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Evidence at temporary hearing vs. final hearing in divorce case in Georgia

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In Georgia, there is a difference between the evidence that can be presented in a temporary hearing versus a final hearing in a divorce case. In Pace v. Pace, after a temporary hearing at which both parties testified, the husband was awarded physical custody of the children and the parties were awarded legal custody. Pace v. Pace, S10F0843 (2010). About a year later, a final hearing was held, at which both parties and multiple witnesses testified, and a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce was entered, awarding permanent physical and legal custody of the children to the husband. Id. The wife appealed after being denied a new trial.

In its review, the Georgia Supreme Court noted that “the trial court relied substantially on testimony adduced at the temporary hearing in making its determination on permanent custody,” that the parties were not on notice that this testimony would be considered for permanent custody, and that the trial court relied on its “memory and notes” rather than a transcript in reaching its decision. Id. at 2.

The Georgia Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in its reliance on evidence from the temporary hearing because an award of temporary custody “differ[s] in its nature and purpose from an award of temporary custody”. Id. at 3, quoting Foster v. Foster, 230 Ga. 658, 660 (1973). Further, temporary orders and final orders are not governed by the same rules of law.Pace, at 3. In a temporary hearing, only the parties and one additional witness for each side may testify. Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.5(A). In addition, minor children cannot testify at temporary hearings. Id. at (B). These rules do not apply at a final hearing. Thus, stated the Court, “the nature and quality of the evidence presented at a temporary hearing is likely to be different than that which is ultimately presented at the final hearing…” Pace, at 4. The Georgia Supreme Court held that “absent express notice to the parties, it is error for a trial court to rely on evidence from the temporary hearing in making its final custody determination.” Id. at 5.

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