Crossland v. Crossland is a divorce case decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court on July 2, 2014. This case was tried in the Family Court, reversed on appeal by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, and then taken up to the State Supreme Court.
Crossland involves issues of alimony, equitable distribution of marital property, and attorney’s fees.
Every divorce case has unique facts. Here, the main facts are as follows:
1. This is an almost 10-year marriage,
2. Husband was 76 and wife was 62 at time of divorce hearing,
3. Husband had some pre-marital property and bank accounts,
4. Both parties had various health problems,
5. The couple had lived primarily on the husband’s retirement income during marriage, and
6. Husband tried to hide some assets during the divorce case.
The Family Court awarded the wife $958.50 per month alimony, gave husband 60% and wife 40% of the marital property, and awarded $16,024.50 to the wife for attorney’s fees.
The Court of Appeals reversed the Family Court’s order. The Court of Appeals found that the Family Court should have imputed the wife’s potential Social Security income, that property should have been divided 70/30 instead of 60/40, and remanded the attorney fee issue to the Family Court.
In its decision, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the Family Cout order.
“An award of alimony rests within the sound discretion of the family court and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion.”
Here, Wife postponed receiving Social Security benefits until she reached 65 rather than take a lesser amount beginning at 62.
The Court of Appeals had equated wife’s decision to postpone applying for Social Security with voluntary underemployment such that wife’s ELIGIBILITY to receive benefits should be imputed as income. But the Supreme Court disagreed. The Family Court was correct in considering the wife’s ACTUAL income at the time of the divorce trial.
The Supreme Court does note that the husband can petition for a modification of alimony based on a substantial change in circumstances when the wife reaches age 65 and ACTUALLY receives her Social Security benefits.
As to equitable distribution, the Supreme Court found that the Family Court properly considered all equitable distribution factors in awarding the 60/40 split while the Court of Appeals relied “solely” on only one factor – the parties’ direct financial contributions to the marital estate. Thus the Supreme Court reinstated the Family Court’s 60/40 split.
Because the Supreme Court found in favor of the wife on the alimony and equitable distribution issues, the Court reinstated the $16,024.50 attorney fee award. (Factors to consider in attorney fee award: “(1) the party’s ability to pay his/her own attorney’s fees, (2) beneficial results obtained by the attorney, (3) the parties’ respective financial conditions, and (4) effect of the attorney’s fee on each party’s standard of living.”).