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Sullivan v. Harper

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

October 22, 2019


          DILLARD, P. J., GOBEIL and HODGES, JJ.

          HODGES, JUDGE.

         Mary Julia Sullivan appeals the trial court's order clarifying a provision in the parenting plan incorporated into her divorce decree, finding her in contempt of certain provisions of the parenting plan, and awarding OCGA § 19-6-2 attorney fees to her ex-husband, John Anthony Harper. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with direction.

         It is well-established that "[t]rial courts have 'broad discretion' in ruling on a motion for contempt, and the trial court's ruling will be affirmed on appeal if there is any evidence in the record to support it[.]" (Citations omitted.) Killingsworth v. Killingsworth, 286 Ga. 234, 237 (3) (686 S.E.2d 640) (2009); see also Earle v. Earle, 312 Ga.App. 139, 140 (717 S.E.2d 720) (2011).

          The record shows that Sullivan and Harper have two minor sons. Their older son, W. H., requires academic tutoring and various therapies for autism spectrum disorder. The parents divorced in 2016, and the divorce decree incorporated a consent final parenting plan, awarding legal custody of the boys to both parents and primary physical custody to Sullivan, with a regular visitation schedule for Harper. The parenting plan contained several provisions that are relevant here:

• Both parties have the right to consult with and receive "any and all information, records, paperwork, report cards or other documents concerning the children" directly from the children's schools, camps, health care providers, tutors, therapy facilities, and the like, and "the other shall not object to that party doing so."
• "The parent who has physical custody of the children shall be responsible for taking them to their therapy appointments (Mother will not schedule a therapy appointment for the children during Father's parenting time without Father's written approval) and the other parent shall not attend that appointment, unless the other parent's attendance is specifically requested by the therapist."
• "[N]either party will disparage the other parent to any teachers, coaches, activity providers, doctors, tutors, dentists, healthcare professionals, or anyone else who may be involved in the children's life in a similar capacity."
• Both parties "have the right to a full and complete disclosure of any and all information relating to the children, and to directly request information and documents from any educational, health, summer camp, extracurricular or religious providers for the children[, ]" and "neither will interfere with the other party's right to receive or obtain" such records.

         In 2018, W. H. began seeing a new psychologist, who performed a comprehensive evaluation that required both parents to complete written questionnaires. It is undisputed that in her questionnaire, Sullivan expressed concern that Harper was "manipulative and childlike," lived with his "girlfriend" (who is actually his fiancé) and her two sons, emotionally abused and/or neglected W. H., and minimized the bullying W. H. experienced. In addition, under "Mental Health History," Sullivan wrote "Dad" next to drug/alcohol problems, domestic violence, physical/sexual abuse, ADHD, and anxiety.

         After the evaluation, the psychologist scheduled feedback meetings to discuss W. H.'s needs and progress. Harper brought his fiancé to a feedback meeting. Sullivan complained, informed the psychologist that Harper was the "[o]nly" person authorized to attend the sessions, and insisted that Harper's "latest girlfriend" was not permitted to attend therapy sessions. At some point, Harper asked the psychologist for copies of W. H.'s records, including the questionnaire and other forms that Sullivan had completed. The psychologist sought permission from Sullivan to release this information, and Sullivan told the psychologist she wanted "to receive consultation prior to [W. H.'s] documents being released." Sullivan allowed the psychologist to release the forms the next day.

         Harper subsequently filed a contempt petition, alleging that Sullivan had violated the parenting plan, and by extension the divorce decree, by willfully disparaging him to the children's doctors and/or therapists, willfully interfering with his right to receive information from the children's doctors and/or therapists, and misrepresenting to the children's therapist the scope of her final decision-making authority regarding medical issues. According to Harper, such action caused him substantial inconvenience and stress and caused the children's therapist to view him in a negative light. Harper also requested attorney fees necessitated by filing the contempt action.

         Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order finding that Sullivan was indeed in willful contempt of the parenting plan for (1) disparaging Harper to the children's doctors and/or therapists, (2) interfering with and/or objecting to Harper's right to receive any and all information (verbal or documentary) from the children's doctors and/or therapists; (3) wrongfully instructing the children's doctors and therapists not to allow Harper's fiancé to attend meetings or appointments with Harper, and (4) advising the children's doctors and/or therapists to consult with Sullivan prior to releasing the children's records to Harper. In addition, the court

clarifie[d] paragraph 4 of said "CONSENT FINAL ORDER ON CUSTODY AND PARENTING PLAN" to provide that [Sullivan] does not have the right to determine or dictate who [Harper] may bring to meetings or appointments which [Harper] may have individually (and without [Sullivan]), with any of the children's doctors and/or therapists, or any similar providers as outlined within paragraph 4. . . . [and] to provide that the children's doctors and/or therapists, or any other similar providers, do not need to consult, notify or advise ...

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