Court of Appeals decision provides rare guidance on standards for appeal of family court temporary orders

The April 27, 2011 Court of Appeals decision in Grumbos v. Grumbos, 393 S.C. 33, 710 S.E.2d 76 (Ct.App. 2011), treads much familiar ground.  To wit:

  • A ten year marriage with no listed fault in the breakup results in a permanent periodic alimony award to a wife in her mid-40’s with a college degree from a husband without one
  • In determining Husband’s income, the family court properly found him uncredible when tax records indicated much greater income than his financial declaration claimed and his own testimony suggested greater wage income than the W-2’s from a family-owned business showed
  • The family court properly rejected Husband’s claims that “loans” from family members were marital debts when he provided minimal credible documentation and testimony to substantiate these debts

The novel part of the appeal involved issues stemming from the family court’s temporary order.  Although the family court ultimately ordered Husband to pay $630.00 per month in permanent alimony, the temporary order required him to pay $2,500.00 per month.  In the final order the family court judge noted he would have awarded Wife attorneys fees but Husband’s overpayment of temporary alimony was sufficient to offset an award of fees.  Husband appealed the temporary alimony award; Wife cross-appealed the denial of attorney’s fees.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the temporary alimony award.  In doing so, the Court didn’t address the statutory alimony factors under S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(C).  Instead it analyzed the issue on an abuse of discretion standard using the information available to the family court at the temporary hearing.  Because the Court of Appeals found the temporary alimony award was proper, it reversed the family court’s denial of attorney’s fees to Wife and remanded the issue back to the family court.

Often the reason a final alimony award may differ so much from the temporary award is that, at trial, the court has access to more information and more accurate information–in the sense that information at trial has been subjected to analysis and examination by the opposing party.  Reviewing a temporary alimony award based on the information provided at the temporary hearing is to review that decision based upon information that subsequent events may have shown to be inaccurate or incomplete.  This is a curious approach.


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