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Georgia Case Law Update " Sutherlin v. Sutherlin (Part 3)

The blog entitled “Georgia Case Law Update – Sutherlin v. Sutherlin (Part 1)” discussed one contempt issue flowing from the case Sutherlin v. Sutherlin. There are several other contempt issues in that case, another of which is discussed here. To recap, Sutherlin v. Sutherlin involved parties who divorced in 2012, but the Wife filed for contempt three years later, alleging that the Husband failed to comply with several provisions of their Separation and Property Division Agreement. Sutherlin v. Sutherlin, S17F0613 (June 26, 2017).

The third allegation of contempt stemming from this divorce case was that Husband failed “to designate Wife as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy as required to secure Husband’s buyout obligations under the decree.” Id. Specifically, as part of the family business buyout provision, the Husband was required to purchase and maintain a $250,000 life insurance policy naming the Wife as beneficiary until he paid her the sums required under the buyout. The Wife alleged that the Husband had changed the beneficiary designation to the parties’ son in violation of the Agreement. Though his attorney initially objected to the line of questioning about the life insurance policy, Husband did not contest the fact that he changed the beneficiary and stated during his testimony that he could change the designation back to the Wife. After the trial court found him in willful contempt on this issue and ordered him to comply with the requirement and provide proof within 30 days, the Husband appealed, arguing he was not given sufficient notice on this ground of contempt.

While the Husband is correct that reasonable notice of the charges is required in advance of a contempt hearing, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s holding that the life insurance issue was directly related to the allegation of contempt on buyout provision and there is no argument that he did not have clear and adequate notice of the contempt on that issue. The Court further held that, in his own testimony, the Husband “conceded that he had no objection to reinstating Wife as beneficiary of the insurance policy as required by the terms of the Agreement.” Id. Thus, since the trial court merely ordered him to do what he said on the record that he would do, the Georgia Supreme Court found no error in the finding of contempt on this issue.

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