Posted On: October 29, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Courteney Cox and David Arquette

This week in An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I’m going to discuss the recent separation of Courteney Cox and David Arquette. After 11 years of marriage and one child together, the couple announced that they were on a “trial separation.” People Magazine, October 25, 2010. In their statement, they said “…[w]e remain best friends and responsible parents to our daughter and we still love each other deeply. As we go though this process we are determined to use kindness and understanding to get through this together…”

However, since the announcement, Arquette does not seem to be using “kindness” in the process. He has gone on Howard Stern’s radio show to detail the reasons for the split and even publicly admitted to sleeping with another woman since he and Cox separated. We have yet to see if the couple will reconcile and, if not, how their divorce will play out, but it is likely that the sting of Arquette’s actions will have some bearing on the outcome.

Unlike Arquette, non-celebrities don’t usually have the ability to speak to media outlets about their divorces. However, spilling detailed relationship troubles to everyone you know and rubbing your spouse’s face in your post-separation activities, such as Arquette has done, will likely make for a more bitter and litigious divorce, which, in turn, will cost both parties more money. As a colleague of mine always says, one thing that can drive up the cost of a divorce is emotion. There is simply no reason to make an emotional process even more difficult for you, your spouse, or your children.

Posted On: October 25, 2010

Georgia Court of Appeals reverses Dekalb County Superior Court's upward modification of child support

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reversed a Dekalb County Superior Court’s grant of an upward child support modification. In that case, a mother filed for a modification of her child support obligation against her ex-husband, who had primary physical custody of their children. Harris v. Williams, 304 Ga. App. 390 (2010).

This trial court’s decision to increase the mother’s child support obligation is somewhat unique because the mother asked for a modification, but “did not allege any change in her income or financial status to support a modification of her child support, and [the father] did not file a counterclaim to modify child support.” Id. at 393. Yet the trial court still increased the child support obligation. In order to modify child support, a party must show “a substantial change in either parent’s income and financial status or the needs of the child[ren].” OCGA §19-6-15(k)(1). In this case, there was no evidence that the mother’s income or earning capacity had increased, and nothing was mentioned about any increased needs of the children. Harris, 304 Ga. App. at 394.

Generally, a trial court’s decision on a child support modification is reviewed for an “abuse of discretion” and, if there is evidence to support the trial court’s decision, the appellate court will affirm. Id. at 393. Here, due to the lack of evidence supporting a modification, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that the trial court abused its discretion in increasing the mother’s child support obligation, and reversed that portion of the judgment. Id. at 394.

Posted On: October 22, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren

This week in An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I’m going to discuss the well-publicized divorce of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren. The scandal surrounding Tiger’s multiple extramarital affairs began around Thanksgiving 2009. For the next several months, it seemed like women with whom he had affairs were coming out of the woodwork and speaking to the media each week. Throughout what must have been a gut wrenching time for Nordegren, she remained tactful, continuing her life as privately as possible, and did not thwart the relationship between Woods and their children.

A lesson to take from Nordegren is, no matter what your spouse has put you through and how angry you are at him/her, put your children first. At a time when she could have easily badmouthed Woods in the media and to their children, possibly ruining their relationship with him, she remained discreet. She only spoke to the media once and, even then, she called Woods a good father and refused to share details of the previous 10 months. Due to her actions, the children will likely have a positive relationship with both of their parents despite the hurt and anger that may exist between the parents.

Posted On: October 18, 2010

Georgia Supreme Court reverses ruling of Cobb County Superior Court on child support modification

The Georgia Supreme Court recently reversed a Cobb County Superior Court’s grant of a child support modification. In Herrin v. Herrin, the father had primary physical custody of the children and the mother was paying child support pursuant to a settlement agreement in the parties’ previous divorce action. Herrin v. Herrin, 287 Ga. 427 (2010). The father filed a petition for modification of child support alleging that the mother’s income had increased. Id. at 428. Following a hearing, the superior court found a “substantial and material change in the mother’s income,” basing its ruling, in part, on the mother’s ability to earn additional income. Id.

On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court stated “[i]n certain circumstances, earning capacity rather than gross income may be used to determine child support, and while a party’s past income is some evidence of earning capacity, it alone is not conclusive, but must be considered along with other relevant circumstances.” Id., quoting Duncan v. Duncan, 262 Ga. 872, 873 (1993). The evidence showed that the mother’s income had actually decreased by the time of the modification hearing, that she had tried to increase her hours and find a higher paying job but was unable to do so, and, though she had a real estate license, “she was unable to pursue a career selling real estate because of the depressed real estate market and her inability to fund out-of-pocket expenses required of a real estate sales agent.” Herrin, 287 Ga. at 429.

Looking at all of these relevant circumstances, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the mother and reversed the child support modification, holding that the record from the trial court proceedings “is devoid of evidence that the mother had the ability or means to earn the amount found by the superior court and upon which it based the award of increased child support.” Id. at 427.

Posted On: October 15, 2010

An Atlanta Divorce Attorney's Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce - Owner of Los Angeles Dodgers

In this weekly installment of An Atlanta Divorce Attorney’s Thoughts on Celebrity Divorce, I will discuss the ongoing divorce action of the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As you may have read in the New York Times or other news outlets, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers is going through a divorce, putting ownership of the Major League Baseball team in dispute. The key to this case is a post-nuptial agreement, of which there are two versions – one version gives the team to the husband/owner and the other version makes the parties joint owners of the team. The owner’s wife is asking that the agreement be thrown out and is alleging that the version giving complete ownership of the team to her husband was obtained fraudulently. If the agreement is thrown out, the team will be divided with the parties’ other assets under California’s community property law.

If this case was in Georgia and the agreement was invalidated, the team would be equitably divided. As explained in detail in previous blogs, equitable division does not necessarily mean equal. The judge would consider all the circumstances in deciding how (or if) to divide the team. Thus, the outcome of the case could be much different in Georgia than in it would be in California, where the parties would each receive 50% of the team. Closing arguments were recently completed and the judge now has 90 days to decide the fate of the parties and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

Posted On: October 11, 2010

Importance of specific language in Georgia divorce settlement agreement

The Georgia Supreme Court recently emphasized the importance of the specific language in a Georgia divorce settlement agreement. In that case, the parties jointly purchased a 27-acre tract of land during their marriage. Gonzalez v. Crocket, 287 Ga. 430 (2010). For financing purposes, they subdivided the property into a five-acre tract upon which the marital residence was built, and a 22-acre tract. Id. In the parties' divorce settlement agreement, the husband received the marital residence, which he was to refinance into his own name, and the wife was to quitclaim her interest in that marital residence to the husband. Id. at 431.

Several years later, the husband filed a Petition for Contempt against the wife for failing to quitclaim the 22-acre tract to him. Id. The trial court denied his petition, ruling that the settlement agreement did not address the 22-acre tract and it, therefore, remained jointly owned by the parties. Id.

The husband appealed, and Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court, affirming a long standing rule that “title to property not described in a verdict or judgment is unaffected by the decree and remains titled in the name of the owners as before the decree was entered.” Id. at 432, citing Messaadi v. Messaadi, 282 Ga. 126, 127 (2007). The settlement agreement only mentioned “the marital residence” and did not even mention the other property. In addition, the parties treated the properties as separate during the marriage and subsequent to the divorce. Since the 22-acre tract was not specifically described in the divorce decree, even though it was adjacent to the property on which the marital residence was located, it remained the joint property of the parties and the wife was not obligated to quitclaim her interest to the husband. Id.

Posted On: October 8, 2010

Georgia Supreme Court upholds short time period for lump sum alimony and property division payments in divorce case

The Georgia Supreme Court recently upheld a short time frame for payment of lump sum alimony and property division awards in a divorce case. Wier v. Wier, 287 Ga. 443 (2010). In that case, the parties were married for nearly 20 years and, following a jury trial, the wife was awarded $200,000 as lump sum property division to be paid within 15 days, and $600,000 as lump sum alimony to be paid within 90 days. Id. The husband appealed, arguing, among other things, that he was unable to timely make the alimony and property division payments. Id.

The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with the husband. The Court pointed out “the evidence showed that [husband] owns property valued at more than $1.6 million and his gross monthly income exceeds $16,600.” Id. Under long standing Georgia law, “a party can be required to sell or encumber property in order to pay equitable division and alimony awards.” Id.; Hollandsworth v. Hollandsworth, 242 Ga. 790 (1979). Emphasizing that the husband did not present any evidence of his inability to pay in a timely manner, the Georgia Supreme Court held that he can “sell or encumber his property, or take any other action he deems necessary, to comply with the trial court’s order.” Wier, 287 Ga. at 443.

Posted On: October 4, 2010

Georgia Supreme Court affirms lump sum child support payment in divorce case

Though child support is generally thought of as being paid in monthly installments, the Georgia Supreme Court recently affirmed a divorce decree which ordered a father to make one lump sum child support payment. Mullin v. Roy, S10F1120 (2010). In that case, shortly after the wife filed for divorce, the husband was arrested for possession of child pornography, lost his $80,000/year job, and began living off a $422,000 inheritance. Id. The husband pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to five years in prison the day after the divorce trial. Id. at 2.

In its divorce decree, the trial court acknowledged husband’s argument that he will have decreased earning capacity due to his sex offender status upon being released from prison, and calculated child support by settling “on an amount halfway between husband’s and wife’s projections for his future earnings.” Id. Based on the husband’s guilty plea and impending sentence, as well as the dwindling amount that remained of his inheritance, the trial court ordered the husband to pay his entire child support obligation within 60 days. Id. at 3.

The husband appealed, arguing that the court did not have the authority to award lump sum child support. Id. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed, holding that the child support statute “explicitly authorizes trial courts to exercise discretion in setting the amount and timing of payment.” Id.; OCGA §19-6-15(c)(2)(B). Though child support is typically paid in monthly installments, “there is no indication that the 2007 version of the guidelines statute eliminated the longstanding discretion of trial courts to order lump-sum payment under appropriate circumstances.” Id.

Posted On: October 1, 2010

Georgia Grounds for Divorce - Marriage is Irretrievably Broken

In Georgia, parties cannot obtain a divorce except on one of 13 grounds allowed by law, the thirteenth of which is “[t]he marriage is irretrievably broken.” OCGA §19-5-3(13). A divorce under this ground is generally referred to as a no-fault divorce.

A marriage is irretrievably broken “where either or both parties are unable or refuse to cohabit and there are no prospects for reconciliation.” Harwell v. Harwell, 233 Ga. 89, 91 (1974). However, both parties do not need to agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The Supreme Court has held that “where one of the parties to a marriage refuses to cohabit with the other and testifies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the fact that the other party maintains hope for reconciliation will not suppose a finding…that there are ‘prospects for reconciliation.’” McCoy v. McCoy, 236 Ga. 633, 634 (1976). Therefore, if one party requests a divorce on this ground and testifies that there is no chance of reconciliation, the other party cannot prevent the divorce simply by testifying that he/she believes they can reconcile.