In August 2018, the Georgia Court of Appeals released three custody related opinions, and one other family law related opinion.
Jones v. Ahmad, 347 Ga. App. 192 (2018)
The parties had joint legal custody of their minor child, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Jones had primary physical custody, and Ahmad had visitation rights. Jones filed a modification of custody action because she wanted to move to Ohio, primarily for specialized educational programs for the child. The guardian ad litem recommended that leaving Georgia would not be in the child’s best interests. Jones argued that the guardian ad litem’s investigation was inadequate, and should be disregarded by the Court. The trial court denied Jones’ modification petition, and granted Ahmad’s counterclaim by entering a parenting plan that transferred primary custody to Ahmad, with Jones having visitation, only if and when Jones moves from Georgia.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Jones’ petition. Even if the guardian ad litem’s report and recommendation is limited or not thorough (not so in this case), the trial court may consider the report and recommendation as long as the trial court exercises its own independent judgment regarding the best interests of the child. Finally, the trial court’s grant of Ahmad’s counterclaim was an improper self-executing change of custody since it would be triggered, if ever, at an unspecified time in the future without judicial oversight.
Bazan v. Bazan, 347 Ga. App. 204 (2018)
The parties had joint legal and physical custody of their minor children. Mother filed for a modification of custody and child support. The final trial was adjourned and rescheduled twice over a period of more than two years before the Mother/Plaintiff rested her case. Although the Father/Defendant had attorneys at the first two days of the trial, he appeared pro se for the third and final day of trial. Mother was granted legal and physical custody of the children, with Father having supervised visitation. Father appealed, contending that he was denied the opportunity to present evidence, and the right to re-open the evidence after he mistakenly rested his case.
No impropriety. Father was entitled to cross-examine Mother’s witnesses and to submit evidence relevant to their testimony through those witnesses, but nothing more during the Mother’s case-in-chief. It was in the trial court’s discretion whether to re-open the evidence after Father rested his case. The Court of Appeals reiterated case law that a pro se litigant is not entitled to deferential treatment, and that although they are held to lower standards with regard to their pleadings, a trial court cannot apply a lower standard at trial.
Ford v. Ford, 347 Ga. App. 233 (2018)
Dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Father brought this direct appeal challenging the trial court’s custody award in his divorce action. Even though custody was the only issue on appeal, because the appeal was brought from a divorce proceeding, Father was required to bring the appeal via discretionary application. No jurisdiction.
Related family law cases released in August, 2018