BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and REESE, JJ.
Barnes, Presiding Judge.
domestic relations case, Terrence Jackson appeals from an
order requiring him to pay the attorney fees and costs
incurred by his minor child's mother who is also the
child's primary physical custodial parent, Makesha Brown.
For reasons that follow, we vacate the order, and remand the
November 27, 2017, Brown filed a "Complaint for
Modification of Custody, Child Support, and Parenting
Time," alleging that there had been a material change of
circumstances affecting the child's welfare such that the
then-existing court-ordered custody, visitation, and child
support arrangements were no longer serving the child's
best interests. In addition to requesting certain
modifications to those arrangements, Brown prayed for
"attorney's fees and costs of litigation incurred in
filing and prosecuting this action." In his responsive
pleading, Jackson claimed that Brown's requests should be
denied; he further counterclaimed for a (different)
modification of the visitation provision of the court order;
and likewise, he prayed for "attorney fees and costs for
defending this action."
trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing. Subsequently,
on March 15, 2018, the trial court entered an "Order on
Complaint for Modification of Custody, Child Support, and
Parenting Time," deciding issues of child custody
(including visitation), and child support. (That order was
silent with respect to the parties' requests for attorney
fees and costs.) That same day, as the record before us
reveals, a "General Civil and Domestic Relations Case
Disposition Information Form" was filed.
following month, on April 19, 2018, the court entered the
order contested in this appeal. It provided in full:
The above and foregoing matter having come before the Court
on [Brown's] Letter Brief for Attorney's Fees dated
March 23, 2018.
After review and consideration,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that [Jackson] shall pay to [Brown] the
sum of $3, 500.00 for attorney fees and costs in the amount
of $21.69. Said amount shall be paid to [Brown] within ninety
(90) days of the date of this order.
Seeking reprieve from that order, Jackson procured this
Jackson contends that the attorney fees and costs awards
lacked "legal authority." As Jackson posits,
there is no transcript of the [hearing], which would have
shown that neither party argued the issue of attorney's
fees to the Trial Court during the pendency of the case or
after the final Order of March 15, 2018. Rather, the only
information regarding the issue of attorney's fees was
the letter sent by [Brown] to the Trial Judge . . . . more
than a week after the entry of the Final Order [of March 15,
2018], and furthermore said letter is not part of the Trial
Court's record in this case.
counters that the contested awards were justified under OCGA
§§ 9-15-14 (b) and 9-11-54 (d). Moreover, she
claims that she repeatedly requested such awards: (i) in her
November 27 complaint; (ii) in a subsequent motion that
Jackson be compelled to comply with discovery requests,
wherein she included a request for "an Order requiring
[Jackson] to Pay [Brown's] reasonable attorney's
fees"; (iii) at the hearing; and (iv) in her letter
brief. Brown additionally claims on appeal that she filed her
letter brief "in accordance with the [trial court's]
direction at the [hearing]." As Brown summarizes in her
appellate brief, the trial court stated at the hearing that
letter briefs would be allowed if the parties were willing to
waive a separate hearing on attorney fees.
appellate record, however, falls short of allowing us to
discern whether the trial court's ruling was authorized,
because we are unable to ascertain the basis upon which the
trial court rested its decision. More specifically, while
Brown's November 27 complaint and her subsequent motion
to compel requested the grant of such award(s), neither of
those pleadings identified any statutory basis. And while
Brown asserts that the trial court informed the parties at
the hearing that they could submit letter briefs on the issue
of attorneys fees, the record before us contains neither a
hearing transcript, nor a viable substitute,  that might have
shed light on the underpinnings of the contested awards.
Brown further describes to this Court that her letter brief
to the trial court presented "the myriad reasons"
and "ample justification for an award of attorney's
fees and costs." But the appellate record contains no
letter brief. Moreover, the order contested in this
appeal, which is ...