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Importance of unambiguous child support language

We recently represented a husband in a successful appeal of his dismissed child support modification action. The parties were divorced in 2007 and, according to the final judgment and decree of divorce, the wife was awarded primary custody of the 4 children and the husband was obligated to pay child support. Specifically, the final judgment and decree stated that child support would be“due and payable. . . until such time as the youngest minor child dies, marries, enters the military, attains the age of eighteen, or is otherwise emancipated, whichever first occurs; provided,however, that in the event that any of the minor children turn 18 years of age while still in high school, [Husband’s] child support obligations shall continue for that child until such time as the child graduates from high school, but in no event to extend past the child’s twentieth birthday.” (emphasis added) Grenevitch v. Grenevitch, S09A0320

When the parties’ eldest child turned 18 years old, the husband filed a Complaint for Modification of Child Support stating that his child support obligation should be modified downward accordingly. The trial court refused to give the husband an opportunity to present evidence of whether the child had turned 18 and graduated from high school and, rather, dismissed the modification action, finding no substantial change warranting a modification and awarded the wife attorney’s fees.

The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the trial court’s ruling, thereby allowing the husband’s modification action to proceed. The Court looked at the plain language of the divorce decree and found no ambiguity, reasoning that the language shows that the parties contemplated a change in the husband’s child support obligation. Since the parties contemplated a change, the husband should have been able to present evidence showing that a change was warranted. This case shows the importance of the language in your divorce decree. The court is going to look at the actual language of the Order regardless of whether you or your spouse believes you have agreed to something else. If something is important to you, make sure it is in the Order and written very clearly so that it cannot be misinterpreted.


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