Section 5 of HB 369 is where the most substantial changes to Georgia law were made in the bill. It affected several existing Code sections and I will address each by reference to the statute it changed or added.
Subsection (g) of OCGA section 19-9-3 addresses the issue of attorney’s fees in custody cases. For many years in Georgia, attorney’s fees have not been available in cases dealing purely with custody matters. One party could seek a modification of custody and cause the other party to incur substantial attorney’s fees, with no recourse to recover the fees unless the court made a finding that the party had engaged in frivolous litigation.
HB 369 provides a long-needed correction of that situation by providing for an award of attorney’s fees in custody cases. It also provides a statutory basis for awards of expert witness fees, guardian ad litem fees and other expenses incurred in the case:
“Except as provided in Code Section 19-6-2, and in addition to the attorney´s fee provisions contained in Code Section 19-6-15, the judge may order reasonable attorney´s fees and expenses of litigation, experts, and the child´s guardian ad litem and other costs of the child custody action and pretrial proceedings to be paid by the parties in proportions and at times determined by the judge. Attorney´s fees may be awarded at both the temporary hearing and the final hearing. A final judgment shall include the amount granted, whether the grant is in full or on account, which may be enforced by attachment for contempt of court or by writ of fieri facias, whether the parties subsequently reconcile or not. An attorney may bring an action in his or her own name to enforce a grant of attorney´s fees made pursuant to this subsection.”