Res judicata is a legal doctrine that once a fact has been conclusively legally established between two parties, those parties cannot challenge that prior legal finding.  It is a doctrine of judicial convenience. “Res judicata precludes parties from subsequently relitigating issues actually litigated and those that might have been litigated in a prior action.”  Duckett v. Goforth, 374 S.C. 446, 464, 649 S.E.2d 72, 81 (Ct. App. 2007). “A party seeking to preclude litigation on the grounds of res judicata must show: (1) identity of the parties; (2) identity of the subject matter; and (3) adjudication of the issue on the merits in the former suit by a court of competent jurisdiction.” Id, 374 S.C. at 465, 649 S.E.2d at 82. One often hears the aphorism “one bite at the apple.”  Res judicata prevents that second bite.

Res judicata has many applications in family court.  While issues related to children or permanent periodic alimony can be modified, the factual findings in prior final orders cannot be challenged in a subsequent case.  Findings in contempt orders and non-emergency protection from domestic abuse orders are also binding.  In contrast, any findings/rulings in family court temporary orders are not only not binding, they cannot be used to either party’s prejudice. Rimer v. Rimer, 361 S.C. 521, 527 n.6, 605 S.E.2d 572, 575 n.6 (Ct. App. 2004) (“Temporary hearings are not de facto final hearings, and we adhere to the principle that temporary orders must be without prejudice to the rights of the parties at the final hearing.”) (Emphasis in original).

One cannot litigate factual or legal issues that have previously been conclusively determined between the same parties.  That which can be modified can only be modified based on a showing of a subsequent substantial change of circumstances.   Once conclusively determined with finality, that which cannot be modified cannot be changed even if the factual basis for the ruling is incorrect.  Failure to get the correct result the first time can create a permanent and unfixable injustice.

Put Mr. Forman’s experience, knowledge, and dedication to your service for any of your South Carolina family law needs.

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