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Pate v. Sadlock

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

May 3, 2018

PATE
v.
BRIAN SADLOCK. PATE
v.
BRIAN SADLOCK. PATE
v.
HAROLD SADLOCK et al.

          ELLINGTON, P. J., BETHEL, J., and SENIOR APPELLATE JUDGE PHIPPS

          Phipps, Senior Appellate Judge.

         Following a joint hearing in three cases concerning visitation and custody of the children of Julie Pate and Brian Sadlock, the trial court issued a combined interlocutory order regarding, among other things, grandparent visitation rights for the summer of 2017, reunification therapy for the father, and therapists for the children. The mother appeals from the combined order and raises five enumerations of error. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         The three records show that in North Carolina in January 2013, Pate and Sadlock entered into a consent order regarding child custody and support of their two children, who were born in August 2009 and July 2011, respectively; the parties also agreed to certain visitation rights for the paternal grandparents, who had intervened in the matter. Among other things, the consent order gave joint legal custody to the parents, primary physical custody to the mother, certain visitation rights to the father, and one week of visitation for the paternal grandparents each summer beginning in 2013. In May 2016, after both parents had moved to Georgia, the parents domesticated the North Carolina consent order in the Superior Court of Fulton County.

         In July 2016, the mother filed a petition in Fulton County against the grandparents, who live in New Hampshire, for modification of their summer visitation week, based in part on the father's then-recent arrest on charges of aggravated sexual battery on one of the children, as well as other allegations of inappropriate behavior by the father with regard to the children. The mother asked that the grandparents' visitation rights "be revisited, reviewed and modified on a temporary and permanent basis" and that their "visitation for summer 2016 be suspended pending further investigation of [the court]." The mother requested an expedited hearing on the matter. The grandparents answered and filed a counterclaim, later amended, for contempt of their visitation rights in 2016, for an order denying any modification of their rights, for an alternative period to make up for the missed week of visitation in the summer of 2016, for additional regular visitation with the children while the father was unable to do so due to bond conditions in his criminal matter, and for other relief. In December 2016, following a hearing, the court entered a temporary order awarding two visitation days to the grandparents during that month, as well as supervised grandparent visitation with the children through reunification therapy on "an ongoing temporary basis."

         Meanwhile in September 2016, the mother filed a second petition, this time against the father, seeking to modify the father's visitation rights on a temporary and permanent basis due to the pending criminal charges and other allegations referred to above. The mother requested a temporary and final hearing on the petition. The father answered.

         Finally, in March 2017, the father filed a petition for modification of custody or, in the alternative, a modification of his rights to visitation. The father alleged a material change in circumstances, namely that the mother had sought, through a series of actions, to eliminate the father from the children's lives "by creating the impression that Father is dangerous, limiting Father's contact with the children, limiting the children's contact and associations with Father's family, and encouraging the children to refer to [the mother's] new husband as 'Daddy.'" The petition included allegations that the mother actively coached the children to make false statements regarding the father and that she falsely accused the father of sexual abuse of the children. The father asked the court to order the parties and children to undergo a psychological custody evaluation; that the court modify the custody consistent with the children's best interests; and that the father have primary physical custody or, in the alternative, that the court modify visitation consistent with the best interests of the children.

         In April 2017, the court issued a combined order in all three cases requiring a "custody evaluation and psychological evaluation" of the mother, father, and grandparents to be performed by Dr. Kim Oppenheimer. In a second combined order, the court addressed the mother's motion to reconsider certain aspects of the December 2016 temporary order, the mother's request for a temporary protective order based on the allegations of the father's sexual abuse, and other matters. The court also appointed Dr. Allison Hill as a reunification specialist and ordered that she begin an evaluation of when and under what circumstances the father should be reunified with his children. The court stated that upon receipt of Dr. Hill's report, the court would conduct a hearing regarding Dr. Hill's recommendations.

         Later in April 2017, the grandparents moved for a hearing to address "their summer visitation [for 2017], " including their request to make up for the denied visitation in 2016 by awarding four to six weeks of visitation in the summer of 2017. The grandparents requested, among other things, a "temporary hearing . . . on May 23, 2017, addressing grandparent's 2017 summer visitation." The court set a hearing for that day "on the issues of (1) summer visitation and (2) reunification progress and recommendations." The court added, "This hearing shall last a maximum of three hours."

         Prior to the scheduled hearing, the mother moved in limine to bar introduction at the hearing of hearsay regarding any reports, summaries, or oral information "not presented to the Court at a formal hearing." Two weeks before the May 23 hearing, the court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) moved in all three cases for modification of the court's December 2016 temporary order and for other clarification and direction regarding certain matters concerning the children. The GAL alleged that

this GAL is concerned that the children and the possibility of their reunification with the Grandparents is being thwarted by the Mother's failure to follow the recommendations of the reunification therapist and her inability to follow through with the plans created with the assistance of the reunification therapist and this GAL.

         The GAL was also concerned that the children were not under the care of a child psychologist. The court added the GAL's motion to the matters to be considered on May 23. Prior to that hearing, the mother issued a subpoena to Dr. Hill demanding that she produce for the hearing essentially all documents in her possession related to the matters raised by the parties. The mother also issued a similar subpoena to the GAL. The GAL moved to quash; Dr. Hill did not.

         Following the May 23, 2017, hearing, the trial court issued a temporary order applicable to all three cases in which it (1) granted the GAL's motion to quash; (2) declined to enforce the subpoena issued to Dr. Hill; (3) denied the mother's motion in limine; (4) overruled the mother's objection to the length of the hearing; (5) held that the grandparents were authorized to request a modification to their visitation; (6) granted the grandparents four weeks of visitation time during the summer of 2017, with the first two weeks to include reunification therapy with Dr. Hill; (7) ordered reunification therapy for the father; (8) ordered coordination between a therapist for the children and Drs. Hill and Oppenhiemer "to ensure therapeutic consistency for the children"; and (9) scheduled a follow-up status hearing on July 31, 2017, at which the court would consider ongoing observations and recommendations by Dr. Hill, Dr. Oppenheimer, and the GAL "when considering the progress of the case and whether further modifications of the temporary order are appropriate." The mother appeals from this order in the combined cases.

         1. In two enumerations of error, the mother contends that the trial court erred by modifying the grandparents' visitation for the ...


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