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Evans v. Sangster

Court of Appeals of Georgia

January 15, 2015

EVANS
v.
SANGSTER et al. (two cases)

Adoption. Crisp Superior Court. Before Judge Chasteen.

W. Edward Meeks, Jr., for appellants.

Andrea B. Seliski, Cotton Law Firm, John C. Cotton, for appellees.

ELLINGTON, Presiding Judge. Phipps, C. J., and McMillian, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 279

Ellington, Presiding Judge.

In Case No. A14A2110, Joanna Evans (" Joanna" ) appeals from an order of the Superior Court of Crisp County, which entered a judgment affecting two cases that were consolidated below: (1) a petition brought by Connie

Page 280

and Bob Sangster (" the Sangsters" ), in which they sought visitation with their biological grandson, Joanna's minor child, C. S.; and (2) a petition for stepparent adoption brought by Joanna's husband, Jason Evans (" Jason" ), in which the Sangsters intervened. In related claims of error, Joanna contends that the trial court erred in granting the Sangsters visitation with C. S. She also contends that the trial court erred in consolidating the proceedings below, and in issuing an adoption decree that was " subject to" the court's final decision with respect to grandparent visitation. Finally, she argues that, although the court granted her husband's petition to adopt, the court erred in entering a decree allowing C. S. to retain his father's surname.

In Case No. A15A0079, Jason appeals from the final decree of adoption. Jason raises the same claims of error that Joanna raises in her appeal. Because these matters were consolidated by the trial court below and decided based upon the same facts, we consolidate these appeals for the purposes of this opinion. See, e.g., Ray v. Hann, 323 Ga.App. 45 (746 S.E.2d 600) (2013).

The facts relevant to both appeals are as follows. The Sangsters are the paternal grandparents of the minor child, C. S. C. S. is the son of Joanna and of the Sangsters' son, Robert Michael Sangster, Jr. (" Michael" ). Joanna and Michael divorced on March 25, 2010, about [330 Ga.App. 534] two years after C. S. was born. The final decree awarded the parties joint legal custody of C. S., with Joanna being the child's primary physical custodian. The final divorce decree incorporated a separation agreement which provided as follows:

The parties agree that[,] in the event of the husband's death during the minority of their child, the Husband's parents shall be entitled to reasonable visitation rights with said child, and that in the event of the Wife's death during the minority of the child, the Wife's parents shall be entitled to reasonable visitation rights with the child.

After the divorce, the Sangsters regularly visited with C. S., primarily when he was staying with his father during his custodial visits. On August 27, 2011, Joanna married Jason. Michael died of cancer in July 2012.

Not long after Michael's death, the Sangsters experienced resistance from Joanna in their efforts to continue regular visitation with C. S. Consequently, they sought the advice of counsel and, with counsel's assistance, they entered into an agreement with Joanna setting forth a regular visitation schedule. On July 15, 2013, the Sangsters filed a petition seeking court-ordered grandparent visitation, which initiated the underlying suit, Civil Action No. 13V-159. When Joanna was served with the suit, she immediately withheld all visitation with C. S. from the Sangsters. Consequently, the Sangsters amended their complaint to include a contempt count. In her amended answer, Joanna " denie[d] that the [Sangsters] are 'entitled to remain ...


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