Issues on Appeal:
The wife appealed claiming the family court erred:
- in denying her request for divorce based on adultery;
- in denying her request for alimony;
- in improperly admitting evidence; and
- in requiring her to pay her own attorney's fees.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the family court's holding:
- the family court did not abuse its discretion in granting the parties' divorce on the grounds of one-year's continuous separation;
- the husband presented sufficient evidence demonstrating the wife committed adultery;
- the photographic evidence of wife committing adultery was admissible; and
- the family court did not abuse its discretion in requiring the parties to be responsible for their own attorney fees.
Grounds for Divorce
Based on the sufficiency of the evidence presented to the family court regarding the husband's adultery, the wife claimed the family court erred in granting the parties a divorce on the grounds of one-year's continuous separation.
While the COA agreed that the wife did present sufficient evidence of the husband's adultery, it held the family did not abuse its discretion by granting the parties a divorce on the grounds of one-year's continuous separation as:
- the family court sat “… in the best position to assess the parties' and witnesses' testimony as well as the evidence presented in determining which ground for divorce was most appropriate under the circumstances;” and
- “[f]urther, because the granting of a divorce to [the wife] on the ground of adultery would not have dissolved the marriage any more completely.”
See Mick-Skaggs, 411 S.C. 94, 101-102, 766 S.E.2d 870, 873-874 (Ct. App. 2014) (citing Lewis v. Lewis, 392 S.C. 381, 709 S.E.2d 650, (2011); Lucas v. Lucas, 279 S.C. 121, 302 S.E.2d 863 (1983);Griffith v. Griffith, 332 S.C. 630, 506 S.E.2d 526 (Ct.App.1998); and Smith v. Smith, 294 S.C. 194, 363 S.E.2d 404 (Ct.App.1987)).
Since she believed the husband did not sufficiently demonstrate his claim of adultery, the wife claimed the family court erred in denying her alimony; however, the COA agreed with the family court's denial of alimony to the wife, stating:
“Based on our review of the record, we find [the husband] presented sufficient corroborating testimony.” Id. at 103, 874. (citing RGM v. DEM, 306 S.C. 145, 149-50, 410 S.E.2d 564, 567 (1991)).
“Although we decline to modify the grounds for divorce, we concur with the family court's conclusion that [the husband] presented a clear preponderance of evidence of [the wife's] adultery to bar [the wife] from receiving alimony. We find that based upon the testimony of Russo, [the husband], and others that [the wife] committed adultery on the night of her birthday. While [the wife] would only admit she went to the bar and consumed a substantial amount of alcohol that evening, several witnesses observed [the wife] being affectionate with a man throughout the course of that evening. The evidence shows this same man followed [the wife] home in the early morning hours, and after being invited inside by [the wife], entered [the wife's] house. We also find [the wife's] subsequent text messages are circumstantial evidence that indicate a continued disposition to commit adultery.” Id. at 103, 874-875 (citing Perry v. Perry, 301 S.C. 147, 150, 390 S.E.2d 480, 481-82 (Ct.App.1990) and Loftis v. Loftis, 284 S.C. 216, 218, 325 S.E.2d 73, 74 (Ct.App.1985)).
As she questioned the quality and accuracy of the husband's photographic evidence, the wife claimed the family court erred in “permitting [the husband] to introduce certain photographs into evidence…” Id. at 104. The COA agreed with the family court, stating:
- “We find these photographs were relevant to [the husband's] claim of adultery against [the wife].”
- “Although [the wife] claims these photographs were unfairly prejudicial in violation ofRule 403, SCRE, we find the statements of Wife's counsel and the family court prove otherwise.”
- “As a result, we fail to see how Wife was prejudiced by the admission of these photographs.”
Since she contended the husband sat in a superior financial position, the wife claimed the family court erred by not ordering the husband to pay her attorney's fees. Nonetheless, the COA agreed with the family court's holding, stating:
“Although the family court failed to set forth findings of fact in support of its decision, we find the family court acted within its discretion in requiring the parties to pay their own attorney's fees. The family court found both parties were entitled to a divorce based on one year's continuous separation. This ruling neither benefits nor harms either party. The family court found [the wife] was not entitled to alimony, which we affirm on appeal. Further, because [the wife] failed to include her attorney's fees affidavit or either party's financial declarations in the record on appeal, we are unable to discern exactly how much she incurred in attorney's fees or how those fees will impact her standard of living or her current financial condition.” Id. at 105-106, 875-876 (citing Harkins v. Greenville Cnty., 340 S.C. 606, 616, 533 S.E.2d 886, 891 (2000) and Perry v. Perry, 301 S.C. 147, 151, 390 S.E.2d 480, 482 (Ct.App.1990)).
A copy of the Court of Appeal's opinion in Mick-Skaggs v. Skaggs can be found here.
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