Veleria Dillard v. Brigitte Schilke

THIRD DIVISION DILLARD, P. J., GOBEIL and HODGES, JJ. NOTICE: Motions for reconsideration must be physically received in our clerk’s office within ten days of the date of decision to be deemed timely filed. October 8, 2019 In the Court of Appeals of Georgia A19A1472. DILLARD v. SCHILKE. HODGES, Judge. Following the death of Willie Dillard (“Willie”), both parties to this appeal, Veleria Dillard (“Veleria”) and Bridgitte Schilke (a/k/a Bridgitte Dillard) (“Bridgitte”), claimed to be his legal surviving spouse. It is undisputed that Veleria was Willie’s first wife, and she petitioned to be declared Willie’s lawful wife at the time of his death and for Willie’s subsequent marriage to Bridgitte to be declared invalid. Bridgitte counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment recognizing her as Willie’s lawful surviving spouse. The trial court denied Veleria’s motion for summary judgment on her petition, and a jury determined that Bridgitte was Willie’s surviving spouse. Veleria now appeals, contending that (1) the trial court erred in denying her motion for summary judgment; (2) the jury’s verdict is against the preponderance of the evidence; and (3) the jury’s verdict is not supported by the evidence. For the reasons that follow, we find the evidence sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and affirm. “There is a presumption in favor of the validity of verdicts. And after rendition of a verdict, all the evidence and every presumption and inference arising therefrom, must be construed most favorably towards upholding the verdict.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Wiley, 220 Ga. App. 442, 443 (2) (469 SE2d 302) (1996). So viewed, the evidence shows that Willie and Veleria married on December 25, 1969 in Mississippi and had two children. In 1976, Willie left the marital home. Around June of 1979, Veleria was served with divorce papers and purportedly told that if she did nothing, she would be divorced in 10 days. In 1980, Willie submitted a sworn statement to the United States Army wherein he attested that he petitioned for a dissolution of his marriage to Veleria in August 1979 and was at that time legally separated from her. In 1981, believing herself to be divorced from Willie, Veleria married a man named Herman Brown. Veleria’s marriage license indicates that she was divorced from Willie in December 1979. In either 1983 or 1984, however, Veleria separated 2 from Brown. She contends she did so because she learned she was not legally divorced from Willie, and that she never again lived with Brown as her husband. Despite now claiming that she knew in the early 1980’s that she was not divorced from Willie, Veleria took no action to legally divorce him, although she claims that she told him that they were still married. Willie, however, subsequently remarried. While stationed with the Army in Germany, Willie met Bridgitte and moved in with her and her two children in 1982. Once Willie proposed, he called Veleria to get his birth certificate so he could marry Bridgitte. Willie and Bridgitte ...

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