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What happens when a Georgia divorce decree is signed by the judge, but not timely filed with the clerk?

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently addressed a divorce case, which highlights what can happen when the final divorce decree is signed by the judge, but not filed in the clerk’s office.Maples v. Maples, S11F0919 (2011). In that case, the trial court signed a final decree of divorce on June 1, 2000, but the divorce decree was not filed with the clerk until August 1,2002. Id. Meanwhile, the parties, believing they were already divorced, remarried each other on June 25, 2000. Id. Ten years later, the wife filed a complaint for divorce and the parties thereafter learned that their original divorce decree was not filed until two years after they had remarried. Id. Upon the wife’s motion, the trial court amended the judgment in the 2000 case “by entering an order nunc pro tunc to ensure that the order reflected the true judgment rendered by the court, i.e., that the parties were to be divorced on June 1, 2000.Id. (“Nunc pro tunc” basically means that the order is backdated.) The husband appealed the entry of the nunc pro tunc order, asserting that a nunc pro tunc order cannot be used to backdate the entry of a divorce decree. Id. at 2. (Presumably, he wanted the 2010 divorce case to just be dismissed.)

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court’s holding, “[e]very court has the inherent power – and it is the court’s duty – to correct its own records to make them speak the truth.[Cits.] Where based solely on the record, and without the necessity for the introduction of extrinsic evidence, the court may, on its own motion and without notice, enter such judgment and decree nunc pro tunc at a later date.” Id.; quoting Norman v. Ault, 287 Ga. 324, 330 (5) (695 SE2d 633) (2010), quoting Moore v. Moore, 229 Ga. 600, 601 (2) (193 SE2d 608)(1972), overruled on other grounds. Here, the judgment had already been rendered and the divorce decree signed by the judge. There was nothing else to be done other than file the decree. The Court ended its opinion by pointing out that “[e]ntry of the divorce decree nunc pro tunc to the date of the signing of the decree was advantageous to husband, as well as wife, because it accurately reflected his intention to re-enter the bond of marriage on June 25, 2000.” Maples, at 5-6.

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