E-Filing Georgia Divorces: Good or Bad?
We e-file all Georgia divorce cases — both contested and uncontested.
Like it, or not, starting January 1, 2019, e-filing became mandatory for lawyers who file Georgia divorce matters. So says the State of Georgia.
Since it first became available in Georgia, our firm has used e-filing for every case that we could use it. At first, only a few counties would permit e-filing. Paulding County was one of the first to adopt it and they did a good job. A short time later, Fulton County made e-filing mandatory for divorces — even if you were filing your own divorce case. We found that, in general, e-filing was a real benefit for the way that we handle divorce matters.
The Good about E-Filing:
Compared to manual filing, e-filing is efficient and relatively fast — but not instantaneous. We find that it reduces the time to complete a typical divorce case by around 10 days. Since, like most of our clients, we like to complete a divorce case as soon as legally possible this is a really bid advantage. It has also allowed our office to become more efficient and made our process much more “paperless.” Although all of the divorce documents must start as old-school paper documents, before they are filed they become electronic copies too.
The Bad about E-Filing:
Many of the courts and clerks offices simply do not have the technical expertise or vision to fully take advantage of e-filing. There is a lot of variation from office to office and county to county in the way that e-filing is implemented. Some counties, like Cherokee and Paulding, have really done well and take full advantage of the software features and benefits of e-filing. Others, like Fulton, is a confusing mish-mash of electronic and manual procedures. In many counties, Cobb County is a good example, the Clerk of Superior Court has done a good job of implementing e-filing but not all of the the judges take full advantages of all of the e-filing features. This makes it hard on lawyers who practice in multiple counties to know exactly how to comply with the requirements of a particular judge in a particular county. But, even the confusion and lack of standardization of procedures do not outweigh the benefits of e-filing.
Recently, the State of Georgia has changed the way that the e-filing portal companies can charge for their services. Now, for a divorce case, we must pay a fee of at least $30.00 for e-filing a divorce case. Previously, it was only about $17 for a typical divorce (although it could be much more for an active, litigated case). E-filing costs are generally paid by credit cards. So, there are processing fees that the courts add — typically about 3%. When combined with the high case filing fees (typically $210 to $220), the all-in court costs for a simple, uncontested divorce now approaches $275. We estimate that the court costs for our typical uncontested divorce cases have increased by 23% due to the direct and indirect costs of e-filing.
The Bottom Line on E-filing Divorce Matters in Georgia
While our clients are not particularly happy with the increased court costs resulting from e-filing, they are very happy to get their divorces completed more efficiently and quickly. Unfortunately, we must pass the increased court costs on to our clients. But, we are glad to have the increased efficiency that e-filing has brought to our office. Overall, it has reduced the amount of time to complete an uncontested Georgia divorce by about 10 days — more in some counties and less in others.
We hope that the system becomes more standardized from county to county and from judge to judge as time goes own. We fear that the court costs will continue to creep upward over time. Will the benefits and improvements over time justify that cost increase? We think so.