Court of Appeals decision rewards indefinite pleadings in family court

Posted Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Litigation Strategy, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Appellate Decisions, South Carolina Specific

A few years ago I stopped adding the catchall phrase “and for such other relief as the court deems just and proper” to my family court pleadings.  I believed such a vague request failed to comport with due process and was therefore a nullity.  Most other family law attorneys continue to add such a catchall provision to their requests for relief.  I considered this inappropriate.

Evidently, I was wrong and my colleagues are right.  While most of the rulings in today’s Court of Appeals decision in Smith v. Smith, 386 S.C. 251, 687 S.E.2d 720 (Ct.App. 2009) are obvious [when the parties agreed that wife would teach at private school at reduced income, she was not underemployed for support purposes; when clear evidence was that property titled in husband’s name was for benefit of his grandmother, such property was not transmuted; absent good cause, it is unnecessary for alimony and child support obligations to be secured by life insurance; where family court failed to consider cost of wife’s health insurance in its alimony award, remand required to reset alimony], one ruling stands out.  The Smith court held that wife’s pleading for “such other relief as the court may deem fit and proper,” combined with the evidence presented at trial, was sufficient for the family court to grant her request for her husband to contribute to the minor child’s private school tuition, and therefore it was reversible error for the family court to refuse to consider the request.

This ruling means that if a party has pled for “such other relief as the court deems just and proper,” any relief that the party then seeks at trial is encompassed by the pleadings.  Only two ways I see to defend against such broad requests for relief.  The first is to ask the other party in discovery to list all relief encompassed in the request for “such other relief as the court deems just and proper.”  This presumes there is an order of discovery and requires using one of the 50 supplemental interrogatories for this question.  The second option is to be hyper vigilant at trial and object to any evidence that might encompass a request for relief outside of the remainder of the pleadings.  Such vigilance is exceeding difficult in the midst of trial, especially when the offered evidence might be relevant on other, pled, issues.

One thought on Court of Appeals decision rewards indefinite pleadings in family court

  1. Excellent post, and acknowledgment that some recent cases will create havoc in our Family Courts and not only unnecessarily increase our clients’ costs but also give trial judges little guidance when ruling and lawyers little guidance when advising clients. We seem to be moving backwards and not forward with recent rulings. Wish someone could explain the appellate courts’ thought process!

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