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Settlement Agreements vs. Court Decisions


In order for a couple to get divorced in Georgia, there are certain issues that, at a minimum, need to be identified, decided, and then memorialized in writing. The difference between an uncontested and a contested divorce is the manner in which the divorce issues are memorialized in writing.

If the parties have an uncontested divorce, these issues are addressed by them in a divorce “Settlement Agreement” or a “Separation Agreement”. The terms Settlement Agreement or Separation Agreement are oftentimes used interchangeably. I prefer the use of the term Settlement Agreement.

A Settlement Agreement is a legally binding contract between the two spouses that identifies and resolves the issues that, by law, need to be addressed by them. The Settlement Agreement is drafted by the attorney(s) of the parties (if the parties did not engage an attorney or attorneys to assist them) and is drafted without a Judge’s participation or intervention.

The Settlement Agreement would have to be signed by both spouses in front of a notary public in order to be valid. The spouses do not necessarily have to execute or sign the document together at the same location or at the same time; the only requirement is that it be signed by them and their signature to be properly notarized.

At our law offices, the domestic relations law attorneys, as well as the legal assistants, are notary publics and we will not charge our clients or their spouses extra to notarize their Settlement Agreement. Therefore, the Settlement Agreement can be properly executed at our offices.

Otherwise, notary publics can typically be found at a bank, UPS, Mailboxes, Etc., Soho or other similar types of business, and they will charge a fee for each page notarized. Their fees range anywhere from $7.00 upwards for each document they must witness.

Once the Settlement Agreement is properly executed, it is filed with the Court, and the parties ask for the Settlement Agreement’s terms to be accepted by the Court and incorporated into the parties’ Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce. If the Settlement Agreement is in the proper format and covers all issues that need to be addressed in writing, the Court simply adopts its terms and conditions without any problem.

Alternatively, if the parties are unable to negotiate and enter into a comprehensive Settlement Agreement (even on one issue), the case must proceed to a final hearing in front of the assigned judge. The judge will then issue a written Order addressing all of those issues that must be set forth in writing to finalize the divorce. The Court’s Order is basically the judge’s decision as to how to resolve the issues that the parties could not otherwise agree to resolve on their own. It is much more expensive to have one’s divorce finalized by final hearing in front of a judge rather than through negotiation, but, some cases do require this.

If you have any questions about the issues that are required to be in writing and those that are not, but that still may be important to you, please do not hesitate to call the law offices of Henrickson & Sereebutra at (770) 212-3313.