Supreme Court Seal
South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
Site Map | Feedback
2004-UP-009 - Lane v. Lane

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In the Court of Appeals


Margie Lane,        Appellant,

v.

Donald Lane,        Respondent.


Appeal from Clarendon County
R. Wright Turbeville, Family Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-009
Submitted December 8, 2003 – Filed January 14, 2004


AFFIRMED


Kristi F. Curtis, of Sumter, for Appellant.

Lori D. Hall, of West Columbia and Cyril B. Rush Jr. of Columbia, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, J.:  The family court granted Margie Lane (“Wife”) and Donald Lane (“Husband”) a divorce and apportioned the marital property.  The apportionment allocated thirty-five percent of the marital property to Wife and sixty-five percent to Husband, including the parties’ marital residence.  We affirm. [1]

FACTS

Wife commenced an action for divorce by filing a summons and complaint on March 20, 2000.  The complaint prayed for a divorce on grounds of adultery, an order requiring Husband to maintain health insurance on Wife, apportionment of the marital property, and possession of the marital home.  Husband answered and counterclaimed, also seeking a divorce on grounds of adultery.  The family court issued a temporary order, based partially on an agreement between the parties, on August 8, 2000.

The parties were married in 1989.  Husband was employed as a sergeant with the South Carolina Highway Patrol, while Wife worked part-time for her brother’s cabinet making company.  At this point, the parties resided with Wife’s mother in Chesterfield County.  Upon Husband receiving a promotion, the parties relocated to York, South Carolina.  After the relocation to York, Wife began working for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV).  She stayed at this position until 1995, when Husband received a second promotion to lieutenant colonel, which required relocation to Columbia.  From 1995 until the end of the marriage, Wife has been unemployed. 

The parties stipulated that the value of the marital estate at the time of the hearing was $165,509.40.  Of particular importance, the marital estate included two pieces of real property:  a five-acre tract of land located in York County and a lakefront property used as the marital residence, located in Summerton, South Carolina.  Wife used non-marital funds to purchase both pieces of property.  Around 1990, Wife used non-marital funds to put a down payment on a mobile home that became the marital residence on the lakefront property.  It appears Wife made the mortgage payments on the mobile home until 1995, when she left her job at the SCDMV.  Husband made the payments from 1995 until 1999, when the mortgage was paid in full.

Both parties contributed to the lakefront property by making several improvements.  Husband purchased an outdoor storage building, helped build porches on the house and a shed on the property, and contributed to the purchase price of a dock.  In addition to purchasing the property and making a down payment on the mobile home, Wife contributed half the price of the dock, installed a septic tank system and arranged for both electricity and water services. 

Although the lakefront property was initially used only on weekends and special occasions, upon Husband’s relocation to Columbia in 1995, the property became Wife’s primary residence.  Wife resided there until June of 2000 when the parties separated.  During the interim, Husband resided in an apartment in Columbia and would make the trip to the lakefront property on the weekends.  Husband has been living on the lakefront property since the separation and has lived there continuously since that time.

In the divorce decree, dated September 25, 2001, the family court granted the parties a divorce on the ground of one-year continuous separation. [2]   The court also held that in terms of financial contributions, Husband contributed eighty-two percent to the marital estate and Wife contributed eighteen percent.  Accordingly, the decree awarded sixty-five percent of the estate to Husband and thirty-five percent to Wife.  The marital residence (the lakefront property) was included in Husband’s portion of the estate.  The court further denied Wife’s request for an order requiring Husband to maintain health insurance on her and awarded her partial attorney’s fees of $2500.00.  It is from these rulings that Wife appeals.

ISSUES

I.      Did the family court err in determining the percentage of marital property to be apportioned among the parties?

II.      Did the family court err in awarding the lakefront property to Husband?

III.     Did the family court err in refusing to require Husband to continue health insurance coverage on Wife?

IV.    Did the family court err in giving Wife only a partial award of attorney’s fees?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In appeals from the family court, this court has the authority to find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence.  Rutherford v. Rutherford, 307 S.C. 199, 204, 414 S.E.2d 157, 160 (1992).  This broad scope of review does not, however, require this court to disregard the factual findings of the family court.  Stevenson v. Stevenson, 276 S.C. 475, 477, 279 S.E.2d 616, 617 (1981).  Neither are we required to ignore the fact that the trial judge, who saw and heard the witnesses, was in a better position to evaluate their credibility and assign comparative weight to their testimony.  Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I.                  Equitable Distribution

Wife first contends the family court erred in apportioning the marital property.  Specifically, she argues the family court judge did not give enough consideration to her early contributions to the marriage, the current condition of her health, and her lack of any substantial savings or retirement.  We disagree. 

The apportionment of marital property is within the discretion of the family court judge and will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.  See Morris v. Morris, 295 S.C. 37, 39, 367 S.E.2d 24, 25 (1988).  South Carolina Code Ann. section 20-7-472 (Supp. 2002) provides the family court must consider fifteen factors and give each weight as it determines.  On review, this court looks to the fairness of the overall apportionment, and if the end result is equitable, the fact that this court might have weighed specific factors differently than the family court is irrelevant.  Johnson v. Johnson, 296 S.C. 289, 300-01, 372 S.E.2d 107, 113 (Ct. App. 1988); Doe v. Doe, 324 S.C. 492, 502, 478 S.E.2d 854, 859 (Ct. App. 1996) (the reviewing court will affirm the family court judge’s apportionment of marital property if it can be determined that the judge addressed the relevant factors under section 20-7-472 with sufficiency for the reviewing court to conclude the judge was cognizant of statutory factors).

In this case, the overall distribution was sixty-five percent of the estate to Husband and thirty-five percent to Wife.  We find, given the statutory factors, that this distribution is fair and equitable.  Given the length of the marriage, the value of the marital property, and the incomes of both parties, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its distribution of the marital property.  In identifying, valuating, and apportioning the property, the family court relied upon the testimony and discovery obtained from both parties.  After examination of both the parties’ testimony and the fifteen statutory factors listed in S.C. Code Ann. section 20-7-472, it is clear that the family court divided the marital property in a fair manner.

II.  Lake-Front Property

Wife next maintains the family court erred by awarding the lakefront property to Husband.  We disagree. 

Although Wife purchased the lakefront property with non-marital funds, the parties stipulated it was marital property and agreed that whichever party received it, the other party would be awarded the five-acre parcel of land in York County.  Accordingly, the award of the property was governed by the standards for equitable distribution.  Because there is evidence in the record supporting the family court’s decision, we find no abuse of discretion. 

III.  Health Insurance

Wife argues the family court erred in allowing Husband to drop her from his health insurance.  We disagree.

Both parties agreed at trial to waive any right either may have to alimony.  Because of this, the family court denied Wife’s request, but ordered Husband to execute whatever documentation might be necessary to allow Wife to convert her coverage to COBRA.

In its order disposing of Wife’s motion to alter or amend the divorce decree, the family court denied Wife’s request.  The court correctly noted that to require Husband to maintain health insurance, even at Wife’s expense, “would become an ongoing obligation as a form of spousal support.”  Because it is undisputed the parties voluntarily waived alimony, and thus support, we find no error.

IV.  Attorney’s Fees

Wife’s final argument is that the family court erred in only granting her a partial award of attorney’s fees.  We disagree.

A court must consider six factors in determining whether to grant attorney’s fees: “(1) the nature, extent, and difficulty of the case; (2) the time necessarily devoted to the case; (3) professional standing of counsel; (4) contingency of compensation; (5) beneficial results obtained; [and] (6) customary legal fees for similar services.”  Glasscock v. Glasscock, 304 S.C. 158, 161, 403 S.E.2d 313, 315 (1991) (citing Donahue v. Donahue, 299 S.C. 353, 384 S.E.2d 741 (1989)).  Additionally, “an award of attorneys’ fees and costs is a discretionary matter not to be overturned absent abuse by the trial court.”  Donahue, 299 S.C. at 365, 384 S.E.2d at 748.

From a review of the divorce decree, it is clear the family court fairly and equitably considered the necessary factors.  The court found that the fees and expenses incurred by the respective attorneys were reasonable, and that Husband was in a better position to pay the fees.  In awarding Wife fees, the court considered the fact that Wife abandoned her request for alimony on the day of the trial.  We conclude the family court properly considered the necessary factors.  We find no error in its award of partial fees to Wife.

According, based on the foregoing, the family court’s rulings are

AFFIRMED.

GOOLSBY, J., concurs.

CONNOR, J., dissents in a separate opinion.

CONNOR, J. (dissenting): Although I agree with the majority’s decision regarding the lakefront property, health insurance, and attorney’s fees, I respectfully disagree with its decision to affirm the family court’s determination of each party’s percentage of the marital estate.  In my opinion, Husband and Wife should each receive fifty percent of the marital estate.  Applying the requisite factors outlined in section 20-7-472 [3] to the evidence presented at trial, I believe the family court erred in awarding Wife only thirty-five percent of the marital estate.

The parties were married for almost eleven years.  Even though the parties were divorced on the ground of one year’s continuous separation, there is evidence in the record, by way of Husband’s admission and Wife’s testimony, that Husband’s marital misconduct precipitated the parties’ separation.  Wife also significantly contributed to the marital estate.  Specifically, Wife purchased, using her own non-marital funds, a five-acre tract of land in York and a lakefront lot in Summerton, South Carolina.  She also used non-marital funds as a down payment to purchase a mobile home for the lake property.  She continued to make these payments until 1995 when she stopped working.  Additionally, she paid for the installation and set up of the mobile home using her non-marital funds.  Wife’s current health condition weighs in favor of her need for a greater portion of the marital estate.  Because Wife suffers from severe fibromyalgia, she is unable to maintain full-time employment.   In addition to Wife’s limited future earnings, she also has no vested retirement and has minimal savings.  Although Wife did not earn as much income as Husband during the marriage, this factor alone is not sufficient to support’s the family court’s apportionment of the marital estate.  Based on the foregoing, I would reverse the family court’s decision and award each party fifty percent of the marital estate.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2] The parties agreed to dismiss their requests for divorce on grounds of adultery.

[3]    Section 20-7-472 of the South Carolina Code of Laws enumerates fifteen factors applicable to a determination of equitable distribution.  These factors are as follows:  (1) duration of the marriage; (2) marital misconduct or fault and its effect on the break-up of the marriage; (3) the value of the marital property and the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition or appreciation in value of the marital property, including the contribution of the spouse as homemaker; (4) the income and earning potential of each spouse and opportunity for future acquisition of assets; (5) the health, both physical and emotional, of each spouse; (6) need of either spouse for additional training or education; (7) the nonmarital property of each spouse; (8) the existence or nonexistence of vested retirement benefits for each spouse; (9) whether alimony has been awarded; (10) desirability of awarding the family home; (11) the tax consequence to each spouse as a result of the apportionment; (12) the existence and extent of any support obligations of either party; (13) liens and encumbrances on marital and separate property and other existing debts; (14) child custody arrangements and obligations; and (15) any other relevant factors as the trial court shall expressly enumerate in its order.   S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-472 (Supp. 2002).