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Georgia divorce case appealed over payment of transcript costs

A recent Georgia divorce case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia due to payment of transcript costs. Kent v. Kent, S11F1035 (2011). In that case, before the trial began, the judge asked the parties who had requested the court reporter and who would be responsible for her salary. Id. The Wife’s attorney responded that he had requested the court reporter and would be responsible for her cost, but the Husband’s attorney remained silent. Id. at 1-2. Only after the trial and after the judge had left the bench did the Husband’s attorney state that he would not pay for the court reporter cost. Id. After receiving an unfavorable outcome to the case, the Husband’s attorney filed a motion “to require the court reporter to transcribe her notes and provide him with an official transcript of the trial” so he could use it on appeal, adding that he was not willing to pay the entire cost of the court reporter.Id at 2-3. The trial court denied the Husband’s motion, finding that his failure to participate in the take down costs was intentional and he could not now “take advantage of his opponent by only agreeing to pay for the costs of the court reporter now that he is certain that he needs the transcript.” Id. at 4.

The Supreme Court of Georgia disagreed with the trial court, citing long standing Georgia law which holds that, if there is express refusal to participate in the costs of the court reporter, the opposing party cannot later “compel the reporter to transcribe his stenographic notes” even with an offer to pay for same. Id. at 7; quoting Harrington v. Harrington, 224 Ga.305, 306 (1968). However, a “mere failure” to respond to inquiries about court reporter costs does not amount to an express refusal. Kent, at 7. The Supreme Court of Georgia justified this reasoning, explaining: “By placing this affirmative burden on the party seeking a forfeiture of the right of his opponent [to a transcript] we intend to avoid the possibility that a party will lose this important right by inadvertence or mistake.” Id. In this case, there was no express refusal but, rather, a failure to respond.

Though the Court was sympathetic to “the possible unfairness [to Wife] in this particular case,” it was not willing to replace the bright line rule with a “case-by-case inquiry into the losing party’s subjective intent based on its conduct.” Id. at 11. Parties in Wife’s situation could avoid a situation like this by ensuring that express refusal to pay by the opposing party is on the record.

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