Articles Posted in Family 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

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This case made a second appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court. Jeffrey Sponsler (Husband) appealed the trial court’s order finding him in contempt of the final decree effectuating his divorce from April Sponsler (Wife). When the Supreme Court granted Husband’s application, it issued two questions for argument and consideration: (1) Did the trial court err by ordering both parties to share responsibility for home equity line of credit (HELOC) payments on the rental home until it is sold? (2) Did the trial court err by ordering Husband to repair the rental property? The Court found that although the trial court ultimately did not err in finding Husband to be in contempt of the divorce decree, the trial court did err by ordering Husband to share ongoing responsibility for HELOC payments and to make repairs to the rental property. View "Sponsler v. Sponsler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court issued the following three questions to the parties with respect to their appeal of a child support order: (1) Did the trial court err in applying a deviation from the presumptive amount of child support for extraordinary educational expenses without complying with OCGA 19-6-15 (c) (2) (E)?; (2) Did the trial court err in ordering that child support would continue until the child reached the age of 20?; and (3) Did the trial court err in adjusting Mother’s gross income for a preexisting child support order under OCGA 19-6-15 (f) (5) (B)? The Supreme Court concluded, after review of the specific facts in the trial court record, the trial court erred in all three aspects: (1) the trial court erred in applying a deviation from the presumptive amount of child support for extraordinary educational expenses without complying with the statute; (2) the trial court omitted any requirement that the parties’ son be enrolled in and attending secondary school to extend support beyond the age of majority, therefore not complying with the plain language of the statute; and (3) no such preexisting child support order satisfying the time qualifications of the statute existed, therefore the trial court’s modification of a non-existent order was simply a nullity and had to be vacated. View "Heintz v. Heintz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted Wife’s application for discretionary appeal in this matter to consider whether the child custody award should be vacated for the failure of the trial court to incorporate a permanent parenting plan. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the final judgment and decree had to be vacated in part and the case remanded on this ground. The Court also vacated the award of attorney fees for the court, upon remand, to make the necessary findings of fact for the award of attorney fees to Husband. View "Williams v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a discretionary appeal in this case to decide whether the trial court, after interviewing the parties’ two children in chambers without the parties or counsel present, erred in relying on information from those interviews in making a final custody determination and entering the divorce decree, erred in denying the parties and counsel access to the court reporter’s transcript of the interviews, and erred in sealing the transcript. After review, the Court concluded the trial court improperly relied on information that was not available to the parties or counsel and improperly sealed the transcript of the court’s in-chambers interviews without complying with the procedures for sealing court records set forth in the Uniform Superior Court Rules. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s sealing order, vacated the final custody order and divorce decree, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Altman v. Altman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In response to Wife’s request for an award of attorney fees and costs, the trial court entered an order finding Husband’s conduct had unnecessarily expanded the litigation and awarded Wife fees and expenses. The decree awarded primary physical custody of the child to Wife, and permitted Wife to relocate to Arizona where she and the child resided prior to the marriage. To address problems that immediately arose concerning child custody and the exchange of the child between Arizona and Georgia, the trial court entered an amended final judgment and decree that changed the terms of the original child custody award with respect to Husband’s visitation and other details. On appeal, Husband challenged the award of attorney fees to Wife, and further asserted that even if attorney fees were properly awarded, the trial court erred in failing to offset from the final attorney fees award the amounts he had previously paid as temporary support and attorney fees. Due to the terms of the parties’ prenuptial agreement, the Supreme Court agreed with Husband that the trial court erred in awarding attorney fees: “[t]he fact remains, however, that pursuant to Georgia law, when they are awarded, attorney fees under OCGA § 19-6-2 are awarded ‘as an intrinsic part of temporary alimony.’” View "Vakharwala v. Vakharwala" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Voyles (Husband) and appellee Tara Voyles (Wife) were divorced in February 2015. In December 2015, Husband filed a petition in which he sought to hold Wife in contempt of the property distribution provisions of the divorce decree, in contempt of various portions of the parenting plan, and by later amendment sought to be named as the child’s primary physical custodian. Wife filed her own petition for modification and contempt, in which, among other things, she sought to modify the parenting plan incorporated into the divorce decree. Husband answered Wife’s petition and filed a counterclaim, again requesting in relevant part, a modification of custody to award him full or joint physical custody of the child. Wife moved to dismiss Husband’s petition for contempt and his counterclaim to her petition. Pursuant to a rule nisi, the trial court consolidated the two cases and conducted a joint hearing, at which Husband was not present. The trial court then entered a joint order granting Wife’s motion to dismiss Husband’s contempt petition (as amended) and his counterclaim to her petition; granting her motion to find Husband in contempt; granting her petition to modify the 2015 divorce decree with respect to various aspects of the parenting plan; and ordering Husband to pay past due unreimbursed health care expenses and attorney fees. Acting pro se, Husband filed a motion in which he sought to set aside the joint order and sought a new hearing on the ground that he was unaware of the hearing date because he had not received proper notice of it. After conducting a hearing, the trial court entered another order denying Husband’s motion to set aside and for a new hearing. Husband then filed a notice of appeal directed to the Court of Appeals seeking review of the latter order, and the Court of Appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court. An issue remained as to whether Husband followed the proper procedure for seeking appellate review. The Supreme Court concluded he did not, and that the appeal had to be dismissed. The Court dismissed this case by opinion, as opposed to the usual dismissal order, so that it could clarify the law and provide guidance regarding which appellate procedure should be followed in a case like this one where the issue raised on appeal concerns a matter other than custody (here, whether the trial court properly denied Husband’s motion to set aside). View "Voyles v. Voyles" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Wife Michelle Merrill appealed a trial court order denying her motion for attorney fees, which was based on the unsuccessful petition by husband Gary Lee to modify his child support obligation under the parties’ divorce decree. Because the settlement agreement incorporated into the divorce decree required a party who unsuccessfully seeks relief in connection with the agreement to pay the defending party’s reasonable attorney fees, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded with direction to determine the amount of fees to which Wife is entitled. View "Merrill v. Lee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Over a period of fifteen years, mother Helen Wynn undercalculated by more than $72,000 the amount of child support a court had ordered father Robert Craven to pay. When the father sought a change in custody, she then demanded payment. The trial court rejected her belated claim on the basis that it was barred by the equitable doctrine of laches. The Supreme Court found that laches does not apply to claims for uncollected child support, and it reversed. View "Wynn v. Craven" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law