Every once in awhile, a case comes up that has a lot of the different components that often arise during a divorce case. Whenever this happens, it is important to dissect the case and show off how things in a divorce can happen as they pass through the court system. Just seeing how things have happened for someone else can be helpful to understand how different pieces of a divorce can come to a resolution.
One of these kinds of cases recently made its way through the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The case, Fredrickson v. Schulze, shows numerous things that happen in a divorce case: How equitable distribution can work in a divorce case, the importance of distinguishing between marital and premarital property, transmutation, preserving arguments for an appeal, as well as how appeals work in family law cases, such as a divorce proceeding.
Here, we will cover how the case sheds light on the appeals process in a family law case in South Carolina.
Fredrickson v. Schulze
The couple in the case were married in 2005, and then moved to Greenville, South Carolina. The wife was the primary breadwinner in the family, earning 84 percent of the family’s income as her role as a dentist. When the couple decided to divorce, they had one child together.
When the family court approved the divorce, it made an interesting decision to split the marital property starkly in favor of the wife in the case: She kept 70 percent of the marital property, while he only received 30 percent of it. This included the equity that had been built up in the investment properties that the couple had maintained throughout the marriage, including a pair of specific properties on West Park Avenue.
Following the family court’s decision to split the property in this way, the husband filed for an alteration to the family court’s final order, but did not mention either of these properties in his filing. After the family court resolved his filing, though, the husband was still unsatisfied, and appealed the family court’s decision to the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
How Appeals Work in Divorce Cases
One of the things that can be learned from Fredrickson v. Schulze is how a divorce case makes it to an appeals court.
Generally, divorce cases tend not to even make it to trial. Through arbitration and mediation, most divorce cases can be fully resolved without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. In fact, it is often in the interests of both parties to avoid a trial, because of the high cost that it entails and the stress and emotional strain that comes with a full-fledged trial. Those that do end up going to trial typically come to a full resolution with the court’s final order.
The case Fredrickson v. Schulze, however, was an exception. After the court’s final divorce order, the husband tried to get the family law court to change its mind, and even after it reconsidered some of the issues, was so unhappy with the outcome that he decided to appeal it.
Unfortunately for the husband in this case, when a case from a family law court like a divorce goes up to the appeals court, the court of appeals leaves it up to the party appealing the case to prove their case. While this might not seem like an important detail, it means that, in Fredrickson v. Schulze, it was up to the husband to persuade the appellate court that he was in the right, rather than the court looking at the case and making a new, unbiased ruling on the facts.
To make matters worse for the husband in Fredrickson v. Schulze, there are certain aspects of an appeal that have an even higher burden for the person doing the appealing. For example, when someone appeals how a family court splits marital property through South Carolina’s equitable distribution law, the court of appeals only looks to see if the family court abused its discretion in making the split.
To successfully appeal the equitable distribution of property in a divorce case, then, the husband in Fredrickson v. Schulze would have had to prove that the family court not only distributed the marital unfairly, but actually did its job improperly in doing so. Needless to say, proving that a court abused its discretion is a very difficult thing to do on appeal.
Preserving Arguments for Appeal from Family Court
One of the main functions of a trial, as well as all of the proceedings leading up to the trial, is to get all of the evidence about the case out into view. Because the trial is the only place where witnesses and evidence can be presented, challenged, and either proven or refuted, if something does not come out during the trial process, then it cannot be brought up later in the proceeding, like on an appeal. After all, there would be no way for an appellate court to test or challenge the evidence to see if it were reliable or not.
Because of this requirement, all evidence and arguments have to be made at some point during the trial process in order for them to be appealed.
This became an issue in Fredrickson v. Schulze because the husband did not actually object to the family court’s decision to not evenly split the equity in the West Park Avenue properties. By not raising the issue and making an argument as to why the family court’s decision was wrong, the husband failed to adequately preserve the issue for appeal. As a result, the court of appeals had no evidence to work with, and so could not consider that part of the husband’s appeal.
South Carolina Family Law Attorneys
If you are considering a divorce, it is crucial to have a quality South Carolina divorce attorney on your side throughout the process. Contact the Elliott Frazier Law Firm, LLC today.
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.