Unpublished Court of Appeals opinion undefinitively answers one of my family court questions

Posted Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Contempt/Enforcement of Orders, Jurisprudence, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Appellate Decisions, South Carolina Specific

The June 25, 2014 unpublished Court of Appeals opinion in Katzburg v. Katzburg undefinitively answers one of my long-standing family court questions.

I was retained by Mr. Katzburg after he was incarcerated by the family court for failing to comply with a New Jersey divorce decree that had been turned into a money judgment and then registered for enforcement in South Carolina. The family court would only allow his release from incarceration upon service of one year or payment of $704,861.76. After our motion to reconsider failed we appealed.

On appeal we raised two general issues, both of which had been topics of previous blogs. The first issue was whether the family court had subject matter jurisdiction to enforce a money judgment incident to the property division and alimony provisions of a New Jersey divorce decree. The second issue was whether the family court’s procedures in incarcerating Mr. Katzburg comported with the protections the United States Supreme Court mandated in Turner v. Rodgers, 131 S.Ct. 2507 (2011). In my practice the first issue arises every few years but the second issue arises constantly. I was hoping for a decision that addressed the procedural issues of family court enforcement actions. That wasn’t what happened.

The Court of Appeals’ opinion only addressed the first issue, finding that the family court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to enforce a New Jersey money judgment, and therefore vacating the family court orders. Because it found the family court lacked jurisdiction it did not need to address the procedural issues we raised. This is a victory for me and Mr. Katzburg but the opinion doesn’t address the issues we really wanted answered–which is not to say that Mr. Katzburg isn’t greatly relieved that the South Carolina family court can no longer enforce this money judgment against him.

Katzburg holds that foreign equitable distribution orders cannot be enforced in the family court and must be enforced in the circuit court. This is a decision I have long suspected to be true but have rarely had family court judges agree with me. Too bad no one other than the Katzburgs can rely on the Court of Appeals’ conclusion.

Mr. Katzburg spent nearly six month in jail from an order that the family court had no jurisdiction to issue. He further felt he was incarcerated on improper procedures–an opinion with which I concur but that the Court of Appeals’ opinion did not need to address. He has no apparent remedy for this improper incarceration. I, meanwhile, look for my next test case on the propriety of South Carolina’s procedures for enforcing family court orders involving debts.

3 thoughts on Unpublished Court of Appeals opinion undefinitively answers one of my family court questions

  1. Congratulations on the victory, Greg. It’s a shame that what appears to be a very significant jurisdictional opinion has no precedential value. I fail to see why the Court of Appeals wouldn’t publish this opinion.

    1. I have asked the Court of Appeals to consider publishing Katzburg. The case Katzburg cites in support of its finding that jurisdiction resides in the circuit court, Casey v. Casey, 311 S.C. 243, 245, 428 S.E.2d 714, 716 (1993), has nothing to do with jurisdiction for enforcement of foreign equitable distribution orders. Katzburg would be much clearly authority on the issue of where to enforce these orders.

  2. When I read this opinion this morning, I was in a near panic because I recently filed an enforcement action in Family Court for alimony under a North Carolina order. After a closer read, it appears that I am safe.

    The Court of Appeals may not have answered all the questions you wanted answered but they certain gave you and Mr. Katzburg the answer you needed.

    I thought that contempt orders were stayed by an appeal. At least that is my recollection from Phillips v. Phillips, 288 S.C. 185, 187, 341 S.E.2d 132, 133 (1986), which states “We stated that the March 13, 1984 contempt order had been automatically stayed by the filing of the Notice of Intent to Appeal. The portion of the January 20, 1984 order compelling the grandmother to bring the child to any subsequent hearings was superseded pending appeal.” Is there any immunity for detaining someone under an order in which the court did not have jurisdiction?

    I agree with you that the court should have published this opinion as this is an area where the family court bench and bar need help and insight.


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