Filing for divorce in Georgia when your spouse lives out-of-state
A person seeking to dissolve his or her marriage can file a petition for divorce in Georgia if, as an initial matter, he or she has been a bona fide resident of Georgia for six months prior to the filing of the divorce petition.
The Georgia Supreme Court has held that personal jurisdiction over the defendant is not a prerequisite to the grant of a divorce by a Georgia court. However, personal jurisdiction over the defendant is required if the petitioner is seeking other relief, such as an award of alimony, attorney's fees, or division of assets located outside the state.
If a petitioner is simply looking to dissolve the marriage, he or she need only show that the trial court has jurisdiction over the "res of the marriage" - the res being a matrimonial domicile in this state for the six-month period preceding the filing of the divorce (OCGA § 19-5-2). The court can also render a judgment in rem with respect to the marital property located within its territory (within Georgia).
However, before a trial court with jurisdiction to grant a divorce can divide assets located outside the state, or grant an award of alimony or attorney's fees, it must have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. If a defendant resides out of state, personal jurisdiction can sometimes be obtained through the "Long Arm Statute." .
The Long Arm Statute (OCGA Section 9-10-91) allows for jurisdiction over the defendant with respect to proceedings for divorce, if the parties maintained a matrimonial domicile in Georgia at the time of the commencement of the divorce action or if the defendant resided in Georgia preceding the commencement of the action, irrespective of whether the parties were cohabiting during that time.
If the parties did not maintain a matrimonial domicile in Georgia at the time of the commencement of the divorce action or if the defendant did not reside in Georgia preceding the commencement of the action, then an action seeking alimony, division of property located outside the state, and/or attorney’s fees would have to be filed in the county in which the defendant resides, pursuant to Article VI, Section II, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution.
As for custody, effective July 1, 2001, Georgia repealed the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (the "UCCJA") and enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"). Under the UCCJEA, one basis for a Georgia court's exercise of jurisdiction over an initial custody determination is that Georgia is the "home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding." OCGA § 19-9-61(a)(1) and OCGA § 19-9-41(7). The Georgia court retains "exclusive, continuing jurisdiction" if either the child or a parent of the child resides in Georgia or the child, the child's parents, or a person acting as a parent has a significant connection with Georgia and substantial evidence regarding the child is still available in Georgia. OCGA § 19-9-62(a). Under those circumstances, personal jurisdiction over the parties for a modification of custody is not required. OCGA § 19-9-61(c). The UCCJEA, however, does not give the Court personal jurisdiction over child support, divorce, alimony, or contempt matters. Daniels v. Barnes, 289 Ga.App. 897, 658 S.E.2d 472 (2008).