Judgment against third party in divorce case upheld by Supreme Court of Georgia

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently upheld a monetary judgment against a third party in a divorce action. Huling v. Huling, S10F1591 (2011). In that case, the husband filed for divorce after 23 years of marriage. Husband's father, sister, and two companies ("third-party plaintiffs") were joined as indispensible parties after the wife alleged "marital property had been transferred to these parties in an attempt to defraud Wife of her claim to equitable division of such assets." Id. After the jury charge conference in which counsel for husband and wife engaged in a "lengthy discussion" regarding the formal and content of the jury form, the jury returned a verdict finding that husband and the other joined parties ("appellants") "had conspired to defraud Wife" and awarded her a substantial sum, entered jointly and severally against the appellants. Id. at 2. The appellants then appealed, contending that "the judgment against the third-party plaintiffs cannot stand because…an equitable division claim cannot be brought against a third party to the marriage, and,…a money judgment against a third party cannot be entered under such circumstances." Id. at 3. The Supreme Court of Georgia rejected this argument, holding that "any error in the judgment against the third-party plaintiffs was induced by appellants" and they cannot now complain about it. Id. at 4-5. Specifically, the Court pointed out that, in the jury charge conference, the Husband's attorney stated that any judgment would be jointly and severally against all of the appellants, and that they all stood together. Id. at 4. The attorney for the third-party plaintiffs later agreed with this statement. Id. Thus, they cannot now complain about it and are held to the judgment against them. It is extremely unlikely that this ruling will be extended to third parties in general, as it is wholly based upon the particular circumstances surrounding the charge conference.

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