Articles Posted in Family Law

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Wife and Husband were divorced in 1995; the final decree of divorce incorporated a settlement agreement that provided for child support and at least half of his Armed Services retirement pay monthly. The child support obligation terminated in 2006, and his first payment of retirement benefits was due to Wife the following month. Husband, however, never paid. Although Wife employed attorneys to demand payment from Husband, Wife took no court action until February 25, 2016, when she filed a motion for contempt. The trial court held that the first payment of retirement benefits became due on July 1, 2006, and the judgment went dormant on July 1, 2013. Although filing a scire facias within three years of dormancy would have revived the judgment if it were dormant, Wife made no such filing. Therefore, the trial court held: that although Husband “clearly and knowingly failed to uphold his obligations under the decree,” it could not hold him in contempt. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in its analysis: Wife’s first viable opportunity to enforce the judgment occurred in July of 2006, when the initial payment became due. The dormancy period did not begin to run until each installment is due. Here, installments that became due within seven years preceding the issuance and recording of the execution are collectible and enforceable. Installments that were dormant remain subject to revival pursuant to OCGA 9-12-61. View "Holmes-Bracy v. Bracy" on Justia Law

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Appellant Leland Lutz (“Husband”) appeals the final judgment and decree of divorce, as well as the trial court’s order granting attorney’s fees to appellee Deborah Lutz (“Wife”). After review, the Georgia Supreme Court determined that language in the body of the divorce decree misrepresented Husband’s salary. Therefore the divorce decree was reversed in part. Since the final judgment and decree of divorce was partially reversed to the extent it relied on an inaccurate statement of Husband’s income, the alimony award and the attorney’s fee order were also reversed. The matter is remanded so that the trial court could reconsider its rulings on alimony and attorney’s fees. View "Lutz v. Lutz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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This case arose out of a divorce settlement agreement between Anita and Benjamin Howard. After the final divorce decree was issued on April 28, 2016, Wife filed a petition for contempt against Husband, alleging that he failed to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement that was incorporated into the decree. The trial court denied the petition, and we granted Wife’s application for discretionary review. The issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred when it ruled that Husband was not in contempt for failing to ensure that Wife was designated as the survivor beneficiary of his pension plan. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Howard v. Howard" on Justia Law

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