How long is too long to wait for your former spouse to perform under the terms of your Divorce Agreement? The Supreme Court of Georgia recently shed some light on this question, in the case of Baker v. Schrimsher, involving a contempt action that was filed almost a decade after the entry of the final judgment and decree. Baker v. Schrimsher, S12A0665 (2012).
The settlement agreement in the Baker case required the ex-husband to assume payment on a car and a house that had been marital property, and to hold his ex-wife harmless and indemnify her from any liability for the debts. Under the terms of the settlement, he was required to perform within sixty days of the entry of the order. The ex-husband neglected to refinance the property into his own name, and let the accounts fall into arrrears, resulting in a default judgment being filed against his ex-wife for the car. Almost ten years later, the home mortgage company began collection procedures against the ex-wife, as well.
The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court's Order holding the ex-husband in contempt, rejecting his argument that the divorce decree had become dormant under O.C.G.A. § 9-12-60. The Court held that the statute "only applies to judgments or decrees ordering the payment of a sum of money" Mathis v. Hegwood, 212 Ga. App. 335 (441 SE2d 766)(1994); and "the dormancy statute does not apply to a judgment that requires the performance of an act or duty." Collier v. Bank of Tupelo, 190 Ga. 598 (Hn. 2) (10 SE2d 62) (1940). The Court considered the time that had elapsed, but also the nature of the ex-husband's obligations under the divorce agreement - in other words, it is not just a question of "when" but also "what" will be considered "too late" under the dormancy statute.
In the Baker case, ten years was not "too late" because the Court found that the ex-husband was required to perform specific acts with respect to the property at the heart of the dispute, rather than to pay an amount of money. If you have concerns about lingering obligations under a divorce settlement, consult one of our Atlanta Divorce Attorneys right away, to discuss your rights and duties before it is "too late"!
By Savannah Murphy, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC