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Neal v. Hibbard

Supreme Court of Georgia

March 16, 2015

NEAL
v.
HIBBARD. NEAL
v.
NEAL

Reconsideration denied April 9, 2015.

Page 601

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 602

Domestic relations. Richmond Superior Court. Before Judge Roper.

Joseph Neal, Jr., pro se.

Allyson Hibbard, pro se.

Shepard Plunkett Hamilton Boudreaux, Jenna B. Matson, for Jennifer Neal.

HINES, Presiding Justice. All the Justices concur.

OPINION

Page 603

Hines, Presiding Justice.

In these two cases, Joseph R. Neal, Jr. (" Neal" ) appeals the trial court's orders modifying child custody and child support as they pertain to his two children by two different marriages. For the reasons that follow, as to both cases, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Page 604

Neal and Allyson C. Hibbard (" Hibbard" ) were divorced on January 28, 2000. They had one child together, a son who was fifteen at the time of the bench trial in the instant action; under the 2000 final judgment and decree of divorce, the parties had joint legal and physical custody of their son, who spent half of his time with each parent. In the divorce decree, Neal was ordered to pay child support to Hibbard in the amount of $660 per month, as well as certain expenses of the child.

Neal and Jennifer S. Neal (" Jennifer" ), Neal's second wife, were divorced in October 2006, remarried in 2009, and divorced again on July 22, 2010. They had one child together, a daughter who was seven at the time of the bench trial in the instant action; under the 2010 final judgment and decree of divorce, the parties had joint legal and physical custody of the child, and again, the child's time was split equally between the two parents, and Neal was ordered to pay Jennifer $1,000 per month in child support, as well as certain expenses of the child.

[296 Ga. 883] On December 16, 2011, a sexual incident occurred involving Neal, his then-wife,[1] and their eighteen-year-old babysitter. As a result of the incident, Neal was charged with rape and other crimes; the rape charge was dismissed in 2012, although Neal was sentenced for possession of marijuana and furnishing alcohol to an underage person. Neal was a personal injury attorney in Augusta; his criminal prosecution received extensive negative media coverage; his income was negatively impacted; and he was suspended from the practice of law in South Carolina and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. Neal then moved to Atlanta in an effort to restore his practice.

Both Hibbard and Jennifer sought modification of their divorce decrees as to child custody and support, and the cases were heard together. As to Neal's son with Hibbard, on September 10, 2013, the trial court entered its final order modifying custody, giving the parties joint legal custody of the child, with Hibbard being the primary physical custodian, and Neal's visitation taking place in Augusta. On the issue of support, on September 26, 2013, the trial court entered a temporary order under which Neal was to pay $2,000 per month; on November 23, 2013, the trial court awarded Hibbard $1,774 per month in its final judgment modifying child support. Neal appeals from these orders in Case No. S14A1669.

As to Neal's child with Jennifer, on September 10, 2013, the trial court entered its final order modifying custody, giving the parties joint legal custody of the child, with Jennifer being the primary physical custodian, and Neal's visitation taking place in Augusta. In a September 26, 2013, temporary child support order, Neal was directed to pay $2,000 per month. On November 14, 2013, the trial court awarded Jennifer $1,857 per month in its final judgment modifying child support, and in the same order, awarded her $5,334 in arrears for unpaid child support; in a ...


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