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Gooch v. Gooch

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 1, 2015

GOOCH
v.
GOOCH

Domestic relations. Cherokee Superior Court. Before Judge Harris.

Judgment reversed and case remanded with direction.

James D. Nichols, Jr., for appellant.

Roach, Caudill & Gunn, Thomas A. Roach, Jr., David W. Frost, for appellee.

HINES, Presiding Justice. All the Justices concur.

OPINION

Hines, Presiding Justice.

This Court granted the application for discretionary appeal of Nancy Gooch (" Nancy" ) from the trial court's order in her contempt action against appellant Terry J. Gooch (" Terry" ). For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Under the couple's 2012 divorce decree and incorporated settlement agreement, Terry was required to select a certain option for his retirement benefits, and to designate Nancy as the survivor beneficiary; under that option, Terry would receive life-time benefits, with a guarantee of ten years of payments, such that should he die within that period, payments would continue to his designated survivor beneficiary for the remainder of the guarantee period, referred to as " Life with 10-year guarantee." However, Terry did not comply with this directive of the decree, instead selecting an entirely different retirement option, and naming his new wife as the survivor beneficiary thereunder; this designation was irrevocable. In December 2013, Nancy filed in the trial court a petition for Terry to be held in contempt for his

Page 248

failure to comply with this portion of the decree. After a hearing, on May 29, 2014, the trial court entered an order finding Terry in willful contempt of his obligations under the divorce decree, but determined that no available remedy existed; the court's order also awarded Nancy $5,600 in attorney fees, which it struck in response to a motion for reconsideration by Terry. This Court granted Nancy's application for discretionary appeal to determine whether the trial court was correct in ruling that there was, at this time, no available remedy for Terry's contempt.

As this Court has noted,

" [i]n cases of contempt the trial judge is vested with a discretion in determining whether his orders have been violated and how such infringements should be treated; and [297 Ga. 190] it has been said that this court will not disturb his judgment, unless it appears that he has abused his discretion. [Cits.]" [Cit.]

Burke v. Burke, 263 Ga. 141, 142 (2) (429 S.E.2d 85) (1993). The trial court's order states that the court

concludes that there is no available remedy for [Terry's] actions. The [decree's] provision ... for the survivor's benefits applies in the event of [Terry] predeceasing [Nancy]. Unless and until [Terry] predeceases [Nancy], ...

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