Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Michael Landry's petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in affirming the family court's denial of his motion under Rule 60(a), SCRCP, to correct an alleged clerical error in a final order. Michael Landry (Husband) filed an action against Angela Landry (Wife) seeking a divorce on the ground of one year's continuous separation. On the morning of trial, the parties drafted and signed a handwritten agreement resolving all of the issues between them except for the divorce. Thereafter, the parties informed the court they had reached a final agreement, marked the agreement as Plaintiff's Exhibit 1, and submitted it to the court for approval. The agreement consisted of three pages and seventeen paragraphs, resolving issues of alimony, equitable distribution of property, child support, custody and visitation of the minor child, and attorney's fees. The terms of the agreement were not read into the record; instead, the court questioned both parties about their general understanding of the agreement and whether they entered into it freely and voluntarily. Satisfied, approved and made it the final order of the court. Thereafter, Husband's attorney drafted the order, incorporating the handwritten agreement by typing its terms into the final order. After sending it to opposing counsel for his approval, Husband submitted the order to the family court judge, who signed it on January 18, 2017. Nine weeks later, Husband noticed the order contained a provision requiring him to pay Wife one-half of his military retirement benefits - the focal point of this appeal. believing the addition of paragraph 2 to be a mistake - albeit one made by his own attorney in drafting the order - Husband moved for relief under Rule 60(a), SCRCP, based upon a clerical mistake "arising from oversight or omission." the court denied the motion, finding Husband should have requested relief pursuant to Rule 59(e), SCRCP, rather than through Rule 60(a), SCRCP, and accordingly, the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the motion. Alternatively, the court found the parties had agreed that one-half of Husband's military retirement benefits would be paid to Wife. Husband appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed the family court's decision in an unpublished per curiam opinion pursuant to Rule 220(b), SCACR. The Supreme Court concluded the court of appeals erred in affirming the family court's denial of Husband's Rule 60(a) motion based on lack of jurisdiction. The matter was remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine what the parties actually agreed to with respect to Husband's military retirement benefits and whether Husband was entitled to relief. View "Landry v. Landry" on Justia Law

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George and Patricia Clark married in 1987 and filed for divorce twenty-five years later in 2012 after Husband discovered Wife had a multi-year affair with one of Husband's employees. In this cross-appeal concerning the apportionment of marital assets, the issues before the South Carolina Supreme Court stemmed from the valuation of a minority interest in a family-held business. Specifically, the question was whether the court of appeals erred in its handling of the family court's application of two discounts when determining the fair market value of a 25% interest for purposes of equitable apportionment: one for marketability and the other for a lack of control. Relying on Moore v. Moore 779 S.E.2d 533 (2015), the court of appeals rejected the marketability discount but applied the lack of control discount. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, reiterating that the applicability of these discounts was determined on a case-by-case basis. View "Clark v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In August 2013, Timothy York drowned when his boat capsized on a pond at Longlands Plantation in Greeleyville, South Carolina. The deceased's brother and personal representative of the estate filed a claim for death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Although there were initially several individuals who were potential dependents, only York's mother and his girlfriend, Yvonne Burns, claimed death benefits. Burns noted she began seeing the deceased in the late 1990s, but the parties separated before reuniting sometime in 2004-2005. She worked approximately fifty hours per week as a nurse's aide, and filed as head of the household on her tax returns, indicating no one else could claim her as a dependent. Her house was in her name, and she only used "York" on a furniture contract, purportedly because she planned to marry him. Although several witnesses testified she planned to marry while others were unaware of this fact, no one testified that they were in fact married. Burns claimed she was the deceased's common-law wife or alternatively, that she was a dependent under the Act. Whether Burns could qualify as a dependent was the issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s review. The commission found that because Burns was engaged in an illicit relationship in violation of South Carolina’s fornication statute, she could not recover the death benefits as a matter of public policy. The court of appeals reversed, finding, notwithstanding the fact the girlfriend’s initial claim was based on being the deceased's common-law wife, there was no evidence of fornication in the record. Because the relevant facts were not in dispute, the Supreme Court reversed and awarded benefits to the deceased’s mother. View "York v. Longlands Plantation" on Justia Law

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Kenneth and Angela Hensley filed suit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services on behalf of their adopted minor child BLH and a class of approximately 4000 similarly situated adopted children. The central allegation of the lawsuit was that DSS breached an Adoption Subsidy Agreement with the parents of each member of the class by reducing each parent's adoption subsidy by $20 a month, beginning in 2002. The circuit court issued an order finding the Hensleys satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and certifying the proposed class. The court of appeals reversed. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the circuit court's order was not immediately appealable, and vacated the court of appeals' opinion and dismissed the appeal. View "Hensley v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

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Zachariah and Amie Lord Cooper, and Arlene Palazzo were foster parents of three sibling children placed in their care by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). The Coopers fostered one of the children, and Palazzo fostered the other two children. DSS initiated removal actions in the family court. The Coopers and Palazzo filed private actions seeking termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption of their respective foster children. This consolidated appeal stemmed from the family court's order denying several motions made by Foster Parents. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions for joinder. The Supreme Court reversed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions to intervene. The matter was remanded for further consideration of Foster Parents' motions for consolidation. View "Cooper v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

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Stacey and Tammie Bazen married in 1999 and lived in Myrtle Beach. The marriage was unstable, with frequent separations and accusations that Stacey was unfaithful. Their first daughter was born in 2004. In 2008, they had twin girls. At the time of Stacey's death in 2013, he and Tammie were again separated. Stacey was living at the home of his parents, Laverne and Pansy Bazen, in Pamplico, South Carolina, approximately fifty miles from where the children lived with Tammie in Myrtle Beach. The grandparents saw the children frequently until Stacey died, mostly in Myrtle Beach. During the periods of Stacey and Tammie's separation, including at the time of Stacey's death, the children would visit with Stacey at the grandparents' home. The grandparents developed a positive, loving relationship with the children. The children were 9 and 5 at the time of Stacey's death. The family court found Tammie and the grandparents "had a great amount of animosity between them." Tammie's relationship with the grandparents soured when the twins were very young. Soon after Stacey died, Tammie had a dispute with the grandparents over Stacey's estate. The dispute carried over into their communication about the grandparents seeing the children. The grandparents filed suit in family court in July 2016 seeking an order pursuant to subsection 63-3-530(A)(33) requiring Tammie to allow visitation. The case went to trial in October 2017. The family court entered an order on November 17, 2017, granting visitation. Tammie appealed the November 2017 order. The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the mother's argument the subsection was unconstitutional, and found the grandparents satisfied the requirements of the subsection and were entitled to have some visitation. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found it necessary to accommodate reasonable restrictions the mother sought to impose on visitation. In light of this finding, the Supreme Court modified the visitation schedule. View "Bazen v. Bazen" on Justia Law

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This case initially came to the South Carolina Supreme Court for consideration of whether an order from a bifurcated hearing determining the existence of a common-law marriage was immediately appealable. The Court held it was, and retained jurisdiction to consider the merits. Now, the Court considered whether the family court was correct in finding Susan Thompson and Marion Stone were common-law married in 1989, as well as whether Stone was entitled to an award of attorney's fees. In taking stock of common law in South Carolina, the Supreme Court concluded the institution's foundations have eroded with the passage of time, “and the outcomes it produces are unpredictable and often convoluted” and “the time has come to join the overwhelming national trend and abolish it.” The Court held that as of the date of this opinion, parties could no longer enter into a valid marriage in South Carolina without a license. Specific to this case, the Court did not believe Stone demonstrated the mutual assent required to prove a common-law marriage, and as a result, the Court held the parties were not married and reversed the family court on the merits and as to the issue of attorney's fees. View "Stone v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The parties, Stone and Thompson, met in 1983 and began a romantic relationship. Thompson was married to another man at the time and obtained a divorce in 1987. Later that year, Stone and Thompson had their first child. After Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina in 1989, the parties had their second child and started living together. They continued to live, raise their children, and manage rental properties together for approximately 20 years, but ultimately ended their relationship after Thompson discovered Stone was having an affair with a woman in Costa Rica. In 2012, Stone filed an amended complaint in family court alleging, inter alia, he was entitled to a declaratory judgment that the parties were common-law married, a divorce, and an equitable distribution of alleged marital property. Thompson contended the parties were not common-law married, asserted several counterclaims, and sought dismissal of the case. If the trial court would not dismiss the case, Thompson sought to bifurcate the issues to first determine whether the parties were common-law married. After a hearing, the family court denied Thompson's motion to dismiss but granted her motion to bifurcate, ordering a trial on the sole issue of whether a common-law marriage existed between the parties. The court reasoned that, should it determine no marriage existed, it would not need to address the other issues in the case. The issue this appeal presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s review was whether the trial court order finding a common-law marriage, was immediately appealable under the general appealability statute, S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-330. The court of appeals held the order was interlocutory because it did not end the case, and further, that it was not immediately appealable under the statute. The Supreme Court concluded that because the order involved the merits of the causes of action, it reversed. View "Stone v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Although the trial court acknowledged Respondent Irene Sweeney would receive substantial income from her share of an investment account, it granted her alimony. The court of appeals affirmed, noting the family court extensively analyzed the statutory factors governing alimony. The issue for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s resolution centered on whether the family court adequately considered the projected growth of a party's liquid assets apportioned through equitable division in awarding alimony. The Supreme Court affirmed the family court’s judgment, taking the opportunity to clarify that in determining alimony, family courts should consider the effect of investment income on both parties. View "Sweeney v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Edward and Tammy Dalsing (Foster Parents) sought to adopt a young girl (Child). Foster Parents' private action for termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption was consolidated with the South Carolina Department of Social Services' removal action against Erica Smith (Mother) and Andrew Myers (Father). At the final hearing, the family court: (1) adopted the permanent plan of TPR and adoption; (2) terminated Mother's parental rights; (3) found Father was not a person whose consent was required for Child's adoption, but as a further sustaining ground, terminated Father's parental rights; and (4) granted Foster Parents' petition for adoption. Father appealed, and the court of appeals vacated in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the family court for a new permanency planning hearing. The court of appeals ruled the family court erred in terminating Father's parental rights, finding Foster Parents failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence a statutory ground for TPR existed. The court of appeals found the record did not contain clear and convincing evidence to show that Father abandoned Child, willfully failed to visit Child, or willfully failed to support Child. The court of appeals remanded the matter to the family court for a new permanency planning hearing. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. “Although the court of appeals' list of actions taken by Father may appear sufficient to find clear and convincing evidence did not support this statutory ground for TPR, a close analysis of the record reveals otherwise. Several of the actions listed separately by the court of appeals were not actually separate and distinct actions, but rather occurred within a month's time of one another, and approximately one year after Child's birth.” The Court found the trial court record contained clear and convincing evidence that Father abandoned Child. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the family court's grant of adoption to Foster Parents. View "So. Carolina Dept. Social Svcs v. Smith" on Justia Law