Order for supervised visitation upheld by Georgia Court of Appeals

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently upheld an order for supervised visitation, despite the father's allegations of 17 errors by the trial court. Gottschalk v. Gottschalk, A11A0565 (2011). In that case, the parties consented to joint legal and physical custody of their children in their divorce action, with detailed visitation provisions in the final decree. Id. at 3. About a year later, after the father's arrest, the mother filed a petition seeking supervised visitation for the father. Id. The trial court appointed a custody evaluator, who was to write a report to be distributed ONLY to the court, guardian ad litem and the parties, except upon the court's express permission otherwise. Id. at 4. During the hearing, the trial court discovered that the father's expert witness had received a copy of the custody evaluation, and barred the expert from testifying about it since the father had not received express permission to disclose it to him. Id. at 7. The trial court ultimately granted the petition for supervised visitation, holding, with significant factual support, that the father's "conduct was potentially dangerous for the children." Id. at 9. After the father's motion for a new trial was denied, he appealed. Several of the father's allegations of error were based upon the trial court's order prohibiting dissemination of the custody evaluation. In one enumeration of error, he alleges "the trial court erred in interpreting the court's prior orders as forbidding the parties from allowing their expert witnesses to review the custody evaluator's report to testify about problems with the methodology used." Id. at 17-18. The Georgia Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the orders were "very clear that the report could be disseminated only to the parties, attorneys, and guardian unless otherwise allowed by the court," and the language "is not susceptible to any other interpretation." Id. The Court of Appeals also pointed out that parties consented to the order, and "both sides had previously sought and obtained permission to reveal the contents for the report to specific people." Id. Thus, the Court was not at all sympathetic to this allegation. If the father had just gone through the proper procedure, his expert likely would have been permitted to review the report and testify about it.

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