Case Watch: For Mediators
The following case analyses are part of a regular series we publish to help neutrals broaden their knowledge of rulings of Georgia’s appellate courts that may affect your practice. Remember: mediators should not give legal advice or opinions.
Review of 301 Ga. App. 160, Henry v. Beacham, decided November 19, 2009, appeal to Georgia Court of Appeals of a ruling by Judge Clarence Seeliger, DeKalb County Superior Court; and of S10F1120, Mullin v. Roy, September 20, 2010, appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court of a ruling by Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane, Fulton County Superior Court, and by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
As mediators, we pride ourselves in our ability to “think outside the box.” It shows creativity, an understanding of the facts, and – we hope – leads to an acceptable resolution for the parties. This month, we look at two important and related child-support cases that show us what happens when judges “rule outside the box,” but within their discretionary powers.
In Henry v. Beacham, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had the authority in paternity and child-support proceedings to order the father, a professional football player with variable incomes, to fund a $250,000 trust in order to secure his child-support obligations – this even though child support statutes did NOT expressly authorize such a trust.
In upholding the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals said the child-support statute gives broad discretion to the trail court over child support and allowed deviation from the presumptive amount of support in cases of high parental income. The statute further allows the trial court to require a parent to pay a percentage of nonrecurring income, such as father’s bonus payments, as one-time support, the Court said.
The Court of Appeals found that even if the child-support guidelines do not specifically authorize an action, that does not mean that the action is precluded. The trial court’s power originates in the provision where “a court may also order a deviation FOR ANY REASON in addition to those listed, if the court determines that such a deviation is in the best interest of the child.” (emphasis mine)
The Georgia Court of Appeals’ Henry v. Beacham decision expanded a holding that was cited in our next case, Mullin v. Roy. This time it was the Georgia Supreme Court that upheld the “outside the box” ruling by the trial court.
The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court had authority to order a single lump-sum payment for child support for an entire 13-year period as again, “nothing in the child support statute PRECLUDES lump sum payments. This ruling will ensure that the custodial parent will receive support for the couple’s two children while her former husband is in prison.” (emphasis mine)
This concerned a single payment of $175,163 for child support, which was later increased to $201,960. The husband was serving five years in federal prison. This money for the lump-sum payment came from the husband’s $422,000 inheritance.
rulings are fact-specific, these two cases support the position that if
the noncustodial parent has no steady income but has any liquidity, it is
subject to child-support claims. Obviously, the parties in these cases
had more money than most, but consider what else might used to secure
child support – a profit from sale of residence, money from income tax
returns, and money held in accounts. Under these cases, the custodial
parent would have a claim against any money held by the noncustodial
parent if child support could not be paid from earnings.