Articles Posted in Family Law

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In January 2014, after approximately three years of marriage, Appellant David Patton filed a complaint for divorce against Appellee Jocelyn Vanterpool, M.D. During the pendency of the divorce, the parties consented to Appellee undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, which would eventually utilize both donor ova and donor sperm. Appellee traveled to the Czech Republic for the IVF procedure. Four days after leaving, a final judgment and decree of divorce was entered in the divorce action. The divorce decree incorporated the parties’ settlement agreement, which reflected that, at the time of the agreement, the parties neither had nor were expecting children produced of the marriage. Approximately 29 weeks later, Appellee gave birth as a result of the IVF procedure. Appellee subsequently moved the superior court to set aside the decree of divorce, seeking to include the minor child in the divorce agreement; this motion was denied. Appellee thereafter instituted a paternity action against Appellant, alleging that he gave written, informed consent for IVF and that OCGA 19-7-21 created an irrebuttable presumption of paternity; Appellee also sought child support. In response, Appellant argued that he did not meaningfully consent to IVF and that, even if he did, OCGA 19-7-21 was unconstitutional. The trial court sided with Appellee, granting her summary judgment on the issue of paternity. In September 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court granted Appellant’s application for discretionary appeal to address whether that irrebuttable presumption applied to children conceived by means of IVF. The Supreme Court concluded that it did not and reversed the judgment of the superior court. View "Patton v. Vanterpool" on Justia Law

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The parties to this appeal were an unmarried couple. Appellant Adam Vargo purchased the real property in which the parties formerly resided in his own name as sole owner, and executed a purchase money mortgage on it. Shortly thereafter, Vargo executed a warranty deed conveying the property to himself and appellee Brittany Adams as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. The couple broke up and Vargo filed a claim for equitable partition. Vargo testified at trial that he contributed the down payment to purchase the property and nearly all the mortgage payments made on the loan, and claimed that an inequity existed, requiring equitable partition of the property, due to the disparity of funds he paid toward the purchase of the property compared to that paid by Adams. The trial court found equitable partition was not an available remedy to parties who hold property as joint tenants with right of survivorship except in actions for divorce. In the order denying Vargo’s petition for equitable partition, the trial judge advised Vargo that he could sever the joint tenancy and then seek either a statutory partition under OCGA 44-6-160, or equitable partition if no sufficient remedy at law existed. The order also granted Vargo certain of his claims for conversion of items of personal property retained by Adams, but denied Vargo’s claim for attorney fees. Vargo filed this appeal, but finding no error in the trial court’s judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vargo v. Adams" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted discretionary appeal to Lori Provenzano (Wife) to consider whether the trial court erred in its ruling on the petition to modify alimony filed by Forrest Jones (Husband) pursuant to Georgia’s “live-in lover” law, OCGA 19-6-19 (b). The parties were divorced in 2014. Pursuant to the final decree, Husband was to pay Wife alimony of $3,000 per month for sixty months and one-third of any net bonuses or commissions earned by Husband through his employment during that period. In 2016, Husband filed a petition for modification of alimony pursuant to OCGA § 19-619 (b) on the ground that Wife had voluntarily cohabited with her boyfriend “since at least the second half of 2014.” The issue before the Georgia Supreme Court was whether the trial court erred in its conclusion that Wife voluntarily cohabitated with a third party in a meretricious relationship after she obtained a separate apartment from her boyfriend but allegedly maintained an intimate relationship with the boyfriend. Wife argued on appeal that the trial court misapplied the cohabitation requirement by allowing a prior cohabitation to form the basis for modifying future alimony obligations. The Supreme Court determined the record supported the trial court’s finding that Wife had voluntarily cohabited in “a meretricious relationship with a third party.” Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its ruling on Husband’s petition to modify alimony. View "Provenzano v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Husband Ricky Lockamy and Wife Margie Lockamy were divorced in 2009 pursuant to a final decree that incorporated the parties’ settlement agreement. The settlement agreement provided that Wife would receive 40% of Husband’s “military retirement” payments. The trial court awarded these payments as an equitable division of marital property, and it did not award any alimony to Wife. In March 2010, the Navy informed Husband that the payments he thought were for military retirement were actually disability benefit payments and that those payments could not be divided with Wife. As a result, Husband promptly stopped making payments to Wife provided under the “military retirement” provision of the settlement agreement. Six years later, Wife filed a motion to reform the divorce decree to provide for the original 60% to 40% division of the payments from the Navy that the parties originally thought were for Husband’s retirement. The trial court determined, among other things, in an order entered in 2016, that, because Husband’s disability benefits could not be divided as marital property, it would enforce the parties’ original intent to divide those payments by reforming the decree to award alimony to Wife. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s grant of the motion to reform, finding the trial court was not authorized to modify the divorce decree pursuant to Wife’s motion, as the motion to reform the decree was untimely. Wife was not authorized to file an actual petition for a revision of “alimony” here, as it was undisputed that she was not awarded alimony in the original divorce decree. View "Lockamy v. Lockamy" on Justia Law

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The parties were divorced in Connecticut in 2010. At that time, appellant Husband’s child support obligation was $279 per week for the parties’ two minor children. A Connecticut court modified the support order to facilitate appellee Wife’s move to Georgia with the children, reducing the obligation to $100 per week. In 2016, Wife filed an action in Georgia to domesticate and modify the parties’ Connecticut divorce decree and the modified order. The complaint was served on Husband personally while he was in Coweta County visiting the children. Husband moved to dismiss the action on the ground that the Georgia trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to modify the Connecticut child support order under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), because the requirements of OCGA § 19-11-172 (a)2 had not been met. Wife argued that jurisdiction was proper under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Law (UEFJL), to both enforce and modify the Connecticut child support order. The trial court ultimately denied Husband’s motion to dismiss, reasoning that it had jurisdiction to modify the Connecticut child support order; however, it granted Husband’s request for a certificate of immediate review. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Husband’s application for interlocutory review, and, having considered the record, the parties’ arguments, and the relevant legal authorities, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment. The Georgia trial court did not have jurisdiction; Wife had to modify the child support order in Connecticut, and her invocation of the UEFJL did not change that result. View "Ross v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Rhonda Bennett (f/k/a Donley) filed an amended motion for new trial following a habeas court order discharging the payment of restitution and any arrearage for back child support by the purported biological father of Bennett’s minor child. Concluding that she was a non-party to the underlying action and therefore lacked standing to challenge its order, the court dismissed Bennett’s motion. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, finding the habeas court erred in concluding that Bennett lacked standing. View "Bennett v. Etheridge" on Justia Law

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Appellant-husband James Flesch and appellee-wife Debbie Flesch were divorced by decree of divorce following a bench trial. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Husband’s discretionary application to address whether the trial court erred in: (1) determining that Wife’s Vanguard retirement account was her separate, non-marital property;(2) concluding that certain real estate qualified as marital property and was subject to equitable division; and, (3) awarding attorney fees to Wife. Though the Court agreed the trial court erred in classifying Wife’s retirement account as entirely nonmarital property, there was no merit to Husband’s remaining arguments. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Flesch v. Flesch" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In a post-divorce contempt action, the Georgia Supreme Court granted Appellant’s application for discretionary appeal to review the trial court’s order finding Appellant in contempt of three separate provisions of the parties’ divorce decree. “To be sure, this Agreement could have been more clearly drafted [. . .] the complete text of the Agreement demonstrates that the parties intended for Husband to assume all tax liabilities of the businesses. We therefore conclude that the trial court’s construction of ‘corporate income tax liability’ constituted a reasonable clarification of that term rather than an improper modification of the Agreement.” The Court affirmed the trial court’s findings as to two of provisions and reverse as to the third. View "Sutherlin v. Sutherlin" on Justia Law

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Wife Tracy Hardin was granted a discretionary appeal of the grant of partial summary judgment to Husband John Hardin in this divorce case. The issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in concluding as a matter of law that certain disability benefits issued pursuant to an insurance policy are non-marital property and are not subject to equitable division. Finding that it did not, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Hardin v. Hardin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court remanded this matter for redistribution of the marital assets. Alina Gibson (Wife) appealed the trial court’s order granting her requested divorce from Stewart Gibson (Husband). She argued that the trial court erred by excluding approximately $3.2 million in assets from the marital estate that Husband previously had placed into two trusts. She argued: (1) property placed in trust by one spouse without the other’s knowledge and consent remains marital property; (2) Husband’s transfer of assets into the trusts was fraudulent; and (3) Husband failed to transfer properly the assets in question into the trusts. The Supreme Court found that contrary to Wife’s argument, trusts like those here were exempt from equitable division absent a finding of fraud. Because the trial court’s finding that Husband’s transfers of assets into the trusts were not fraudulent was supported by evidence in the record, the Court affirmed the trial court’s rejection of Wife’s fraudulent transfer claim. Wife’s other claims were without merit too, with one exception: the Court agreed with her that transfers of the contents of two brokerage accounts into the trusts were ineffective under OCGA 53-12-25 (a) because the accounts erroneously listed Husband as trustee. View "Gibson v. Gibson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law