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2004-UP-529 - Vallentine v. Vallentine

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Miriam B. Vallentine,        Respondent,

v.

Jack B. Vallentine, III,        Appellant.


Appeal From Orangeburg County"
Anne Gue Jones, Family Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-529   
Submitted October 1, 2004 – Filed October 20, 2004


AFFIRMED


Cynthia Bailey Berry, of Orangeburg, for Appellant.

John G. Felder and Bates N. Felder, both of St. Matthews, for Respondent.

Sean Paul Thornton, of Walterboro, for Guardian ad Litem.

PER CURIAM:  The family court granted Miriam Vallentine a divorce from Jack Vallentine on the ground of one year’s continuous separation and equitably apportioned the parties’ marital assets.  As part of the apportionment, the court granted Mr. Vallentine sole ownership and possession of the home the parties resided in and three surrounding acres, as well as a fifteen-acre tract and a twenty-two-acre tract, but ordered him to pay Mrs. Vallentine $58,330.00 for her interest in these assets.  Mr. Vallentine appeals, arguing the court erred in finding the home and three acres, which he had inherited, had been transmuted into marital property that was subject to equitable apportionment.  We affirm. [1]

FACTS

The Vallentines were married on August 2, 1971.  Both parties are in good health.  Mr. Vallentine has a reliable job that has contributed to the accumulation of marital assets.  His income is more than four times that of Mrs. Vallentine.   

Mrs. Vallentine performed most of the household duties and childcare throughout the marriage.  The parties’ youngest child, Jeffery, was born with Down’s syndrome on July 10, 1985.  Mrs. Vallentine spent the majority of her time at home caring for their special-needs child since his birth.  The court noted this was a marital decision by the parties.   

For the majority of their marriage, the Vallentines lived in a home owned by Mr. Vallentine’s grandmother and for which they paid her rent when she moved to a nursing home.  The Vallentines raised their three children there.  Mr. Vallentine inherited the house and the three surrounding acres when his grandmother died. 

While living at the home, in addition to providing continuous care to their special-needs child, Mrs. Vallentine worked to improve the appearance of the property.  She planted a variety of flowers in the yard and was primarily responsible for the general care and maintenance of the property.  Mr. Vallentine also worked to improve the house by painting the interior and doing work on the exterior of the home. 

The family court found the home where the parties resided and the three surrounding acres had been transmuted into marital property that was subject to equitable apportionment.  The court awarded this property to Mr. Vallentine, but ordered him to pay Mrs. Vallentine $58,330.00 for her interest in these assets and two other tracts. [2]   Mr. Vallentine retained all other real estate held in his name.  On appeal, Mr. Vallentine argues the family court erred in finding that the home and three acres was marital property subject to equitable apportionment.

LAW/ANALYSIS

The family court has wide discretion in equitably apportioning marital property, and its decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.  Murphy v. Murphy, 319 S.C. 324, 461 S.E.2d 39 (1995).

“An abuse of discretion occurs when the judge is controlled by some error of law or where the order, based upon findings of fact, is without evidentiary support.”  Dearybury v. Dearybury, 351 S.C. 278, 282, 569 S.E.2d 367, 369 (2002); see also Stewart v. Floyd, 274 S.C. 437, 265 S.E.2d 254 (1980).

In appeals involving equity actions, including those tried in the family court, an appellate court has authority to find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence.  Rutherford v. Rutherford, 307 S.C. 199, 414 S.E.2d 157 (1992).  Nevertheless, this broad scope of review does not require an appellate court to disregard the findings of the family court, which saw and heard the witnesses and was in a better position to evaluate their credibility.  Strout v. Strout, 284 S.C. 429, 327 S.E.2d 74 (1985).

Although inherited property is generally considered a nonmarital asset, it can be transmuted into marital property under certain conditions:

[W]hile property acquired by either party by inheritance from a party other than the spouse is generally considered nonmarital property, nonmarital property may be transmuted into marital property if:  (1) it becomes so commingled with marital property as to be untraceable; (2) it is jointly titled; or (3) it is utilized by the parties in support of the marriage or in some other manner so as to evidence an intent by the parties to make it marital property.

Widman v. Widman, 348 S.C. 97, 117, 557 S.E.2d 693, 703 (Ct. App. 2001);  see also Hussey v. Hussey, 280 S.C. 418, 312 S.E.2d 267 (Ct. App. 1984).  Transmutation is a matter of intent, which must be gleaned from the facts of each case.  Widman, 348 S.C. at 117, 557 S.E.2d at 703-04.

In this case, the evidence suggests the parties utilized the property in support of the marriage and intended to make the house and three acres marital property.  The parties lived in the house during most of their marriage, raised their children in the home, and worked together to maintain and improve the property.

The parties originally rented a house; however, when Mr. Vallentine inherited the property in question, he proposed that the parties make the inherited property their home.  According to Mrs. Vallentine, ever since they were engaged, Mr. Vallentine told her that one day they would live in the house and raise their children there. 

Further, Mr. Vallentine testified that Mrs. Vallentine often complained that she did not feel like the inherited property was her own house.  He testified, however, that he reassured her that it was her home. 

Considering all of the evidence, we find no abuse of discretion in the family court’s decision to treat the home the parties resided in and the three surrounding acres as marital property and to require Mr. Vallentine to pay his wife a sum for her interest.  Accordingly, the order of the family court is

AFFIRMED.

GOOSLBY, ANDERSON, and WILLIAMS, JJ., concur.


[1]   This case is decided without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2]   As noted above, we construe the family court’s order as requiring the sum to be paid to Mrs. Vallentine for her interest in not only the home and three acres, but for two other tracts of fifteen acres and twenty-two acres.