THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.
THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals
James and Diane Youngblood, Respondents/Appellants,
South Carolina Department of Social Services, Defendant,
Jane and John Doe, Intervenors,
Of whom Jane and John Doe are the, Appellants/Respondents.
Appeal From Pickens County
W. Marsh Robertson, Family Court Judge
Unpublished Opinion No. 2012-UP-172
Heard February 7, 2012 – Filed March 8, 2012
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED
Vanessa H. Kormylo, of Greenville, for Appellant-Respondents.
Sarah Ganss Drawdy, of Anderson, for Respondent-Appellants.
Steven L. Alexander, of Pickens, for Guardian ad Litem.
PER CURIAM: John and Jane Doe and James and Diane Youngblood cross-appeal the family court's final order granting the adoption of Child to the Youngbloods and requiring visitation with Child's biological siblings, who were adopted by the Does. The Does argue the family court erred in (1) holding the Youngbloods had standing to adopt Child, (2) granting the adoption without the consent of the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), and (3) finding Child's adoption by the Youngbloods was in her best interests. The Youngbloods argue the family court erred in (1) granting visitation and (2) finding they were not entitled to attorney's fees. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
DSS removed Child, who was born in February 2006, and her four older siblings from the custody of their biological parents. While an action to terminate her biological parents' parental rights was pending, DSS placed her in a foster home for several months and then transferred her to the foster care of the Youngbloods on October 12, 2007. Although separated, the siblings visited each other from time to time during their foster care.
On April 17, 2008, the Youngbloods received a letter from DSS informing them that adoption was Child's permanent care plan. DSS gave the Youngbloods ninety days to seek a home study if they desired to be considered as candidates for Child's adoption. The letter also notified them that Child "may be moved for the purposes of adoption once an approved resource has been identified," and "it will be the first priority of [DSS] to reunite and place [Child with her siblings] for the purpose of adoption." The Youngbloods timely submitted the materials to DSS for a home study.
DSS notified the Youngbloods on March 17, 2009, that their home study was approved but Child and her siblings would be placed together with the Does, who had indicated to DSS in January 2009 that they were interested in adopting all five siblings. Ten days' notice of removal was given on May 5, 2009, and the children were removed and placed in the Does' custody for the purpose of adoption that June. The Youngbloods challenged Child's removal, seeking a fair hearing from a DSS committee. However, the Youngbloods filed a petition with the family court to adopt Child before their administrative appeal was decided. The Does responded with a formal petition of their own, seeking the adoption of all five siblings.
The family court, in a temporary order issued following a July 29 hearing, granted the Youngbloods immediate custody of Child during the pendency of the adoption proceedings. The temporary order also required reasonable visitation between Child and her siblings and denied DSS's motion to dismiss the petition due to the Youngbloods' failure to exhaust their available administrative remedies. The family court issued a second temporary order a few months later, which ordered mediation, bonding assessments, and discovery, and detailed a plan for visitation during the pendency of the proceedings.
A final hearing on the adoption was held before the family court in September 2010. Dr. Mary Cumming, a family counselor retained by the guardian ad litem (GAL) for a bonding assessment, testified in favor of adoption by the Youngbloods. After conducting four visits with the Youngbloods and one with the Does, Dr. Cumming recommended that Child not be removed from the Youngbloods' home because she was doing well in a "fragile and important part of development." She emphasized, however, that Child would learn a lot from both families and that both families loved Child. Other concerns of Dr. Cumming were that Child "seemed exhausted" from her interactions with the Does, and the Does' "chaotically enmeshed" family system faced huge challenges with the responsibilities they had taken on. Given Child's strong temperament, Dr. Cumming opined the structure and space provided by the Youngbloods would better suit her.
Also testifying in favor of adoption by the Youngbloods was Dr. David Cannon, a clinical psychologist, who was involved in the proceedings to terminate Child's biological parents' parental rights. He appeared under subpoena issued by the Youngbloods. Dr. Cannon noted he never assessed the families for the purposes of the adoption proceedings, and he had no detailed knowledge of the families. His opinion, however, was that removing Child from the Youngbloods' home and uniting her with her siblings was not worth the risk. He viewed this case as "one of those cases where [a] child is obviously . . . better off left in the location she regards as her home and with the people she regards as her parents and has obviously bonded with."
In addition to recommending that Child remain with the Youngbloods, Drs. Cumming and Cannon both recommended sibling visitation. Dr. Cumming concluded that Child "should have free and liberal visitation" with flexibility in the schedule "as she grows older." She emphasized it would be detrimental for Child to no longer have a relationship with her siblings. Dr. Cannon did not "see the logic behind" placing the Child with the Does, "especially if there [were] arrangements for [Child] to have regular visitation with [her] four other siblings."
Dr. Deborah Otto-Sunderman, a counselor the Youngbloods hired for Child, also testified for the Youngbloods. After observing Child routinely, Dr. Otto-Sunderman's overall recommendation was that removal from the Youngbloods' home and adoption by the Does would be a great risk because of Child's secure primary care attachment with the Youngbloods. Thus, adoption by the Youngbloods, she testified, was in Child's best interests.
The Does retained two experts, Meredith Thompson-Loftis and Dr. Craig Horn, to testify at the hearing. Thompson-Loftis, a counselor who observed Child and her siblings and assessed the sibling bond, explained "a lot of research [showed] that the sibling bond is almost equal to if not greater than that of a parental bond" but noted her opinion that "it's more of on a case by case basis." She concluded Child had "multiple bonds at the primary status," including the bond with her siblings. Her recommendation was that Child needed to be with her siblings. Dr. Horn, a clinical psychologist, gave similar testimony although he never had contact with the parties involved. After reviewing documents provided to him, he pointed out that young children like Child had the ability to adjust and children placed together had fewer emotional behavioral problems, especially when their biological parents are no longer present. He explained removing Child from the Youngbloods' home would not create a risk for attachment disorder.
Finally, the GAL and DSS officials testified. The GAL presented his report and opinion regarding Child's best interests, recommending Child be adopted by the Does. The GAL was concerned about the "antagonistic relationship and pending law suit between the prospective parents." But in the event the family court found in favor of the Youngbloods, the GAL recommended sibling visitation. Helena Turner, who sat on the DSS committee that placed the siblings with the Does, testified the committee determined Child's interests were best served by her placement with her siblings and searched for a "family for them to transition into." She noted it was also DSS policy to do so. Deborah Thompson, another committee member, explained that DSS would not have placed Child with the Does if they were concerned she would not "successfully transition into a placement with her siblings."
The Youngbloods also introduced evidence of the Does' teenage son's Facebook profile. On his profile were the results of many quizzes, some designed to identify historical figures he was most similar to, including the dictator Adolf Hitler, the assassin Gavrilo Princip, and the serial killer Herbert Mullin. The Youngbloods communicated their concerns about the Facebook profile to DSS, but neither the GAL nor DSS, after an investigation, were troubled by the postings. The Does filed a slander lawsuit, claiming Mrs. Youngblood called their son a sex predator and a Nazi. Furthermore, the Does challenged the relevancy of the postings at the hearing; however, the family court overruled their objection. The family court asked the Does' son at the final hearing if he had removed the postings, and he had not. Nevertheless, the family court found his explanation for the postings to be "plausible and palatable."
In its final order, the family court found the Youngbloods had standing to adopt, noting that the Youngbloods had informed DSS of their desire to adopt Child, obtained approval to adopt generally, and properly challenged Child's removal from their custody. It pointed out that the foster care contract did not voluntarily end.
As to the adoption of Child, the family court concluded as follows:
I have carefully considered all evidence presented. I am cognizant of the legal presumption in favor of keeping siblings together, and I agree with that policy in most cases. This is not, however, a typical case. I have weighed the pros and cons of allowing [Child] to grow up in the same home as her brothers and sisters. I have likewise weighed the benefits of allowing her to remain in her current home with her current parental figures verses the potential harm to her if she is permanently removed from [the Youngbloods' care]. In the final analysis, I am persuaded that adoption by [the Youngbloods] is in [Child's] best interest and welfare, both from a near-term and long-term perspective.
The family court placed the greatest weight on the testimony of Drs. Cumming and Cannon, who both recommended that Child remain with the Youngbloods. In determining which family would better serve Child's best interests, the family court also referred to the Does' "lack of sound parental judgment in handling [the] matter," which included the slander lawsuit.
Although the adoption was decided in favor of the Youngbloods, the family court, pursuant to section 63-3-530(A)(44) of the South Carolina Code (2010), found continued visitation "with the Doe family" was in the best interests of all siblings, including Child. The court-ordered schedule included visitation every other weekend, every other spring break, every other Thanksgiving break, and the second half of every Christmas break, dividing Christmas Day. Finally, the family court found that neither the Youngbloods nor the Does "should be ordered to pay or contribute to the attorney's fees and costs of the other"; however, the Does were ordered to pay 67% of the GAL's attorney's fees, while the Youngbloods were responsible for the remainder. The family court denied both the Youngbloods' and the Does' motions for reconsideration; however, it corrected its order pursuant to Rule 60(a), SCRCP, amending the order to give the Does three full weeks of visitation during the summer, compared to the Youngbloods' two full weeks. This cross-appeal followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
On appeal from the family court, this court reviews factual and legal issues de novo. Simmons v. Simmons, 399 S.C. 412, 414, 709 S.E.2d 666, 667 (2011); see also Lewis v. Lewis, 392 S.C. 381, 386, 709 S.E.2d 650, 652 (2011). An appellate court "has the authority to find the facts in accordance with its view of the preponderance of the evidence" and is not required "to disregard the findings of the family court." Ex parte Morris, 367 S.C. 56, 61, 624 S.E.2d 649, 652 (2006). We recognize the family court, which saw and heard the witnesses, was in a better position to evaluate their credibility and assign comparative weight to their testimony. Lewis, 392 S.C. at 385, 709 S.E.2d at 652. Thus, the burden is upon the appellant to convince this court that the family court erred in its findings. Id. "This degree of deference is especially true in cases involving the welfare and best interests of a minor child." Ex parte Morris, 367 S.C. at 62, 624 S.E.2d at 652.
I. Standing and Consent
The Does argue the Youngbloods lack standing to petition the family court for the adoption of Child. Furthermore, the Does contend DSS's consent to adopt, which the Youngbloods did not have, was required by law. We disagree.
"Any South Carolina resident may petition the [family] court to adopt a child." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-60(A)(1) (Supp. 2011). This provision is limited, however, once a child is "placed by DSS in another home for the purposes of adoption." Michael P. v. Greenville Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 385 S.C. 407, 415, 684 S.E.2d 211, 215 (Ct. App. 2009) (citing S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-60(B) (2010)). After a child is placed in a pre-adoptive home, a former foster parent, in order to maintain standing to intervene, must show he suffered an injury-in-fact that is concrete, particularized, actual, and imminent; that is causally connected to the conduct of DSS; and that will likely "be redressed by a favorable decision." Id. at 416, 684 S.E.2d at 215. Because Child was placed with the Does by DSS for adoption, we find the Youngbloods were former foster parents when they petitioned the family court for adoption, and the broad window to petition the family court under section 63-9-60(A)(1) had closed. However, this does not end our analysis.
In Michael P., this court considered the standing of former foster parents who intervened in an adoption after the child was placed in a pre-adoptive home. Michael P., 385 S.C. at 410, 684 S.E.2d at 212-13. Although this court generally noted that "foster parents' procedural and due process rights . . . are more limited than the rights of legal parents," we never addressed precisely what those rights were, finding only that "[a]ny rights [the former foster parents] had with regard to [the child] ended after they chose not to administratively challenge the removal of [the child] from their care." Id. at 416-18, 684 S.E.2d at 215-17. The Youngbloods, however, administratively challenged Child's removal from their home and requested to adopt Child before DSS found a home willing to adopt the sibling group. Without evidence of a waiver, we must determine, unlike in Michael P., what legal interest the Youngbloods had in petitioning to adopt once Child was placed with the Does. We find, given the unique facts of this case, that DSS's denial of consent gives the Youngbloods the standing to petition the family court for Child's adoption.
The consent of DSS, or any child-placing agency, is required when the "authority to execute a consent or relinquishment has been vested legally in" it after "the parental rights of both the [child's] parents have been judicially terminated." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(B) (2010); see also S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-750(B)(2) (2010) (providing that the family court has the duty to find that "all necessary consents or relinquishments for the purpose of adoption have been obtained"). When a child-placing agency does not provide its consent to a person eligible under section 63-9-60, it has "an affirmative duty to inform the person who is denied consent of all of his rights for judicial review of the denial." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(D) (2010). Therefore, reading the plain language of section 63-9-310(D), we find that any person who is initially eligible to adopt under section 63-9-60 and who is aggrieved by a child-placing agency's decision to deny them consent to adopt a specific child may petition the family court to review the child-placing agency's decision in order to determine whether it was in the child's best interests. See, e.g., Michael P., 385 S.C. at 414-15, 684 S.E.2d at 215 ("Whenever possible, legislative intent should be found in the plain language of the statute itself.").
However, the denial of consent and the mere failure to obtain consent, as was the case in Michael P., require some distinction. Indeed, no foster parent, whose rights are defined by contract, has a right to adopt a specific child in the legal custody of a child-placing agency. Michael P., accordingly, presents an example of how the limited legal rights of a foster parent can be waived if the foster parent declines a child-placing agency's invitation to apply for a home study or fails to administratively challenge the child's removal. Our holding is limited to the recognition of the statutory right of a "person who is denied consent" of a child-placing agency to petition the family court "for judicial review of the denial." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(D) (2010). In addition to deciding whether consent was in fact denied, the family court must determine what best serves the interests of the child and whether consent was properly obtained. See S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-750(B) (2010) (detailing the findings the family court must make in granting an adoption after a final hearing).
The denial of consent by a child-placing agency assumes a timely application for the adoption of a specific child by an eligible family. When the Youngbloods applied to adopt Child, they were residents of South Carolina and Child had not been placed for the purpose of adoption. Moreover, by DSS's own admission, the Youngbloods properly applied to adopt Child but were denied consent because "the sibling group of five [was] placed together." Aggrieved by DSS's decision and without an administrative remedy, the Youngbloods properly sought review by the family court, pleading in their petition that DSS's determination was not in the best interests of Child and seeking the protection of the family court. See 27 S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 114-150(A)(2) (Supp. 2011) ("A person is not entitled to appeal [DSS's] decision to deny its consent or refuse approval of the applicant for adoption of a specific child.").
Resolution and permanency are crucial in determining the best interests of a child in the adoption context, and the role of a child-placing agency in making that determination should not be ignored or even diminished. Michael P., 385 S.C at 417, 684 S.E.2d at 216 ("A child deserves resolution and permanency in his or her life.") (quoting In re Michael Ray T., 525 S.E.2d 315, 323 (W. Va. 1999)). But in the rare instances when an adoption is contested, we hold the family court has the authority to review the agency's decision regarding consent. Judicial review will ensure that the decision is in the best interests of the child and not arbitrary. Accordingly, we find the Youngbloods had standing to petition the family court for Child's adoption.
II. Child's Best Interests
Both the Does and the Youngbloods challenge the family court's determination of Child's best interests. Specifically, the Does argue the adoption by the Youngbloods was not in Child's best interests, and the Youngbloods object to the scope of the family court's grant of sibling visitation. Like the family court, we recognize Child's interests are best served in maintaining the relationships she developed over her young life; however, we agree with the Youngbloods that the family court's broad grant of sibling visitation was inconsistent with the evidence presented at the hearing.
In adjudicating a contested adoption, the family court must determine whether the child-placing agency's consent was properly obtained—a duty intertwined, as we noted above, with the paramount task of finding whether "the best interests of the adoptee are served by the adoption." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-750(B)(6) (2010). Here, the family court found that adoption by the Youngbloods best served Child's interests, and considering that the family court is in the best position to make credibility determinations, we affirm. Indeed, the testimony of both Drs. Cumming and Cannon, which the family court found most credible and weighed heavily, supports Child's adoption by the Youngbloods. Both experts concluded Child was in a fragile period of her development and removal from the Youngbloods' home would pose a risk to her, and all experts, including the Does', acknowledged the existence of a bond between the Youngbloods and Child.
It follows that placing Child with the Does would sever a bond that was developed over a substantial period of Child's life. The Youngbloods and Child would not be entitled under law to maintain their relationship, and each would be dependent on the discretion of the Does—a legitimate risk given the relationship between the two families that was observed by the GAL. Thus, from our "review [of] the cold record," we find the Does fail to meet their burden of convincing this court, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the family court erred in finding adoption by the Youngbloods was in Child's best interests. Altman v. Griffith, 372 S.C. 388, 393, 642 S.E.2d 619, 622 (Ct. App. 2007).
We, like the family court, are mindful of the Does' contention that "the policy of this State [is] to reunite [a] child with [her] family in a timely manner, whether or not [she] has been placed in the care of the State voluntarily." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-1-20(D) (2010). Moreover, we recently held the separation of siblings in custody disputes "should be avoided unless there are exceptional circumstances present." Moeller v. Moeller, 394 S.C. 365, 374, 714 S.E.2d 898, 903 (Ct. App. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). In Moeller, we found no exceptional circumstances to support the separation of two children from their half-sibling. Id. at 375, 714 S.E.2d at 903. That case, however, was a custody case between two biological parents, and the father did not risk losing visitation after we found the mother was entitled to custody. Id.; see also Patel v. Patel, 359 S.C. 515, 528-29, 599 S.E.2d 114, 121 (2004) (finding that separating siblings in order for one to complete high school in another state was not an abuse of discretion). By accepting the testimony of Drs. Cumming and Cannon, we must also defer to the family court's finding that "[t]his is not . . . a typical case." The risk of completely severing a key relationship in Child's life is an exceptional circumstance to consider. Thus, we affirm the family court's decision that adoption by the Youngbloods was in Child's best interests.
The Youngbloods, however, contend that the family court erred in determining the schedule of sibling visitation. Their exception to the visitation schedule regards its scope, and they point out the order's reference to the Doe family as a whole and its grant of a significant amount of time when Child will be apart from a legal parent. These arguments, however, were never raised to the family court before its ruling. In fact, the Youngbloods, who proposed no schedule, indicated during the final hearing that they were willing to accept sibling visitation as a condition if they were granted the adoption. Moreover, the record does not show whether the visitation schedule was challenged by the Youngbloods until their motion for reconsideration. Thus, we find the issues raised by the Youngbloods are not preserved for our review. See I'On, L.L.C. v. Town of Mt. Pleasant, 338 S.C. 406, 422, 526 S.E.2d 716, 724 (2000) (noting the preservation rules exist "to enable the lower court to rule properly after it has considered all relevant facts, law, and arguments").
This court cannot ignore the best interests of Child. Our standard of review in appeals from the family court requires a de novo review of the family court's decision, and appellate courts are consistent in holding that "procedural rules are subservient to the court's duty to zealously guard the rights of minors." Joiner v. Rivas, 342 S.C. 102, 107, 536 S.E.2d 372, 374 (2000). Despite the Youngbloods' failure to properly raise their objections to the family court, we are compelled on review to assess the family court's order in light of the record as a whole, and we find the visitation schedule, as ordered, is not supported by evidence.
The temporary orders of the family court show an evolution of the visitation schedule early in the litigation. The family court first ordered "reasonable visitation" between Child and her siblings but later established a specific schedule, finding a definite schedule necessary because of the strained relationship between the Youngbloods and the Does. The follow-up order included visitation for three Saturdays a month until the end of 2009, as well as five hours on Christmas Day. The schedule shifted to visitation every other weekend beginning January 1, 2010, and that frequency was continued throughout the proceedings. Thus, relevant to visitation, the only evidence before the family court at the hearing was the temporary schedule, as well as the testimony of the experts that visitation generally was in Child's best interests if the adoption was granted in the Youngbloods' favor.
In light of the expert testimony, we find a preponderance of the evidence proves that sibling visitation is in the best interests of Child; however, the evidence supporting the specific schedule is insufficient. The schedule established in the final order significantly expanded visitation to include entire holiday breaks and multiple summer weeks, but no testimony or proposal showed that schedule was appropriate. Because we are unable to make an adequate determination of how Child's best interests are affected by the frequency of visitation, we reverse the family court's schedule. We remand the matter for an evidentiary hearing solely to determine the proper scope of sibling visitation.
III. Attorney's Fees
The Youngbloods contend the family court erred in denying their motion for attorney's fees and in ordering them to pay one-third of the GAL's attorney's fees because they prevailed on the merits. We disagree.
The authority for a family court to award attorney's fees must be found in a statute, and two statutes enable the family court's authority in the adoption context. See, e.g., Baxter v. Martin Bros., Inc., 368 S.C. 510, 514, 630 S.E.2d 42, 44 (2006) First, the family court may generally assess attorney's fees "for or against a party to an action brought in or subject to the jurisdiction of the family court." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-3-530(A)(38) (2010). A party, however, must request the attorney's fees in a pleading or a motion for pendente lite relief. Id. Second, the adoption statutes specifically authorize the payment of attorney's fees in adoption proceedings to a child-placing agency or person as long as the fees are not provided as "consideration for giving a consent or relinquishment of a child for the purpose of adoption." S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(F) (2010). Although the more specific statute generally controls, the contested nature of this action presents a unique set of facts, adding an element of judicial review to a statutorily-defined adoption procedure. We hold, therefore, that section 63-3-530(A)(38) gives the family court the discretion to award attorney's fees if the parties properly requested them. Patel v. Patel, 359 S.C. 515, 533, 599 S.E.2d 114, 123 (2004) ("An award of attorney's fees rests within the sound discretion of the [family court] and should not be disturbed on appeal unless there is an abuse of discretion.").
Given the applicability of section 63-3-530(A)(38), the family court, in deciding whether to award attorney's fees, should consider "(1) the party's ability to pay his/her own attorney's fee; (2) [the] beneficial results obtained by the attorney; (3) the parties' respective financial conditions; [and] (4) [the] effect of the attorney's fee on each party's standard of living." E.D.M. v. T.A.M., 307 S.C. 471, 476-77, 415 S.E.2d 812, 816 (1992) (citing Glasscock v. Glasscock, 304 S.C. 158, 161 n.1, 403 S.E.2d 313, 315 n.1 (1991)). We find the family court properly exercised its discretion in declining to award attorney's fees to the Youngbloods. The family court's analysis, which included consideration of each of the E.D.M. factors, is supported by the evidence of the Youngbloods' financial standing compared to the fees and costs billed by their attorney. Although the Youngbloods have less income than the Does, Child is the only minor child in the Youngbloods' care. Moreover, the Does' attorney submitted an affidavit of fees and costs totaling $36,377.29. An additional $19,910.00 would substantially affect the standard of living for a family with five minor children and who are routinely visited by Child. Given this evidence and the deference we give in reviewing the decisions made within a family court's discretion, the beneficial results obtained by the Youngbloods' attorney do not require a reversal.
The Youngbloods also argue the family court erred in requiring them to pay one-third of the GAL's attorney's fees. The compensation of a GAL, including the payment of any attorney's fees, is authorized by a separate statutory scheme. See S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-310(F)(4) (2010) (providing for the compensation of GALs in adoptions); S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-720 (2010) (providing for GALs in adoptions); S.C. Code Ann. §§ 63-3-810 to -870 (2010) (governing the appointment and compensation of GALs in private actions). Although the family court divided the GAL fees between the Youngbloods and the Does, it is unclear from the record on appeal how the issue was raised. The record fails to even imply the Youngbloods challenged the issue before the family court, and they did not move for the family court to alter or amend the final order on the issue. Thus, the issue is not preserved for this court's review. See, e.g., Doe v. Doe, 370 S.C. 206, 217, 634 S.E.2d 51, 57 (Ct. App. 2006) (finding that an issue not raised to the family court was not preserved for appellate review).
Based on the foregoing, the decision of the family court is
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
SHORT, WILLIAMS, and GEATHERS, JJ., concur.
 The Youngbloods' appeal of the removal was ultimately decided in DSS's favor after the fair hearing committee found that the Youngbloods were afforded due process. No evidence shows the fair hearing committee's decision was appealed to the Administrative Law Court.
 The uncontested adoption of Child's four siblings, to which DSS consented, was granted on May 4, 2010. The Does' petition to adopt Child was consolidated with the Youngbloods' petition, and the Does were designated as intervenors.
 The GAL was appointed on September 18, 2007, in the wake of the siblings' removal from their biological parents' home. The family court ordered the GAL to stay on during the adoption proceedings.
 Although the family court has the authority to grant sibling visitation, we note no South Carolina appellate court has addressed the specific issue of a family court's authority to order visitation between a child and her biological siblings when their legal relationship is severed by an adoption. S.C. Code Ann. § 63-3-530(A)(44) (2010) (effective May 27, 1998). We decline to address that authority here when the issue was neither disputed in the proceedings before the family court nor raised on review. See, e.g., Doe v. Doe, 370 S.C. 206, 217, 634 S.E.2d 51, 57 (Ct. App. 2006) (finding that an issue not raised to the family court was not preserved for appellate review); Bakala v. Bakala, 352 S.C. 612, 632, 576 S.E.2d 156, 166 (2003) (reiterating that rulings that are not appealed are the law of the case).
 We note the only evidence in the record showing that the parties requested attorney's fees from each other was a reference in the family court's final order. The petition for adoption filed by the Youngbloods requested attorney's fees against DSS, not the Does. However, because neither side appeals the family court's discretion to award attorney's fees, we decline to address whether they were properly requested.