August 2019 was another hot and sunny summer month in Georgia. The Court of Appeals released one custody and visitation related opinion, and one other family law related opinion.
Payne v. Myatt, Case No. A19A1560, Georgia Court of Appeals, August 21, 2019.
Payne filed a legitimation action seeking joint legal and primary physical custody of B.P., his biological child. The trial court granted the legitimation; awarded joint legal custody to the parties with Myatt, the child’s mother, having primary physical custody; established visitation for Payne; and awarded child support to Myatt. The trial court also reserved the attorney’s fees issue, and several months later, ruled in Myatt’s favor. Payne filed a timely motion for new trial. One week later, Myatt moved for contempt sanctions, citing Payne’s failure to pay the attorney’s fee award. The trial court heard arguments on Payne’s motion for new trial and Myatt’s contempt motion on the same day, and entered an order finding Payne in contempt of the attorney’s fees order on that day. Although the trial court also made an oral ruling from the bench denying Payne’s motion for new trial, it did not enter its written order until almost two weeks later. Payne appealed from the trial court’s custody order, and from the subsequent contempt order.
Affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s custody determination because Payne failed to include the trial transcript in the appellate record. Without a transcript, the Court must presume that the evidence supports the trial court’s ruling.
The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the trial court’s order holding Payne in contempt for failure to pay the attorney’s fees. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. §9-11-62(b), Payne’s motion for new trial acted as supersedeas. The trial court did not exempt or place conditions on the supersedeas. Thus, since the trial court had not yet entered its written order denying Payne’s motion for new trial, it erred by enforcing the stayed attorney’s fees award. The fact that the trial court made its oral ruling on the same day it entered the contempt order has no bearing. An oral pronouncement is not a judgment until it is reduced to writing and entered as a judgment.
Related Family Law Cases Released in August, 2019:
Termination of Parental Rights
In the Interest of C.A.B., a child, Case No. A19A0969, Georgia Court of Appeals, August 20, 2019.
Given the mother’s long history of drug use (among other things), and her continued non-compliance with the reunification case plan requirements, the evidence supported the juvenile court’s termination of her parental rights. The juvenile court’s decision to terminate the mother’s parental rights was based on three of the five statutory grounds enumerated in O.C.G.A. §15-11-310(a). Findings as to only one of those grounds is necessary before the juvenile court moves to the second step of the termination of parental rights process: considering whether the termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child. The Court of Appeals held that the juvenile court did not err in concluding that the evidence was clear and convincing that the mother lost her parental rights to the child, and that termination of her parental rights was in the child’s best interests.