouse through friends, relatives, their workplace, landlord, or anyone you think may know their whereabouts.

If there’s still no success and you have no defendant’s response to file with the court, your request for service by publication is most likely to be approved.

3. Performance of Database Searches

You must demonstrate to the judge the fruitless results of the database search.

The law requires the plaintiff to make reasonable and thorough attempts to find the respondent. Besides searching in the known places and asking people who know or may know your missing spouse, try to look into the possible relevant databases. You may check:

  • The telephone book and directory assistance in locations where the respondent could be detected;
  • The post office to see if they have any forwarding address of your spouse;
  • The department of motor vehicles;
  • The tax collector’s and property assessor’s records;
  • Social media;
  • Any possible websites that could lead to the respondent’s trail.

If you prove that you have searched everywhere you could with no success, the court will sign the publication order.

How Does Divorce by Publication in Georgia Work?

The process for a divorce by publication in Georgia is quite straightforward but strict, regulated by O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4(f)(1). Each step must be followed according to the law and the judge’s contentment.

Here’s how it works:

  • File a Petition for Divorce with the court of appropriate jurisdiction to start the action.
  • If you haven’t found your spouse after a thorough and diligent search, ask the court’s permission to put your divorce in a newspaper by filing a Motion for Service by Publication. Additionally, you must provide an Affidavit of Diligent Search, in which you should indicate your spouse’s last known address, enumerate your efforts to find them, and explain the reasons for your failure.
  • If the judge is satisfied with the evidence, they will sign the Order of Publication, allowing you to place a divorce announcement in a newspaper of regular circulation in a location where your spouse is most likely to see it. According to the law, a Notice of Publications for divorce must be published 4 times within 60 days, with at least 7 days between them.
  • While the court clerk arranges this process in some counties, in others, the plaintiff is responsible for all the arrangements with the newspaper. In any case, you must pay a fee for publication, which varies depending on the county and the newspaper.
  • Within 15 days after the Order of Publication was filed, the superior court’s clerk should mail a copy of the Notice of Publication to the defendant’s last known address, if any.
  • After the Notice was published for the fourth time, the newspaper should return an Affidavit of Publication for the plaintiff to file with the court as proof of the completed service. The judge usually signs an Order Perfecting Service, approving the proper completion.
  • If the defendant does not respond within 60 days of the first publication, the court can grant divorce by default. A hearing may be scheduled for the judge to ask you a few questions and sign the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce.

In such cases, the court does not have jurisdiction over the missing defendant, being limited in their decisions concerning your case. Actually, it has the authority to grant you divorce, restore your maiden name, and award you the property in your actual possession. However, they cannot decide on child support, alimony, and division of property or allocation of debts that fully or partially belong to the defendant. Decisions concerning child custody also tend to be rather limited. Nevertheless, considering kids’ best interests, judges usually award custody to the plaintiff to ensure that children are not left with no care.

How Long Does a Divorce by Publication Take?

Divorce by publication in Georgia usually takes between 3 and 6 months. The judge cannot sign the final decree and finalize the case until 60 days allocated for newspaper publications and 30 days for the defendant’s response if served outside the state expire.

Additionally, before filing a request for service by publication, a plaintiff must make diligent attempts to find the missing spouse. A thorough and diligent search can take several weeks or even months. So, depending on the length of your search, the court’s schedule, the judge’s caseload, and the time needed to review your paperwork, divorce by publication will last about 14 weeks at minimum and up to half a year.

How Much Does a Divorce by Publication Cost?

An average divorce by publication in Georgia may cost from $350 to slightly above $1,000. Your basic expenses entail court fees for filing and service by publication in Georgia, totaling about $250-$300, depending on the county, and unless the court waives them on your request. Additional mandatory expenses are publication fees that also depend on the county and the newspaper but normally may range from $80 to $100. Since most newspapers are private entities, the court cannot waive these costs. Lastly, you may hire an attorney to help you with this complicated process – the most substantial expenditure in this endeavor. In Camden County, for example, attorneys charge about $600-$700 for publication divorces.