Williams v. Williams, A21A1552, A21A1553

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtMarkle, Judge.
Citation362 Ga.App. 839,870 S.E.2d 462
Parties WILLIAMS v. WILLIAMS (two cases).
Docket NumberA21A1552, A21A1553
Decision Date02 March 2022

362 Ga.App. 839
870 S.E.2d 462

WILLIAMS
v.
WILLIAMS (two cases).

A21A1552, A21A1553

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

March 2, 2022


870 S.E.2d 465

Gabriel Ronald Bradford Bradford, Jefferson, James John McGinnis, Andrew Bain McClintock, Atlanta, for Appellant.

Lydia Jackson Sartain, Nancy Lee Richardson, Gainesville, for Appellee.

Markle, Judge.

362 Ga.App. 839

Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a divorce decree, and awarded child support and alimony to Stephanie Williams ("the Wife"), as well as attorney fees, pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14 (b). We granted Jason Williams's ("the Husband") applications for discretionary appeal and these appeals followed. In Case No. A21A1552, the Husband argues the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees. In Case No. A21A1553, he argues that the trial court abused its discretion by (1) deviating from the statutory child support guidelines without making the requisite findings or attaching the child support worksheets to the final decree; (2) awarding an excessive amount of alimony; and (3) awarding credit card travel points to the Wife without first classifying them as separate or marital property.1 As set forth below, in Case No. A21A1553, we reverse the child support award, but affirm the trial court's order as to alimony and the equitable division of the travel points. In Case No. A21A1552, we vacate the attorney fee award.

In the appellate review of a bench trial, this Court will not set aside the trial court's factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous, and this Court properly gives due deference to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses. The standard by which findings of fact are reviewed is the "any evidence" rule, under which a finding by the trial court supported by any evidence must be upheld.

Lockhart v. Lockhart , 361 Ga. App. 499, 863 S.E.2d 174 (2021).

So viewed, the record shows that, prior to their divorce in December 2020, the Wife and Husband had been married for 17 years and had 4 children together. The Wife was a stay-at-home mom for the greater portion of the marriage. At the time of the divorce, the Husband was employed as a corporate director, earning a base yearly salary of $200,000 and an annual bonus in excess of $2,000,000.

Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a final order and parenting plan awarding the Wife primary physical custody of the four minor children, and joint legal custody. The trial court also

362 Ga.App. 840

ordered the Husband to pay the Wife $3,825 in monthly child support; $4,000 in monthly alimony; and an additional lump sum alimony award of 10 percent of his annual bonus. As additional child support, the Husband was ordered to pay for the children's private school tuition; an outstanding charitable pledge to the school for 2020; annual contributions to the children's college savings accounts; 80 percent of their extracurricular activities; and their medical insurance, as well as 80 percent of any uncovered medical expenses. Although the trial court expressed an intention to attach a child support worksheet to its final order to support the deviations, no such worksheet or any corresponding schedules appear in the record. Additionally, the trial court awarded the Wife 50 percent of the Husband's 2020 bonus and all of the parties’ accrued credit card travel points. Finally, the trial court awarded the Wife $129,520 in attorney fees, pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14 (b). The Husband filed applications for discretionary review, which this Court granted, giving rise to these appeals.

870 S.E.2d 466

Case No. A21A1553

1. Child support.

(a) As a threshold matter, the Husband contends that the trial court abused its discretion by entering a child support award that deviated from the statutory guidelines without making the necessary findings of fact or attaching the child support worksheets to the final order. We agree.

Georgia's child support guidelines are set out in OCGA § 19-6-15 and provide a detailed scheme for determining the amount of child support to be awarded by the court, and compliance with the statute's terms is mandatory. The guidelines establish a presumptive amount of child support calculated principally in proportion to the adjusted gross income of each parent.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Park-Poaps v. Poaps , 351 Ga. App. 856, 866 (6), 833 S.E.2d 554 (2019).

Under OCGA § 19-6-15 (i) (1) (B), when a trial court orders a deviation from the presumptive amount of child support, it must make

certain specific findings of fact ... in the child support order, including the reasons for the deviation, the amount of child support that would have been required if no deviation
362 Ga.App. 841
had been applied, how the application of the presumptive amount of child support would be unjust or inappropriate considering the relative ability of each parent to provide support, and how the best interest of the child who is the subject of the child support determination is served by a deviation from the presumptive amount.

Spruell v. Spruell , 356 Ga. App. 722, 727 (3), 848 S.E.2d 896 (2020). If the trial court fails to make all of the required findings, we must reverse the child support award, and remand the case to the trial court to make the necessary findings. Fladger v. Fladger , 296 Ga. 145, 149 (2), 765 S.E.2d 354 (2014) ; Brogdon v. Brogdon , 290 Ga. 618, 623 (5) (b), 723 S.E.2d 421 (2012) (noting that it is well-settled that the written findings required under OCGA § 19-6-15 (i) (1) (B) are "mandatory") (citations omitted). Additionally, under OCGA § 19-6-15 (m) (1), the trial court is required to attach the child support worksheets and corresponding schedules to the final judgment.

Here, in addition to the presumptive amount of child support, the trial court directed the Husband to pay for (1) the children's yearly school tuition; (2) an outstanding charitable pledge to the school; (3) annual payment to the children's college savings plans; (4) 80 percent of the children's extracurricular activities; and (5) 80 percent of all the children's medical expenses not covered by his health insurance. However, the trial court did not attach the worksheets or any schedules it used to calculate child support to its final order,2 as required by OCGA § 19-6-15 (m) (1).3 See also OCGA § 19-6-15 (b) (8) (requiring the completion of schedule E when the final judgment deviates from the presumptive amount of child support). Furthermore, it made no findings in accordance with OCGA § 19-6-15 (i) (1) (B) regarding the deviations for extracurricular activities or for the medical insurance and expenses.

362 Ga.App. 842

With regard to the deviations for tuition, the charitable pledge, and the college savings plans, the trial court expressly found "these amounts to be appropriate as they reflect the disparity of income between the parties, are consistent with the intent expressed by both parties during their divorce

870 S.E.2d 467

trial and Husband can afford the same, given his high income." But this finding fails to satisfy the statutory requirements. Most notably, it makes no mention of whether these deviations from the presumptive amount of child support serve the best interest of the children. OCGA § 19-6-15 (i) (1) (B) (iii) (II). "[E]ven presuming the evidence supported the trial court's actions, we must first have the required findings of fact for review so that we know that the court considered the correct factors in exercising its discretion." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Brogdon , 290 Ga. at 625 (5) (b), 723 S.E.2d 421.

For all these reasons, the child support award does not comply with the statute.4 See Fladger , 296 Ga. at 149 (2), 765 S.E.2d 354 ; Brogdon , 290 Ga. at 623 (5) (b), 723 S.E.2d 421 ; compare Johnson v. Johnson , 358 Ga. App. 638, 641 (2), 856 S.E.2d 17 (2021) (trial court did not err in deviating from the presumptive amount of child support where the findings in an amended divorce degree addressed "the presumptive amount of child support, why the presumptive amount of child support would be inappropriate, the reasons for deviating due to private school and extracurricular activities, and why the deviations were in the best interest of the children.") Accordingly, we reverse the final judgment in part, as to the child support ruling, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. In doing so, we note that the Wife concedes that the trial court must also modify the income deduction order as a result of our ruling.

(b) In light of this threshold ruling, we do not address the Husband's specific claims of error with regard to the deviations for educational, medical, and extracurricular activities. See Brogdon , 290 Ga. at 625 (5) (b), 723 S.E.2d 421. However, the Husband also contends that the trial court erred by including his employer-paid health insurance benefits in its calculation of his monthly gross income. We address this...

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1 practice notes
  • CL SNF, LLC v. Fountain, A20A0773
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 21, 2022
    ...ruling by the trial court on an issue, there is no ruling for this Court to review for legal error. See Williams v. Williams , 362 Ga. App. 839, 848 (4) (a), n.9, 870 S.E.2d 462 (2022) ; Lend A Hand Charity v. Ford Plantation Club , 338 Ga. App. 594, 595 (1), 791 S.E.2d 180 (2016).To summar......
1 cases
  • CL SNF, LLC v. Fountain, A20A0773
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 21, 2022
    ...ruling by the trial court on an issue, there is no ruling for this Court to review for legal error. See Williams v. Williams , 362 Ga. App. 839, 848 (4) (a), n.9, 870 S.E.2d 462 (2022) ; Lend A Hand Charity v. Ford Plantation Club , 338 Ga. App. 594, 595 (1), 791 S.E.2d 180 (2016).To summar......

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