The Georgia Court of Appeals recently re-emphasized long standing Georgia case law that prohibits custody from being modified in a contempt action. Coker v. Moemeka, A11A0005 (2011). In that case, the father filed a contempt action against the mother. Shortly before the court was scheduled to hear the case, the father filed a motion for change of custody, which the trial court granted at the hearing, along with the father’s contempt petition. Id. at 4.
The mother appealed, alleging that she was not properly served, and because the father improperly added the custody issue to the contempt proceeding. Id. at 5. As to the custody issue,the Court of Appeals agreed with the mother. Georgia case law clearly states that “[i]n a contempt proceeding, the trial court does not have authority to modify a final order of custody, which must be brought as a separate action.” Id. at 6, quoting McCall v. McCall, 246 Ga. App. 770, 772 (1) (542 SE2d 168) (2000). Since this was a question of law, rather than fact,the Court owed no deference to the trial court’s ruling and vacated the custody order as plain legal error by the trial court. Coker, at 5.