Todd v. Todd., S10A0471.

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtCARLEY, Presiding Justice.
Citation703 S.E.2d 597
Docket NumberNo. S10A0471.,S10A0471.
Decision Date28 June 2010

703 S.E.2d 597


No. S10A0471.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

June 1, 2010.Reconsideration Denied June 28, 2010.

[703 S.E.2d 598]

James E. Watkins, McDonough, for appellant.Sullivan & Ogletree, Michele W. Ogletree, Griffin, for appellee.CARLEY, Presiding Justice.

The trial court entered a final divorce decree which dissolved the parties' marriage, distributed their property and awarded primary physical custody of the parties' minor child to Sharon Todd (Mother). During the same term of court, Walter Todd (Father) filed a motion for reconsideration, requesting primary physical custody of the child. After a hearing, the trial court vacated the child custody, visitation and child support provisions of the original decree, and revised the decree to award physical custody of the child to Father. Mother then challenged the custody award in the final divorce decree by timely filing both an application for discretionary appeal in this Court and a notice of appeal in the trial court. The notice of appeal and the record were promptly transmitted to this Court, and the case was separately docketed as a direct appeal. However, the discretionary application was subsequently granted pursuant to our Pilot Project in divorce cases. Mother did not thereafter filed a second notice of appeal.

1. “It is incumbent upon this Court to inquire into its own jurisdiction. [Cit.]” Nix v. Watts, 284 Ga. 100, 664 S.E.2d 194 (2008). A direct appeal will not lie from a judgment granting a divorce, and instead an appeal from such a judgment must be brought by application. OCGA § 5–6–35(a)(2). Likewise, prior to 2007, there was no right to a direct appeal in child custody cases. Instead, pursuant to the former version of OCGA § 5–6–35(a)(2), appeals in such cases had to be brought by application. However, in 2007, the General Assembly amended both OCGA §§ 5–6–34 and 5–6–35, removing all references to child custody cases in OCGA § 5–6–35(a)(2), and enacting subsection (11) in OCGA § 5–6–34(a), to provide that direct appeals may be taken from “judgments or orders in child custody cases including, but not limited to, awarding or refusing to change child custody or holding or declining to hold persons in contempt of such child custody judgment or orders.” Consequently, this case raises the issue of whether the right to a direct appeal in child custody cases, set forth in OCGA § 5–6–34(a)(11), applies to final decrees of divorce in which child custody is an issue.

Both OCGA §§ 5–6–34(a) and 5–6–35(a) are involved when, as here, a trial court issues a judgment listed in the direct appeal statute in a case whose subject matter is covered under the discretionary appeal statute. In resolving similar conflicts, this court has ruled that an application for appeal is required when the “underlying subject matter” is listed in OCGA § 5–6–35(a). [Cit.] Therefore, the discretionary application procedure must be followed, even when the party is appealing a judgment or order that is procedurally subject to a direct appeal under OCGA § 5–6–34(a). [Cits.]

Rebich v. Miles, 264 Ga. 467, 468, 448 S.E.2d 192 (1994).

In this case, the underlying subject matter is the divorce action resulting in a final divorce decree. Although the divorce decree here determined, among other things, child custody, such determination does not transform this into a “child custody case” as that phrase is used in OCGA § 5–6–34(a)(11). In enacting that code section and revising OCGA § 5–6–35(a)(2), the General Assembly specifically provided that its amendments “shall apply to all child custody proceedings and modifications of child custody filed on or after January 1, 2008.” Ga. L. 2007, pp. 554, 569, § 8. A divorce action is not a child custody proceeding, but is a proceeding brought to determine whether a marriage should be dissolved. See OCGA § 19–5–1 et seq. All other issues in a divorce action, including child custody, are merely ancillary to that primary issue. In a somewhat similar context, this Court has held that even though a deprivation proceeding necessitates a determination as to child custody, “the proceeding itself is to determine whether the child is deprived and is not an action brought to

[703 S.E.2d 599]

decide custody matters.” In the Interest of J.P., 267 Ga. 492, 480 S.E.2d 8 (1997). See also In the Interest of J.N., 302 Ga.App. 631(1), 691 S.E.2d 396 (2010).

This Court has not previously resolved the issue raised by this appeal, but it has interpreted the effective date of the act in question, holding that “the salient date for triggering the change in appellate procedure ... is the time the legal action is filed, not the date that an order sought to be appealed in such action is issued.” In the Interest of K.R., 285 Ga. 155, 156, 674 S.E.2d 288 (2009). Although not conclusive, this holding is consistent with the idea that the nature of the legal action filed is critical to the determination of the correct appellate procedure.

Three Court of Appeals cases, which have allowed direct appeals under OCGA § 5–6–34(a)(11), exemplify the kind of “child custody case” that is encompassed by...

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19 cases
  • Daniel v. Daniel, A20A1938
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 12, 2021
    ...was rendered to revise, correct, revoke, modify, or vacate the judgment." (Citation omitted.) Todd v. Todd , 287 Ga. 250, 253 (2), 703 S.E.2d 597 (2010) ; see also OCGA § 15-1-3 (6) (inherent power of the trial court to amend its orders).We have concluded that the trial court erred in confu......
  • Avren v. Cases), s. S11A0064
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • May 16, 2011 a direct appeal under § 5–6–34(a). Rebich v. Miles, 264 Ga. 467, 468, 448 S.E.2d 192 (1994). See Todd v. Todd, ––– Ga. ––––(1), 703 S.E.2d 597 (2010) (appeal of a divorce judgment in which child custody was an issue must come by way of application). 6 Judgments affirmed.--------Notes: 1.......
  • Sanusi v. Cmty. & S. Bank, A14A1905.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • December 4, 2014
    ...or vacate the judgment] is filed within that same term of court.(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Todd v. Todd, 287 Ga. 250, 253(2), 703 S.E.2d 597 (2010). Because the bank filed its motion within the term of court that the order denying confirmation was entered,3 the trial court was aut......
  • Woodruff v. Choate, A15A0452.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • November 17, 2015
    ...whether an application is nonetheless required based on the "underlying subject matter" at issue. See Todd v. Todd, 287 Ga. 250, 251(1), 703 S.E.2d 597 (2010). Here, the underlying subject matter is Woodruff's petition for modification of custody.Both of our jurisdictional statutes, OCGA § ......
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