Attorney's fees against wife upheld in Georgia divorce case

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently upheld an award of attorney's fees based upon Wife's conduct during the divorce litigation that caused the Husband to incur unnecessary attorney's fees. Abt v. Abt, S11F0670 (2011). In that case, after a temporary hearing, the parties were awarded joint legal custody of their two children, with the Wife being named primary physical custodian. Id. Subsequently, the Wife's boyfriend moved into the marital residence, and "the children revised their election of custodial parent several times, related in part to wife's new boyfriend and his residence in the home." Id. Just prior to the final trial, the wife moved for appointment of a guardian ad litem, and the trial was delayed so a guardian could be appointed "to address the custodial fluctuations of the children." Id. After the final hearing, the trial court ordered the Wife to pay Husband $14,862.50 in attorney's fees and the Wife appealed. Id. at 2. The attorney's fees were awarded pursuant to OCGA §9-15-14(b), which authorizes "an award of reasonable and necessary attorney fees upon a finding that an action or any part thereof lacked substantial justification, was interposed for delay or harassment, or an attorney or party unnecessarily expanded the proceeding by other improper conduct." Id. at 3. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the award of attorney's fees to Husband, as the trial court found that the Wife's actions during the divorce proceeding "caused the children to vacillate in their respective custodial elections and resulted in the necessity for the appointment of a guardian ad litem, the need to conduce emergency hearings, the entry of an order restraining wife from approaching husband's residence or business location, and the overall expansion of litigation." Id. at 4. These findings supported the trial court's holding that wife's actions unnecessarily expanded the litigation and, thus, there was no error in the award of attorney's fees. Id.

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