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Park-Poaps v. Poaps

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

September 18, 2019

HAESUN PARK-POAPS
v.
POAPS; and vice versa

          BARNES, P. J., MERCIER and BROWN, JJ.

          Barnes, Presiding Judge.

         Haesun Park-Poaps and Richard C. Poaps are divorced and have two minor children from their previous marriage. In 2015, the trial court modified child custody and child support after the mother relocated out of state. The father subsequently filed a new petition to modify child support and parenting time/visitation and for attorney fees, and the mother counterclaimed for modification of child custody and child support and sought to have the father held in contempt. In 2019, the trial court entered an order modifying child support and parenting time/visitation, declining to modify child custody or to hold the father in contempt, and awarding attorney fees to the father. The trial court also entered a child support addendum that incorporated a child support worksheet. The mother and father have now filed cross-appeals challenging the trial court's 2019 order and child support addendum.

         Because the trial court erred in its application of Georgia's child support guidelines, we reverse the child support award contained in the 2019 order and child support addendum, and we remand the case for a redetermination of that award based on proper written findings accompanied by the required child support worksheet and schedules. Because we reverse the child support award, we vacate the related award of attorney fees contained in the 2019 order for reconsideration of whether and in what amount fees should be granted. We affirm the trial court's 2019 order in all other respects.[1]

         Marriage and Divorce.

         The record reflects that the parties were married in 2009, and their two daughters were born in 2010 and 2011. They divorced in March 2014 pursuant to a final judgment and decree of divorce entered in the Superior Court of Cherokee County. The child custody and parenting plan incorporated into the final judgment awarded the parties joint legal and physical custody of the children and granted them equal parenting time. The mother was awarded child support, and each parent was permitted to claim one of the daughters as a dependent on their respective federal and state income tax returns.

         The 2015 Modification Order.

         Later in 2014, the mother accepted a college teaching position in Maryland and relocated there. The father continued to reside in Georgia with the children. The mother filed a petition to modify child custody in which she requested that the children relocate to Maryland with her, while the father filed a separate petition to modify custody in which he requested that the children continue to reside in Georgia with him. The trial court entered an ex parte order prohibiting the removal of the children from Georgia, and, ultimately, in August 2015, the court entered a final order modifying custody and child support that included a new parenting plan (the "2015 Modification Order"). In the 2015 Modification Order, the trial court granted the father primary physical custody of the children and provided the mother with parenting time/visitation on the first and third weekends of every month and on three-day weekends, on certain holidays, and during all but two weeks of the children's summer vacation. The trial court required that certain visitations with the mother occur within Georgia. Additionally, the trial court included a provision aimed at facilitating international travel with the children, given that the mother is from South Korea and the father is from Canada, and both parties have extended families in their respective home countries.

         The 2015 Modification Order changed child support so as to require the mother to pay child support to the father. The mother was granted a travel deviation of $700 from the presumptive amount of child support so that she could travel to see her children on a regular basis following her relocation outside of Georgia, and as a result of the deviation, she was required to pay child support of $250 per month. The parties also were ordered to divide the payment of costs of the children's extracurricular activities on a pro rata basis.[2]

         The 2019 Order and Child Support Addendum.

         The mother subsequently relocated to Ohio for a new college teaching and research position, and in May 2018, the father filed a petition for modification of child support and parenting time/visitation and for attorney fees. He alleged, among other things, that the mother was earning more income as a result of her new teaching position and that she was not traveling to Georgia to exercise all of her court-ordered visitation with the children. Consequently, the father argued that the mother's $700 travel deviation was no longer appropriate and that her child support payments should be increased. The mother answered and counterclaimed for modification of child custody and child support and to have the father held in contempt for allegedly wilfully interfering with her effort to travel with the children to South Korea during summer vacation.

         After conducting an evidentiary hearing where the mother, father, and other witnesses testified, the trial court entered an order in January 2019 addressing the father's petition and the mother's counterclaims (the "2019 Order"). The trial court found that there had been a substantial increase in the mother's income based on her new teaching position and that the mother had failed to exercise all of the court-ordered visitation in Georgia that had been contemplated when the $700 travel deviation was granted to her. Consequently, the trial court ruled that the $700 travel deviation would be eliminated and that the mother's monthly child support obligation would be increased to $969.34. The trial court further ruled that in lieu of receiving a travel deviation in a fixed monthly amount, the mother would receive

a travel deviation for the roundtrip air flight of the children not to exceed five trips per year. The travel cost will be an unaccompanied minor round trip plane ticket for each child for a direct flight purchased at least thirty days in advance. The Mother shall be allowed to deduct the cost of the ticket from the month's child support payment immediately following the return trip (i.e. an April spring break flight will be deducted from the May payment). She shall provide proof of costs of the tickets with the reduced payment amount.

         The trial court also concluded that the father, as the primary physical custodian of the children, was authorized to claim both daughters as dependents for tax purposes, and the court ruled that the parties were to divide the costs of extracurricular activities on a pro rata basis.

         With respect to child custody, the trial court found that there was no material change in circumstances and that it would not be in the best interest of the children to modify primary physical custody. The trial court further found that the father had not wilfully interfered with international travel and denied the mother's request to have him held in contempt. The trial court did find that the parenting time/visitation needed adjustment in certain respects. However, the trial court ruled that some of the visitation periods, including the mother's weekend visits with the children, were to continue to occur in Georgia.

          The trial court addressed the issue of attorney fees in its 2019 Order and found that the father "prevailed on the issue of child support and failure to exercise court [ordered] visitation." The trial court awarded attorney fees to the father in the amount of $2,257.50 pursuant to OCGA § 19-6-15 (k) (5).

         As part of the 2019 Order, the trial court also ordered the father to prepare and submit a child support addendum and worksheets within ten days of entry of the order. In February 2019, the trial court entered an order adopting the father's proposed child support addendum (the "Child Support Addendum") that incorporated a child support worksheet with certain schedules (the "Child Support Worksheet"). The Child Support Addendum did not include a Schedule E with the Child Support Worksheet reflecting specific deviations from the presumptive amount of child support awarded the father.

         Case No. A19A2032

         1. The mother contends that the trial court erred in failing to hold the father in wilful contempt of the parenting plan entered in connection with the 2015 Modification Order based on his interference with her proposed international travel with the children in 2016. We disagree.

          "To hold in contempt, the court must find that there was a wilful disobedience of the court's decree or judgment." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Higdon v. Higdon, 321 Ga.App. 260, 263 (1) (c) (739 S.E.2d 498) (2013). "The trial court's discretion in contempt matters is broad, and its decision will be upheld if there is any evidence to support it." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Turman v. Boleman, 235 Ga.App. 243, 244 (510 S.E.2d 532) (1998).

         Construed in favor of the trial court's ruling, the evidence adduced at the hearing reflects that in late 2015, the mother contacted the father about traveling with the children to South Korea in the second half of July 2016, which was during the last two weeks of the children's summer vacation. The father thereafter informed the mother that he was exercising his right, under the court-ordered parenting plan, to choose his two weeks of parenting time for the summer and had chosen the last two weeks of July 2016, the same weeks that she wanted to travel to South Korea. The father's attorney also sent a letter to the mother reiterating that pursuant to the terms of the parenting plan, the father was selecting the last two weeks of July 2016 as his two weeks of parenting time for summer vacation. The mother then proposed dates earlier in the summer for the South Korea trip, but on the condition that the father pay a portion of her travel expenses. The father refused to pay any of her travel expenses because he was not required to do so under the 2015 Modification Order and parenting plan. The parties were unable to reach an agreement over payment, and the 2016 trip to South Korea did not occur. In 2017, the younger daughter's passport expired, and the passport was not renewed as a result of a continued dispute between the parties over the forms necessary for the renewal.

         In its 2019 Order, the trial court found the following:

Based upon the passport of one child being expired, the request for international travel could not have occurred. Both parties took a rigid and inflexible approach to the issue of [i]nternational travel and could have worked together to make the travel possible. There was a legalistic reading of the parenting plan, so there was no willful contempt. The Contempt Motion is Denied. The ongoing spiteful parenting style denied travel experiences and contact with relatives that could have benefited the children. Although it does not rise to the level of willful contempt, it is a disappointment to place the value of being right over the benefit to the children.

         Contrary to the mother's contention on appeal, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to hold the father in wilful contempt for not agreeing to the mother's plans for international travel with the children in 2016. Under the 2015 Modification Order and parenting plan, the father was entitled to select two consecutive weeks of summer vacation with the children and was not required to pay for the mother's travel expenses, and "[a] party is entitled to rely on the plain terms of a court order until such provisions are modified by the court" and cannot be held in contempt for relying on such terms. Turman, 235 Ga.App. at 245. Hence, as the trial court concluded, the father's strict compliance with the terms of the parenting plan, even if "legalistic," did not constitute wilful contempt. See id.

         The mother contends that the trial court erroneously found that her requested travel to South Korea in 2016 was a "moot issue" because the younger daughter's passport had expired. In this regard, the mother emphasizes that the daughter's passport was valid at the time of the proposed international trip in 2016 because the passport did not expire until 2017. But the trial court clearly did not treat the contempt issue as moot, for the court went on to rule on the merits of the mother's contempt petition and determined that the father had not acted in wilful contempt. Furthermore, to the extent that the trial court erroneously treated the daughter's passport as having already expired at the time of the proposed 2016 summer trip, a trial court's ruling on a contempt petition will be affirmed if right for any reason, Turman, 235 Ga.App. at 244, and, as previously noted, the trial court was entitled to find that the father's strict compliance with the terms of the 2015 Modification Order and parenting plan did not constitute wilful contempt. See id. at 245.

         Because the record contains evidence that the father's conduct in 2016 was not in wilful violation of the 2015 Modification Order and parenting plan, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the mother's counterclaim seeking to hold the father in contempt. See Higdon, 321 Ga.App. at 263-264 (1) (c); Turman, 235 Ga.App. at 245.

         2. The mother argues that the trial court erred in denying her counterclaim seeking a modification in child custody. According to the mother, the trial court erred in finding no material change in circumstances that would warrant a modification in child custody and in failing to conduct the proper analysis to determine ...


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