ZIYAD v. EL–AMIN.
-- October 21, 2013
Patrick Lehmon Meriwether, Melissa Angeleah Tracy, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC, Alpharetta, for Appellant.Fatima A. El–Amin, Decatur, for Appellee.
Karim J. Ziyad and Fatima El–Amin were divorced in March 2009, and Ziyad was awarded a certain residential property. To hold El–Amin harmless from the indebtedness on that property, Ziyad was ordered to refinance the indebtedness in his own name within six months or to sell the property to pay off the indebtedness.1 He failed, however, to do either of these things, and so, in October 2012, El–Amin filed a motion for contempt. After a hearing, the trial court found Ziyad in contempt, and to purge the contempt, the court ordered him to put the property up for sale without delay. In addition, the court found that “payments toward the principal of the mortgage will have to be made so that the home can [sell],” and based on that finding, the court ordered Ziyad to make certain payments toward the principal of the indebtedness until the property is sold or the indebtedness otherwise is repaid. Ziyad appeals, contending that the trial court improperly modified the final decree when it ordered him to pay down the principal. With that contention, we disagree, and we affirm the judgment below.
It is settled law, of course, that a court cannot modify a final decree of divorce on a motion for contempt. Floyd v. Floyd, 291 Ga. 605, 605–606(1), 732 S.E.2d 258 (2012). See also Jett v. Jett, 291 Ga. 56, 58(2), 727 S.E.2d 470 (2012); Greenwood v. Greenwood, 289 Ga. 163, 164, 709 S.E.2d 803 (2011). But a court can interpret and clarify the final decree. Floyd, 291 Ga. at 606(1), 732 S.E.2d 258. And a court can “craft a remedy for contempt, including remedying harm caused to an innocent party by the contemptuous conduct.” Smith v. Smith, ––– Ga. ––––, ––––(1) (Case Number S13F0682, decided September 9, 2013) (punctuation and citations omitted). See also Greenwood, 289 Ga. at 164, 709 S.E.2d 803. As we have explained, “a trial court has broad discretion to enforce the letter and spirit of the decree, but the court must do so without modifying the original judgment that is being enforced.” Darroch v. Willis, 286 Ga. 566, 570(3), 690 S.E.2d 410 (2010).
In this case, the decree unambiguously requires Ziyad to put the property up for sale.2 And Ziyad admitted that he was required under the decree to pay off all debts and liens associated with the property in connection with its sale.3 The trial court reasonably understood these requirements to mean that Ziyad must put the property up for sale upon terms that make it salable, and to the extent that the outstanding indebtedness renders it unsalable, Ziyad was responsible for making it salable. See Webb v. Webb, 245 Ga. 650, 652(2), 266 S.E.2d 463 (1980) (“[T]he law does not require a useless act.”). The court also found—a finding of fact that Ziyad does not dispute on appeal4 —that the property is not salable now and could be sold only if the principal were paid down. Accordingly, the court ordered Ziyad to pay down the principal to purge his contempt.5
We cannot say that the trial court erred when it understood the decree to require the sale of the property or when it understood Ziyad to bear responsibility for making the property salable. Nor can we say that the trial court clearly erred when it found—as a fact that Ziyad does not dispute—that the property can be sold only if the principal of the indebtedness is paid down. All together, these findings lead inescapably to the conclusion that Ziyad is required by the decree to pay the principal down to the extent necessary to render the property salable. The trial court did not err when it ordered him to do just that.
All the Justices concur.