Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) was the temporary custodian of Appellants John and Brittani Chandler’s three children. The Chandlers sought a determination they had constitutional and statutory rights to object on religious grounds to DFCS’s immunization of their children. Because the juvenile court applied the wrong standard in finding that the Chandlers’ religious objection was insincere, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded this case for application of the correct standard. View "In the Interest of C.C. et al., children" on Justia Law

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Erin McAlister appealed trial court orders awarding Wendi Clifton, McAlister’s former domestic partner, visitation rights to McAlister’s adopted daughter, Catherine, pursuant to Georgia's equitable caregiver statute. McAlister contended the trial court erred in declaring the statute “constitutional, both facially and as applied to [Clifton],” as well as finding that Clifton had standing to seek visitation rights as Catherine’s equitable caregiver. McAlister also contended the trial court erred in denying her counterclaim for breach of a settlement agreement that the parties signed when they separated. Because Catherine turned 18 years old prior to the docketing of this appeal, McAlister's challenge to the award of visitation rights was moot. Those portions of the trial court's orders addressing the constitutionality of the equitable caregiver statute and the award of visitation, were vacated, and the trial court directed to dismiss Clifton's claim for visitation. However, because the record supported the trial court’s finding that McAlister failed to carry her burden of proving any damages from Clifton’s alleged breach of the settlement agreement, the court did not err in denying McAlister’s counterclaim. Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed that portion of the court’s judgment. View "McAlister v. Clifton" on Justia Law

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Kristine and Jeffrey McInerney were married in 2003, and had two minor children. Kristine, who resided in Indiana with the two children, filed a complaint for divorce on May 1, 2020, in Bryan County, Georgia. At the time of the filing, the marital residence was in Bryan County, and Kristine believed Jeffrey resided there. However, Jeffrey moved to Chatham County shortly before Kristine filed for divorce. On July 2, 2020, Jeffrey sold the marital residence in Bryan County, and the sale proceeds were placed in a trust account as agreed to by the parties. In his answer and counterclaim, Jeffrey consented to venue and jurisdiction, and admitted he was a Georgia resident who resided in Bryan County within six months of the filing of the complaint for divorce. Approximately two months after she initiated the divorce action in Georgia, Kristine initiated a child custody action in Indiana. The parties agreed that Indiana had exclusive jurisdiction over the child custody action and all child custody and visitation issues. The parties later participated in mediation in Georgia in an attempt to resolve all issues relating to their divorce and the custody of their children, but were unable to come to an agreement. Jeffrey then filed a motion to dismiss the divorce case in Bryan County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1 (a). This appeal presented the question of whether a superior court could transfer or dismiss a divorce case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1(a) without offending Article VI, Section II, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court held that with respect to the question of transfer of venue, OCGA 9-10-31.1(a) was consistent with the authority vested in the General Assembly by the Georgia Constitution to enact statutes that direct the superior courts on how to exercise their power to change venue. As to the question of dismissal, OCGA § 9-10-31.1(a) was an exercise of the General Assembly’s plenary legislative power, not a matter of venue subject to the constitutional venue provisions. "The venue provisions do not limit the General Assembly’s authority to provide for the dismissal of a divorce case based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens." However, because the trial court incorrectly analyzed some of the factors set forth in OCGA § 9-10-31.1(a), the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration. View "McInerney v. McInerney" on Justia Law

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Erin McAlister appealed trial court orders awarding Wendi Clifton, McAlister’s former domestic partner, visitation rights to McAlister’s adopted daughter, Catherine, pursuant to the equitable caregiver statute, OCGA 19-7-3.1.1 McAlister contended the trial court erred in declaring the statute “constitutional, both facially and as applied to [Clifton],” as well as finding that Clifton had standing to seek visitation rights as Catherine’s equitable caregiver. The Georgia Supreme Court found that Catherine having turned 18 years old prior to the docketing of this appeal, and the parties agreed that this fact rendered moot McAlister’s challenge to the award of visitation rights. The Court therefore concluded this case was moot, and therefore vacated the trial court’s orders and remanded the case to the trial court with direction that the case be dismissed. View "McAlister v. Clifton" on Justia Law

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Joshua Brumbelow petitioned the Superior Court of Habersham County to legitimate his biological son, E.M. The superior court denied the petition, concluding that, under In re Eason, 358 SE2d 459 (1987), Brumbelow had abandoned his opportunity interest to pursue a relationship with his son. Brumbelow appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, alleging that the trial court erred in finding that he had abandoned his opportunity interest. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the trial court. The Court of Appeals further remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether Brumbelow’s legitimation petition should be granted based on Brumbelow being a fit parent for E.M., instead of being evaluated under the best interests of the child standard. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the superior court’s decision that Brumbelow had abandoned his opportunity interest to pursue a relationship with his son; and (2) if not, whether the Court of Appeals properly concluded that Brumbelow’s legitimation petition should have been assessed on remand under the parental fitness standard rather than the best interests of the child standard. The Supreme Court determined that, because evidence supported the superior court’s finding that Brumbelow abandoned his opportunity interest, the superior court did not abuse its discretion in denying the legitimation petition. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals erred in its decision on that issue, and the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment. With respect to the second question, the Supreme Court concluded that the portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion relating to the standard that had to be applied to assess a biological father’s right to custody of his child in a legitimation action should be viewed as dicta only. View "Mathenia v. Brumbelow" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address whether the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing as moot the appeal of a juvenile delinquency adjudication. M. F. was found delinquent for criminal attempt to enter an automobile, for which M. F. was placed on probation for 12 months. M.F. appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the juvenile court's adjudication of delinquency. When M.F.'s probationary sentence concluded, the Court of Appeals issued an order in which it declined to reach the merits of M. F.’s appeal, concluding that his case was moot because his probationary sentence had expired and because M. F. “has not shown, on this record, any adverse collateral consequences arising from the juvenile court’s adjudication of him as delinquent.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a juvenile who appeals his adjudication of delinquency was not required to show adverse collateral consequences in the record; such consequences would be be presumed. The Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred, and its order was reversed and the matter remanded for consideration on the merits. View "In the Interest of M.F." on Justia Law

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The case arose from the trial court’s dismissal of a child custody modification action, filed by Christopher Plummer (Father), on the ground that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider the matter, because neither Father, nor Elia Plummer (Mother), nor the child was living in Georgia at the time of the court’s dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and the Georgia Supreme Court granted Father’s petition for certiorari on whether the trial court properly dismiss the custody modification action for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to OCGA 19-9-62(a)(2). After review of the statute and the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in dismissing the action on this ground, and therefore reversed. View "Plummer v. Plummer" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Robert Shaughnessy and Katie Patten married and conceived a child. Shaughnessy died soon thereafter. In November 2015, the widowed Patten gave birth to a baby girl, and Patten permitted Shaughnessy’s mother, Mary Jo Ardis, to visit with the baby on a couple of occasions. But those visits did not go well, and in November 2016, Ardis filed a petition pursuant to OCGA 19-7-3 (d) for court-ordered visitation with her granddaughter. In Brooks v. Parkerson, 454 SE2d 769 (1995), the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Grandparent Visitation Act of 1988 was unconstitutional to the extent that it authorized courts to award child visitation to a grandparent over the objection of fit parents and without a clear and convincing showing of harm to the child. Seventeen years later, the General Assembly enacted the Grandparent Visitation Rights Act of 2012, a provision of which authorized courts to award child visitation in some circumstances to a grandparent over the objection of a fit parent and without a clear and convincing showing of harm to the child in limited circumstances. Citing Brooks, Patten responded that subsection (d) unconstitutionally impaired a parent’s “right to raise his or her child without undue state interference,” and upon this ground, Patten moved to dismiss the petition for visitation. In May 2017, following a hearing, the trial court held that subsection (d) was constitutional, denied the motion to dismiss, and granted the petition for visitation pursuant to subsection (d), concluding that visitation with Ardis was consistent with the best interests of the girl. Patten appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded with direction. The Supreme Court determined subsection (d) was unconstitutional, and the trial court erred in granting visitation pursuant to that subsection. View "Patten v. Ardis" on Justia Law

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In July 2015, the Juvenile Court of Cherokee County, Georgia terminated the parental rights of a father and a mother as to their three minor children, I.L.M., I.T.M., and B.M. On October 8, 2015, in a separate case, the Cherokee County Department of Family and Children Services (“DFCS”) filed a petition alleging the parents’ newly-born child E.G.M. to be dependent. That same day, the juvenile court entered a protective custody order and appointed a guardian ad litem for E.G.M.; an adjudication hearing on DFCS’s petition was scheduled for October 22, 2015. At the hearing on that date, all parties announced that they were ready to proceed. However, the court, on its own motion and over the parents’ objections, decided to continue the hearing until a later date, and set the adjudication hearing for November 18, 2015; no written continuance order was entered at that time. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals in the case of In the Interest of E.G.M., 798 SE2d 639 (2017), to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in the manner in which it applied certain provisions of the Juvenile Code, OCGA 15-11-1, et seq., pertaining to the juvenile court’s decision to order a continuance of a dependency hearing. Finding that the continuance order did not meet the requirements of OCGA 15-11-110, and it was that flawed continuance order that caused the failure to meet the adjudication time limit of OCGA 15-11-118(a), the Supreme Court reversed: "The General Assembly has stated that dependency proceedings are to be completed expeditiously, OCGA 15-11-100 (2) , dismissal of a petition without prejudice furthers that goal by imposing a consequence for a failure to meet the statutory time requirements, see In the Interest of M.D.H., 300 Ga. 46, 57 (6) (793 SE2d 49) (2016), and in the circumstances of this case, we must conclude that the juvenile court abused the discretion afforded it under OCGA 15-11-181(a) to dismiss the petition without prejudice." View "In the Interest of I. L. M. et al., children" on Justia Law

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Appellant David Gallemore, III and appellee Wanda White divorced in 2009. Later, the parties were involved in a dispute over the amount of child support Gallemore was required to pay and whether he was in contempt for failing to pay what had been ordered. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Gallemore’s application for discretionary appeal to examine whether the trial court erred by holding Gallemore in contempt for failing to pay child support and by awarding attorney fees to White. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed contempt order, vacated the order awarding attorney fees, and remanded the case for further proceedings on that issue. View "Gallemore v. White" on Justia Law