When a case comes up that has a lot of the different components that often appear in a typical family law or divorce proceeding, it is important to break it down and look at it for the many different lessons that it can give us. Being able to see how someone else’s divorce case worked its way through the judicial system can be helpful, especially if it sheds light on some of the same legal topics that you are likely to face in yours, and that you are finding confusing.
One of these cases is currently working its way through the South Carolina courts. In fact, the South Carolina Court of Appeals just issued a ruling on the case, Fredrickson v. Schulze, on April 13, 2016.
Fredrickson v. Schulze is a great divorce case to understand because it has a lot going on it that other people considering a divorce might have to deal with. Among the important things that are in play in Fredrickson v. Schulze are complex issues of equitable distribution, the importance of distinguishing between marital and premarital property, the notion of transmutation, preserving arguments for an appeal, as well as how appeals work in family law cases, such as a divorce proceeding.
Here, we will deal with how equitable distribution was handled in the case, which showcases not only how crucial it is to categorize property as marital or premarital, but also the difficulties of transmutation.
Fredrickson v. Schulze
The husband and wife in Fredrickson v. Schulze were married in 2005. Soon after the marriage, they moved to Greenville, South Carolina. Once there, the husband worked as an independent insurance agent, while the wife worked as a dentist. She was a partner in two dental practices, while her husband managed a few investment properties that she had bought with her own money before the marriage. In all, the wife’s dental work amounted to 84 percent of the family’s income during their marriage. Together, they had one son, who was still underaged at the time of the divorce proceeding.
When she filed for divorce, the wife claimed that her husband was habitually drunk. In response, the husband also filed for divorce, claiming that they had been separate for over a year.
When the family court approved the divorce, it made some interesting decisions regarding the couple’s property. While most divorces end in a 50/50 split of the marital property, or come fairly close to a 50/50 split, the family court in Fredrickson v. Schulze split the marital property 70/30 in favor of the wife. The court also made some interesting decisions regarding whether some of the couple’s real estate was marital property, or nonmarital property, as well as whether some of it transmuted from one into the other.
Marital Versus Nonmarital Property and Transmutation
When two people get married, they bring some of their separately-owned property into the marriage. During the marriage, they typically accumulate more and more property as the union goes on.
In South Carolina, when a married couple gets more stuff, the law considers it to be the couple’s property, not just an individual’s. This is called marital property. As a result, if they end up getting a divorce, any property that was gotten during the marriage gets split between the spouses. On the other hand, property that was brought into the marriage by one individual was obtained outside of the marriage. This is nonmarital property, and remains with that person in the case of a divorce. To add a complexity, though, these different kinds of property can morph into the other type through the process of transmutation.
In Fredrickson v. Schulze, one of the couple’s four pieces of real estate raised just such an issue.
One piece of property, on Druid Street, had been bought by the wife before the marriage, making it clearly nonmarital property. However, the husband claimed that, through the process of transmutation, it should be considered to be marital property because it had been used for family purposes and for the benefit of the couple throughout their marriage. His argument that her nonmarital property on Druid Street turned into marital property that should be split in a divorce, however, failed in court because the evidence that he presented only went to show that it was the rent payments that the couple was getting from the property that benefitted the family, not the property, itself.
Because he could not show that the house had transmuted from nonmarital into marital property during the case, the house on Druid Street was not split between the husband and wife in their divorce, and instead remained entirely her property.
Equitable Distribution in Fredrickson v. Schulze
In addition to showcasing the importance of the difference between nonmarital and marital property, the Fredrickson v. Schulze case also shows how equitable distribution works, and how quickly it can become complex.
Generally, under South Carolina’s equitable distribution law, courts have leaned towards splitting marital property 50/50 between a separating husband and wife. However, in Fredrickson v. Schulze, the court split the property 70/30 in favor of the wife. While the husband took exception to this, when he appealed the appellate court, the court of appeals agreed with the family court’s decision because the wife had not only contributed 84 percent of the couple’s income during the marriage, but had also been the primary caregiver to the couple’s son. Because of the work and income that she brought into the marriage, the family court’s decision to give her 70 percent of the marital property was approved by the court of appeals.
Family Law and Divorce Attorneys in South Carolina
The Fredrickson v. Schulze showcases several of some of the more common aspects of a divorce proceeding. However, like a marriage, each and every divorce is unique, requiring its own set of strategies to make it work for you. If you are considering a divorce, contact the South Carolina family law attorneys at the Elliott Frazier Law Firm, LLC for legal representation.
Angela Elliot Frazier is a Family Law Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years now. Angela Frazier believes in helping you through one of the most stressful times of your life. Learn more about her experience by clicking here.