Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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In 2011, Husband, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint for divorce from Wife. Wife responded and filed a counterclaim for divorce. A few months later, Husband filed a voluntary dismissal of his complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-41 (b), which he later amended, explaining that the dismissal was pursuant to OCGA 9-11-41 (a) (1). After Wife filed a notice of hearing on her counterclaim, Husband filed a motion seeking a dismissal or continuance, explaining that he had already voluntarily dismissed the case and that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the counterclaim. The court denied Husband's motion for dismissal or continuance. After a hearing, the court entered a temporary order awarding Wife one half of Husband's military retirement pay and attorney fees. Despite Husband's continued motions and protests to the court that he had voluntarily dismissed his complaint, the court refused to dismiss Husband's complaint and entered a final order granting a divorce between the parties. The Supreme Court granted Husband's discretionary application to appeal the judgment and decree of divorce, directing the parties to address whether a timely objection was posed to the voluntary dismissal of the complaint, and if not, whether the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the action, including the counterclaim. Finding that the trial court could have continued on Wife's counterclaim, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's moving forward with Wife's counterclaim. View "Reed v. Reed" on Justia Law

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Nancy Murphy and John Murphy divorced in 2006. In 2012, Mr. Murphy filed an action to modify the child custody provisions contained in the parties’ divorce decree. After the case was assigned to Judge Baldwin, Ms. Murphy moved to disqualify Judge Baldwin. Judge Baldwin denied the motion and Ms. Murphy filed a notice of appeal. The Court of Appeals dismissed Ms. Murphy’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. It held that a legislative amendment to OCGA 5-6-34 (a) (11), which became effective on May 6, 2013, applied retroactively and barred the Court from hearing Ms. Murphy’s appeal. The version of OCGA 5-6-34 (a) (11) in effect when the change of custody action was filed, when the order at issue was entered, and when Ms. Murphy filed her appeal provided that a direct appeal was authorized from, "[a]ll judgments or orders in child custody cases including, but not limited to, awarding or refusing to change child custody or holding or declining to hold persons in contempt of such child custody judgment or orders." However, the 2013 legislative amendment to subsection (a) (11) provided for direct appeals only from, [a]ll judgments or orders in child custody cases awarding, refusing to change, or modifying child custody or holding or declining to hold persons in contempt of such child custody judgment or orders." Although the Supreme Court found the analysis of the Court of Appeals as "flawed," the Suprmee Court nevertheless affirmed its dismissal of the appeal. View "Murphy v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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Appellant Colleen Gunderson and appellee Ronald Sandy were divorced in 2010. The decree of divorce provided both with approximately equal physical custody time with their children. Gunderson remarried and moved, and at the time Sandy filed his contempt motion, he alleged that she resided 45 miles from the marital home. The trial court granted Sandy's motion for contempt and ordered Gunderson to "move back into the school district in which [Sandy] lives and in which the parties' minor child attends school." The Supreme Court granted Gunderson's application for discretionary appeal in order to examine the question of whether the trial court's contempt order impermissibly modified the parties' divorce decree. It was undisputed that Gunderson moved more than once without giving the required notice set forth in the decree, and that at the time the contempt motion was filed she had moved more than 48 road miles from the marital residence referenced in the agreement. The trial court did not err in finding Gunderson in contempt, but the Supreme Court found that the portion of the contempt order that addressed the relocation agreement impermissibly modified the divorce decree. Therefore, the order was reversed in part. View "Gunderson v. Sandy" on Justia Law

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Appellant George White (Husband) and appellee Vanessa Howard (Wife) divorced in 2007. Among other things, the final divorce decree: (1) required Husband to obtain a $100,000 term life insurance policy, naming Wife as the beneficiary, and to keep the policy in effect for 12 years; (2) awarded Wife half of Husband’s pension; and (3) required Husband to make partial mortgage payments on property titled in Wife’s name until the land was sold. The decree also recited that neither party was entitled to alimony and that "the transfers contained herein are intended to constitute such an equitable division of property and such transfers are not alimony." In 2011, shortly after Wife remarried, Husband filed a pro se motion seeking to terminate those three components of the divorce decree, contending they were forms of alimony that expired upon Wife’s remarriage. Wife filed a motion to dismiss, and requested attorney fees but cited no statutory basis for such an award. In 2013, Husband, now represented by counsel, filed a complaint for modification of alimony. The trial court entered a final order granting Wife’s motion to dismiss all of Husband’s requests for relief and awarding her $5,000 in attorney fees. The court concluded that the three obligations at issue were equitable divisions of property rather than alimony and, in particular, that the life insurance requirement was “a fixed obligation because it is set for a definite period of time and is not terminable by operation of law and is therefore not subject to modification” as periodic alimony. The order did not indicate the basis for the attorney fees award. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part: (1) the court could modify an obligation to pay permanent periodic alimony if the financial circumstances of the parties change substantially, but the court does not have the power to modify if the marital property is fixed, even if the circumstances of the parties change; (2) the life insurance policy was periodic alimony (despite being labeled in the divorce decree as "not alimony"), that could be modified by the court, and terminated upon the Wife's remarriage. View "White v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Husband Joseph McCarthy filed an application for discretionary appeal, following the trial court's denial of his motion to set aside a final decree regarding his divorce from Wife Annie Ashment-McCarthy. Following a pre-trial hearing, the financial agreement reached by the parties was read into the record along with the trial court's decisions on any remaining contested issues regarding custody. Husband and Wife stated under oath that they were in agreement with all financial decisions, and Husband did not object to the trial court's rulings on custody. At that time, Husband and Wife also agreed to file letter briefs and submit the issue of attorney fees to the trial court's discretion. Thereafter, Husband fired his counsel, and, before the divorce decree was entered, he began to argue that the parties had not reached an agreement. Wife filed a motion to enforce the agreement and for contempt, and the trial court dealt with all of these matters in the Decree, which granted both the motion to enforce and for contempt and ultimately awarding Wife $2,550 in attorney fees (that award related only to Wife's costs in bringing the motion to enforce). After considering Wife's letter brief on the issue of attorney fees relating to the general divorce action, the trial court entered an order granting Wife $12,580. Husband, still pro se, then filed a motion to set aside the Decree as well as a motion for new trial, and an amended motion to set aside. Husband's motion for new trial contained no grounds at all, and his motion to set aside, as amended, contended that the parties never reached a valid agreement and that Wife had defrauded the trial court by misrepresenting her finances. OCGA 19–6–15 mandated that certain findings must be made in writing by the trial court prior to any deviation in statutory child support. Husband did not raise the issue of the trial court's compliance with the statute in either of his motions. As such, his argument with respect to compliance with the statute was deemed by the Supreme Court as having been raised for the first time on appeal. As a result, Husband waived review of the issue. Husband's main argument, both at trial and in his appeal, challenged the two awards of attorney fees to Wife. Husband argued that, with respect to both awards, the trial court failed to include appropriate findings of fact. Based on this specific set of facts, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's award of fees for failing to make the required findings of fact. The Court concluded Husband's other challenges lacked merit. View "McCarthy v. Ashment-McCarthy" on Justia Law

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Following his divorce from Leanne Williams (Wife), Christopher Williams (Husband) filed two motions: one to modify custody and reduce child support and another to hold Wife in contempt for violating Husband’s custody and visitation rights as set forth in the parties’ divorce decree. The motions were consolidated, and hearings were conducted on two separate dates. Following both hearings, the trial court, among other things, reduced Husband’s child support obligations, made certain alterations to visitation, and awarded $2,000 in attorney fees to Wife. In Case. No. S14A0510, Husband appealed the trial court’s ruling in his post-divorce action for modification of child custody and support, contending that the trial court erred by: (1) unduly limiting his new wife’s ability to drive his child from place to place; (2) failing to issue an amended parenting plan; and (3) failing to include in its order certain changes to the visitation schedule allegedly agreed upon by Husband and Wife. In Case No. S14A0512, with regard to the contempt action, Husband argued that the trial court erred by awarding $2,000 in attorney fees to Wife in the absence of sufficient evidence and findings to support the award. The Supreme Court found the trial court’s omission of a modification to custody and visitation required that its order be reversed with respect to this particular issue, and the trial court must reconsider the issue on remand. Further, there was no statutory basis given, no statutory language used, and no findings of fact presented on whether the trial court awarded Wife attorney's fees based on OCGA 19–9–3 (g) or some other statute. Under these circumstances, the Court vacated the award of attorney fees and remanded the case for both a statement of the statutory basis for the fees as well as any required supporting facts. View "Williams v. Williams" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from a divorce action filed by appellant Kathryn Brookfield Hoover (Wife) against Richard Craig Hoover (Husband). Wife requested a jury trial, and the court bifurcated the proceedings, first hearing the issue of child custody in a bench trial, and reserving issues of equitable division of property, alimony, and child support for a jury trial. After the bench trial on the child custody issue, the trial court issued a court-ordered parenting plan which granted joint physical and legal custody of the minor children. An amended parenting plan order was entered, and another order, “2nd Order Amending June 15, 2012 Parenting Plan” was entered January 11, 2013. Before the jury trial on the remaining issues started, the parties executed a settlement agreement resolving the financial issues in the case, and the trial court entered a final judgment and decree of divorce on February 14, 2013. In addition to referencing the settlement agreement, the final judgment referenced the three orders relating to the parenting plan and stated these orders “are . . . incorporated herein and made a part of this Final Judgment and Decree.” Wife filed a motion for new trial of the custody issues within thirty days of the date the final order and decree was entered. The trial court granted Husband’s motion to dismiss the motion for new trial, finding that Wife’s motion for new trial was untimely since it sought a new trial on the court-ordered parenting plan and was thus filed more than thirty days after the “entry of judgment” on the court-ordered parenting plan. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the motion for new trial as having been untimely filed. View "Hoover v. Hoover" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Husband began working for Envirotech Environmental Services, Inc., a closely-held Subchapter S corporation. In 1998, Husband purchased 150 shares of stock in Envirotech ($1.00 per share), and made an additional capital contribution. Three years later, Husband and Wife were married. During the next year, Husband sold 50 shares of his stock for a total purchase price of $11,800. Husband retained 100 shares of the 1,000 issued shares of stock. As a minority shareholder, Husband was apportioned K-1 income to be recorded on his tax return, but the actual cash was retained in the company. In 2011, Husband filed for divorce. At the bench trial of the issues remaining in the divorce action, Wife maintained that she was entitled to an equitable division of the appreciation of the value of Husband's 100 shares of Envirotech stock from the date of the parties' marriage to the date of their divorce. Husband asserted that the 100 shares of stock should not be considered to be marital property and should be awarded solely to him because they were acquired prior to the marriage, and any increase in value of the 100 shares that occurred during the course of the marriage was not attributable to Wife or the marital unit but to outside market forces. The superior court awarded the entirety of the 100 shares of stock and any appreciation to Husband. Wife appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sullivan v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Appellant Husband is a native of Pakistan and has dual Pakistani and American citizenship. Appellee Wife is a natural born American of Pakistani descent. The parties' two minor male children are American born. The trial court designated Wife as the primary physical custodian of the children and gave Husband visitation rights. In the divorce decree, restrictions regarding the children’s international travel were made. In addition, the decree required Husband to reimburse Wife up to $250 a month for work-related childcare expenses. Husband disagreed with the terms of the decree and raised multiple errors in the superior court's order. But finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sahibzada v. Sahibzada" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the Court of Appeals properly applied the principle of "priority jurisdiction" when it held that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to terminate Emmanuel Alizota's parental rights and erred in granting Ryan and Melissa Stanfield's petition for the adoption of S.K. The Court of Appeals determined that because the juvenile court had previously exercised jurisdiction over a deprivation proceeding involving Alizota and S.K. and had entered a temporary long-term custody agreement, the doctrine of priority jurisdiction deprived the superior court of jurisdiction over the termination proceeding. Based on that, the Court of Appeals vacated the superior court’s order and declined to consider Alizota's appeal on the merits. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals erred in holding the superior court lacked jurisdiction over the termination proceeding. View "Standfield v. Alizota" on Justia Law