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Lutz v. Lutz

Supreme Court of Georgia

October 30, 2017

LUTZ
v.
LUTZ.

          BENHAM, Justice.

         This appeal stems from a discretionary application for review which we granted pursuant to the former Supreme Court Rule 34 (4).[1] Appellant Leland Lutz ("Husband") appeals the final judgment and decree of divorce, as well as the trial court's order granting attorney's fees to appellee Deborah Lutz ("Wife"). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with direction.

         The relevant facts are set forth as follows. The parties were married in 1997. Husband worked as an attorney during the course of the marriage and Wife worked primarily at home caring for the parties' three children; however, Wife had a master's degree in education and returned to the workforce as a teacher in 2013. In July 2014, the parties separated and Husband filed for divorce in April 2015. The trial court granted the parties a divorce after a four-day bench trial in May and June of 2016.

         Trial Evidence Regarding Husband's Income

         At trial, Husband testified as follows about his income. He stated on direct examination that his gross monthly income was $36, 477.50, or $437, 730 annually, which was the amount he provided in his financial affidavit dated May 1, 2016. Husband stated this income amount was based on an annual base salary of $325, 000, as well as a bonus he received in 2016 in the amount of $104, 412.[2] In addition, the evidence showed Husband received fringe benefits from his employer, including a car allowance. Husband testified that he had placed the 2016 bonus check, which was for a net amount of approximately $67, 000 after taxes, in a drawer for safekeeping and had not deposited or spent it. In regard to his annual base salary of $325, 000, Husband stated that amount reflected raises he received in January and April of 2016.

         On the child support worksheet, Husband stated his gross monthly salary was $35, 515.92, or $426, 191.04 annually, inclusive of the 2016 bonus. Husband testified this gross salary amount was different from the gross salary amount he listed in his income affidavit because it reflected the amount he had actually earned during the year-to-date. That is, the gross monthly salary Husband listed on the child support worksheet only reflected the pro rata portions of the increases he received to his base salary in January and April of 2016.

         The Final Judgment & Decree of Divorce & Attorney's Fees Order

         The trial court issued the final judgment and decree of divorce on July 11, 2016. In the body of the divorce decree, the trial court made the following factual findings as to Husband's income:

Husband now works as General Counsel for a large and successful corporation earning approximately $437, 724 annually. Additionally, Husband is eligible for an annual bonus. In 2016, he has been given a bonus of $104, 000.[3]
***
As stated previously, Husband earns $437, 724 per year, plus the opportunity for an annual bonus.[4]

         The trial court found that Wife's annual income, as a teacher, was $42, 000.

         The trial court awarded Wife monthly alimony in the amount of $6, 850 to be payable until July 1, 2024, or Wife's remarriage, or the death of either party.[5] As part of the equitable division of the marital property, the trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife a lump sum payment of $35, 000 from his 2016 bonus.[6] Finally, the trial court ordered Husband to pay $4, 089 in monthly child support consistent with the child support worksheet that listed Husband's gross year-to-date income as $426, 191.04. The child support worksheet was incorporated into and attached to the final judgment and decree of divorce.

         At trial, there was evidence that both parties used their joint bank account to pay some of their attorney's fees. The total amount of attorney's fees spent from the joint bank account was approximately $90, 000. The parties filed cross motions for attorney's fees and the trial court held a hearing on the issue on August 29, 2016. Pursuant to OCGA § 19-6-2, the trial court awarded Wife attorney's fees in the ...


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