552 S.E.2d 329 (S.C.App. 2001), 3378, Haselden v. Haselden

Docket Nº:3378.
Citation:552 S.E.2d 329, 347 S.C. 48
Party Name:347 S.C. 48 Roger D. HASELDEN, Appellant, v. Joanne F. HASELDEN, Respondent.
Case Date:August 06, 2001
Court:Court of Appeals of South Carolina
 
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Page 329

552 S.E.2d 329 (S.C.App. 2001)

347 S.C. 48

Roger D. HASELDEN, Appellant,

v.

Joanne F. HASELDEN, Respondent.

No. 3378.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

Aug. 6, 2001.

Heard June 4, 2001.

Rehearing Denied Sept. 19, 2001[347 S.C. 49].

Page 330

[347 S.C. 51] Thomas M. Neal, III, of Columbia; and Charles Owen Nation, II, of Georgetown, for appellant.

Elizabeth Rhoad Myrick and Mary Perrin O'Kelley, both of Rosen, Goodstein & Hagood, of Summerville, for respondent.

Guardian ad Litem: William S. Jacobs, of Georgetown.[347 S.C. 52]

Page 331

HUFF, J.:

Roger D. Haselden (the father) appeals from an order of the family court ordering him to pay two-thirds of the expenses of his minor child at Hidden Lake Academy (HLA), a private treatment facility located in Georgia. He also appeals from a subsequent order of the family court holding him in contempt for failure to comply with the court's order to pay the expenses. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The father and Joanne F. Haselden (the mother) were divorced by order of the family court in October of 1993. Pursuant to the divorce decree, the mother was granted custody of the parties' child, Gabrielle Gadson Haselden, and the father was ordered to pay bi-weekly child support in the amount of $220.00 ($476.67 per month). The family court further ordered the father, who earned 82% of the family's income, to pay two-thirds of the child's medical expenses, excluding extraordinary medical expenses.

In May of 1998, the mother enrolled Gabrielle in Hidden Lake Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.1 The cost of tuition at HLA was, at all times pertinent to this case, $4,150.00 per month.

On July 14, 1998, the father commenced this action seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment relating to his responsibility for expenses incurred due to the placement of the child at HLA. Specifically, the father sought to have the child's treatment at HLA judicially declared an extraordinary medical expense, with the mother bearing full responsibility for the payment of the cost of the treatment. The father also sought a change of custody, and access to the child. He also moved for temporary relief, seeking essentially the same relief sought in the complaint. The mother counterclaimed, seeking an increase in child support, an order requiring the father to contribute towards the expenses of the therapeutic boarding school, and an award of attorney fees. She also filed a motion[347 S.C. 53] for temporary relief, seeking essentially the same relief requested in her pleadings.

On September 8, 1998, the family court held a hearing on the father's motion for temporary relief and the Honorable Jamie F. Lee issued a temporary order on September 27, 1998 addressing the placement of the child at HLA, finding the father should have equal access to information from the school regarding the child and appointing a guardian ad litem for the child. On September 22, 1998, Judge Lee held a hearing on the mother's motion for temporary relief. Thereafter, by temporary order dated November 16, 1998, Judge Lee increased the father's child support obligation from $220.00 bi-weekly to $571.00 per month. The judge also found the mother made a prima facie showing that the child was in need of treatment and that Hidden Lake Academy was a proper place for such treatment, and required the father to pay an additional $380.00 per month in excess of the amount of child support calculated under the Child Support Guidelines, for a total of $951.00 per month.

On November 20, 1999, the father filed two motions for temporary relief, seeking Christmas visitation with the child and requesting an order requiring the mother to participate in psychological evaluations with a clinical psychologist the father retained. The mother opposed the psychological evaluations and further opposed any overnight visitations with the father. The motions were heard by the Honorable Lisa A. Kinon, who granted the motions by order dated December 22, 1998.

The case came to trial on April 7 and 8, 1999 before Judge Kinon. Following a pretrial conference, the parties announced to the court they had reached an agreement resolving the issues of custody and visitation, leaving the issue of HLA fees, contempt, attorney fees, suit money, and costs before the court. The parties stipulated to expert evidence consisting of reports and testimony regarding Gabrielle's emotional condition, psychological and psycho-educational evaluations,

Page 332

diagnosis, and placement at Hidden Lake Academy.

At trial, the father argued, in essence, that while Gabrielle was experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties, the mother made a premature, unilateral decision to enroll her at HLA. Although he admitted Gabrielle was "doing better" as a [347 S.C. 54] result of being involved in the programs at the school, he disagreed with her being in a boarding school atmosphere. Dr. C. Barton Saylor, the father's expert witness, testified a "less intrusive intervention," such as a temporary change of custody or residential care, would have been advisable at the time the mother enrolled Gabrielle at HLA. He stated that such action "might have been enough for [Gabrielle] to respond in a positive manner." However, he further opined the mother "made a genuine effort to get the best available recommendations" before deciding to enroll the child in HLA, that the decision to place Gabrielle in long term care was not "recklessly or casually" made, and it was reasonable for the mother to rely on the experts' recommendations in deciding to place Gabrielle at the school. Dr. Saylor acknowledged the father indicated that if the court were to award him custody of Gabrielle, he intended to pull her from the program. He agreed that Gabrielle benefitted from the program and recommended that the child remain at HLA through the completion of the program through December of 1999. He believed Gabrielle's best interest would be served by remaining in the custody of the mother.

Both parties filed financial declarations. According to the father's financial declaration, he earns a gross monthly income of $4,281.33 from Santee Cooper, and $351.67 from the National Guard. He also owns a retirement account valued at $94,558.38 and real estate he valued at $58,145.00.2 The mother earns $1,026.04 from her employment, with additional income in the form of child support from the father. She owns real estate valued at $279,000.00. The mother also has access to a family trust, with an approximate value of $275,000.00, of which the mother is one of four beneficiaries. The mother testified the beneficiaries were not supposed to have access to the trust until the death of her parents, but that her mother made arrangements to access the trust for Gabrielle's school, and she was obligated by written agreement to reimburse the trust.3 She further stated the trust [347 S.C. 55] had already been liquidated greatly because of her father's poor health. The mother has no retirement funds.

By order dated May 25, 1999, Judge Kinon found, regarding the mother's decision to enroll the child at HLA:

11. Throughout this action, the Father has vigorously contested the minor child's placement at HLA. He stated his intention at the outset to remove the minor child from HLA if he was awarded custody....

....

13. The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that the Mother's decision to place the child at Hidden Lake Academy was reasonable under the circumstances which existed at the date of admission to the program. All of the experts who treated and/or evaluated the minor child agreed that she needed out of home treatment, and there is no evidence of any expert dissenting with placement at a therapeutic boarding school.

14. The decision to place Gabrielle at Hidden Lake Academy was also not made hastily. Over the course of six and a half (6 1/2) to seven (7) weeks, the Mother made eighteen (18) inquiries about placement for the minor child, at least twelve (12) while the Father was in the...

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