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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
BROWN v. BROWN.
18385.
Alimony. Before Judge Fort. Muscogee Superior Court. August 1, 1953.
HAWKINS, Justice.
1. A previous decree for temporary or permanent alimony for a wife is annulled, set aside, and rendered void ipso facto by the subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the husband and wife, and is not res judicata of the right of the wife to recover temporary and permanent alimony and attorney's fees in a divorce proceeding instituted by the wife after a separation which takes place following the voluntary cohabitation.
2. The rights of children under a decree for alimony are not affected by subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the husband and wife.
Mrs. Verna Bell Martin Brown brought her petition in Muscogee Superior Court, on July 23, 1953, against Jacob Floyd Brown, for divorce, custody of a child, temporary and permanent alimony for herself and the child, and for attorney's fees and certain injunctive relief, the petition alleging that the plaintiff and the defendant were married August 11, 1933, and lived together as husband and wife, except for a period of separation of approximately six years, up to and until March 1, 1953, at which time the plaintiff separated from the defendant because of certain alleged, cruel treatment, wilfully inflicted upon her. A rule nisi was issued, calling upon the defendant to show cause on August 1, 1953, why he should not be required to pay (a) temporary alimony for the support of petitioner and the minor child, (b) a reasonable fee to plaintiff's attorney for prosecuting this action, and (c) why he should not be temporarily restrained and enjoined as prayed. On the hearing the attorneys for the defendant introduced in evidence the verdict of the jury and the decree of the court rendered in case No. 10637, in Muscogee Superior Court, instituted by the plaintiff against the defendant and dated November 6, 1944, wherein permanent alimony was awarded to the plaintiff for herself and for the minor child of the parties as follows: (a) that the defendant, Jacob Floyd Brown, pay over to the plaintiff, Mrs. Verna Bell Martin Brown, for the support and maintenance of the minor son of the parties, the sum of $10 per week; (b) that the plaintiff have a life estate in lots 67 and 68, in block G of the Northside Subdivision in the City of Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia, with the remainder over to the said Ronald Grant Brown (the minor son).
It was stipulated by counsel for both parties that, subsequently to the verdict and decree dated November 6, 1944, the plaintiff and the defendant reconciled their differences and resumed cohabitation, living together intermittently until March 1, 1953, whereupon the trial judge entered the following order and judgment: "It appearing conclusively to the court as a matter of record that the plaintiff, Mrs. Verna Bell Martin Brown in case numbered 10637 filed March 23, 1944 by Mrs. Verna Bell Brown as plaintiff versus Jacob Floyd Brown, obtained a verdict of a jury and a decree thereon dated November 6, 1944, awarding permanent alimony and also permanent alimony for said named child; that said verdict and decree is of full force and effect and the same is res adjudicata, it is therefore ordered that the plaintiff in this proceeding be denied temporary alimony for the support of herself and said child pending said action and she is denied attorney's fees in the prosecution of this action." To this judgment the plaintiff excepted.
(After stating the foregoing facts.) In this case a previous verdict and decree for permanent alimony to the wife and minor child was granted in an alimony proceeding where no divorce was involved. The question presented for decision by the record before us is whether subsequent cohabitation by the husband and wife ipso facto annuls and sets aside the previous decree for alimony, or whether it remains of full force and effect and is res judicata as to the right of the wife to recover temporary alimony and attorney's fees for herself and minor child in a divorce and alimony proceeding instituted by her following a later separation, until the former decree for permanent alimony has been vacated and set aside by a direct. Proceeding brought for that purpose in the court where the prior verdict and decree were rendered.
Counsel for neither of the parties has cited any decision of this court, and we have been unable to find one, decisive of the precise question here presented. In Weeks v. Weeks, 160 Ga. 369, 372 (127 S. E. 772), and in Wright v. Wright, 205 Ga. 524, 528 (54 S. E. 2d 596), this court declined to pass upon the question, since it was not there directly involved.
Code 30-217 provides: "The subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the husband and wife shall annul and set aside all provision made, either by deed or decree, for permanent alimony. The rights of children under any deed of separation or voluntary provision or decree for alimony shall not be affected thereby." Counsel for the defendant husband contend that the question here presented is controlled by the ruling of this court in Henderson v. Henderson, 170 Ga. 457 (153 S. E. 182). In the opinion in that case, at page 459, after quoting the above Code section, it is said: "It thus appears that, though the rights of children are not affected, voluntary cohabitation of the husband and wife subsequently to the award of alimony annuls and sets aside all provision made. The law upon the subject is very plain, but there must be an adjudication in order to determine whether there has been the voluntary cohabitation referred to in the Code which works annullment of a pre-existing adjudication awarding alimony or a provision for alimony by deed." And on page 460 we find the following language: "But this case is one where there has been a verdict for permanent alimony and a decree based upon that verdict, and this can not be set aside except by a proceeding for that purpose in the court in which the decree was rendered." Taking this language out of its context, and without regard to the question for decision in that case, it would seem to support the contention of counsel for the defendant, but, when considered in its context and in the light of the facts of that case, it is not authority for the position taken by them that a previous decree awarding permanent alimony to the wife is res judicata as to her right to recover temporary and permanent alimony and attorney's fees in an action instituted by her upon their separation subsequently to the resumption of the marital status and their voluntary cohabitation following the previous decree. The only question for decision in the Henderson case, supra, as pointed out therein, was whether a husband against whom a decree for alimony has been rendered, and who has subsequently resumed cohabitation with his wife, and desires to have the previous verdict and decree for alimony set aside as a matter of record, and brings a proceeding for that purpose, shall proceed by a motion to be heard by the judge, or by a petition addressed to the court of the county where the verdict and decree were rendered. It was there held, on demurrer, that the petition brought in the court where the verdict and decree were rendered, was a proper remedy, and not a mere motion addressed to the judge thereof, and this was the only question for decision by this court in that case.
Where, as in this case, it is stipulated that the husband and wife had voluntarily resumed cohabitation subsequent to the rendition of the previous verdict and decree for permanent alimony, there is no issue to be adjudicated on that question, and under Code 30-217, subsequent voluntary cohabitation between the husband and wife ipso facto annuls and sets aside all provision made for permanent alimony for the wife, and it is not necessary that a direct proceeding be brought for that purpose before the wife may proceed to recover temporary and permanent alimony and attorney's fees in a divorce proceeding instituted following a separation subsequently to such voluntary cohabitation. The subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the husband and wife ipso facto annuls, sets aside, and renders void the previous decree for alimony for the wife, and no judgment of a court to that effect is necessary. "While this question has not heretofore been directly passed upon, we think that it is controlled in principle by the decision of this court in Powell v. Powell, 196 Ga. 694 (2) (27 S. E. 2d 393), wherein it is held: "A separation agreement between husband and wife, under which the wife accepts a certain sum of money, paid by the husband concurrently with the execution of the agreement, in settlement of all claims against the husband for temporary and permanent alimony, counsel fees, dower, and year's support, becomes null and void and is set aside as to the husband's liability to support and maintain the wife upon their subsequent voluntary cohabitation.
(a) In such a case the contract of settlement would not bar a wife's right to temporary and permanent alimony and counsel fees upon their separation subsequently to the resumption of the marital status.
"(b) Nor would it be necessary as a prerequisite for the wife to restore or account to the husband for the unused portion of the money remaining in her hands, if any, which she had received under the contract of settlement, before applying to the court for alimony upon a separation subsequently to the resumption of the marital status; but the court should take into consideration, as in all such cases, the wife's separate estate, if any, in fixing the amount of alimony."
In Mosely v. Mosely, 181 Ga. 543 (1) (182 S. E. 849), it is said: "Subsequent voluntary cohabitation will render void a judgment for temporary alimony and attorney's fees for representing the wife in the alimony proceedings"; and in Hamby v. Pye, 195 Ga. 366 (2) (24 S. E. 2d 201), it is held: "It necessarily follows that such cohabitation will annul the decree, not only as to the sum allowed in terms as alimony, but also as to the attorney's fees. In this respect there is no difference between permanent and temporary alimony and incidental allowance of attorney's fees." See also Smith v. Smith, 187 Ga. 743 (2 S. E. 2d 417); Moss v. Moss, 200 Ga. 8 (36 S. E. 2d 431); Levine v. Levine, 204 Ga. 313, 317 (2) (49 S. E. 2d 814, 4 A.L.R. 2d 1205).
From what has been said it follows that the trial court erred in holding that the previous verdict and decree for permanent alimony to the wife are of full force and effect, and are res judicata as to the wife's right to recover temporary and permanent alimony and attorney's fees; but did not err in so holding as to the prayer for alimony for the support of the minor child, for under Code 30-217 and the ruling made in Clary v. Thornton, 177 Ga. 833 (1) (171 S. E. 704), the rights of children to a decree for alimony are not affected by subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the husband and wife. See also Glaze v. Strength, 186 Ga. 613 (198 S. E. 721); Smith v. Smith, 187 Ga. 743 (2 S. E. 2d 417); Varble v. Hughes, 205 Ga. 29 (52 S. E. 2d 303); Wright v. Wright, 205 Ga. 524 (54 S. E. 2d 596).
Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part. All the Justices concur, except Duckworth, C. J., not participating.
Ernest C. Britton, Paul Blanchard, contra.
Virginia Webb, W. Stanford Willis, for plaintiff in error.
ARGUED OCTOBER 13, 1953 -- DECIDED NOVEMBER 12, 1953.
Saturday May 23 04:01 EDT


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