Bigham v. Bigham, 19975

Decision Date13 March 1975
Docket NumberNo. 19975,19975
Citation264 S.C. 101,212 S.E.2d 594
PartiesFaye Fowler BIGHAM, Appellant, v. Russell Andrew BIGHAM, Respondent.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Culbertson & Whitesides, Laurens, for appellant.

Wyatt Saunders, Laurens, for respondent.

NESS, Justice:

This is the second time an action dealing with these parties' domestic relations has reached this Court. See Bigham v. Bigham, 262 S.C. 62, 202 S.E.2d 177 (1974). The matter currently before the court involves the propriety of a retroactive modification of accrued support payments in an order awarding an absolute divorce.

On February 8, 1973, the respondent was ordered by the Family Court of Laurens County to make support payments of Fifty ($50.00) Dollars per week to his wife, which order respondent failed to comply with, and on May 1, 1974, he was adjudged in contempt. Approximately one month later a hearing for a divorce was held and on June 25, 1974, a divorce was granted to the appellant-wife. The total arrearage of the support order was Two Thousand Four Hundred ($2,400.00) Dollars at the time of the hearing for final divorce. An additional One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars accrued by the time the divorce decree was issued. In this decree the Family Court reduced the support payments to One Thousand Six Hundred Ten and 24/100 ($1,610.24) Dollars in satisfaction for all past, present, and future alimony. Additionally, the husband was to pay the costs of the previous appeal and attorneys' fees. The total of the husband's obligation under this order, including reduced accrued support, costs of appeal and attorneys' fees, amounted to approximately Two Thousand Five Hundred ($2,500.00) Dollars.

Appellant first contends that the issue of past due support payments was not properly before the court. The wife in her complaint sought to have the husband held in contempt, and the defendant-respondent in his answer and counterclaim asked the court to vacate its order in toto; hence the concomitant issue of an award for the amount of accrued payments was properly before the court. In Jeter v. Jeter, 193 S.C. 278, 284, 8 S.E.2d 490, 493 (1940) a wife filed a request for contempt proceedings against her husband for his failure to provide support as previously ordered by the court. The husband sought a retroactive modification. It was held that it was within the jurisdiction of the court to order the relief sought:

'If a Court of equity had no such authority the matter of contempt proceedings would be automatic. The Judge would have no discretion but upon each application the Court would have to hold the person failing to pay the alimony in contempt and put him in jail, even though it might appear that ill health or financial disaster had come upon the delinquent husband and that he was in such condition as to be unable to comply with the orders. This is a monstrous doctrine that a Court of equity has to act automatically without any discretion.'

Contempt is an extreme measure; this power vested in a court is not lightly asserted. Prior to invoking this power, the court must necessarily consider the ability of the defendant to comply with the order. Contempt results from the willful disobedience of an order of the court. Before a person may be held in contempt, 'the record must be clear and specific as to the acts or conduct upon which such finding is based.' Edwards v. Edwards, 254 S.C. 466, 468, 176 S.E.2d 123, 124 (1970); Long v. McMillan, 226 S.C. 598, 86 S.E.2d 477 (1955).

We need not delicately weigh the facts to determine whether the modification issue was technically before the court, inasmuch as appellant is entitled to relief upon a consideration of the record and the case on its merits. The court was clearly in error in reducing the accrued alimony payments without any evidence whatsoever before it to justify such a change.

The appellant next asserts that the lower court was in error in failing to award future alimony, contending that there was no substantial change of conditions warranting the judge's failure to continue the issue of future alimony. It does not appear to us that the lower court has properly considered this issue.

The provisions of the order of the lower court which reduced the accrued support payments and denied future alimony payments are accordingly reversed.

We direct that the lower court:

(1) Adjudge the wife entitled to the sum of Two Thousand Five Hundred ($2,500.00) Dollars support money accrued at the time of the divorce, in addition to the costs and attorneys' fees of the first appeal and the costs of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
35 cases
  • Davis v. Davis
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • December 21, 2006
    ...627 S.E.2d 754, 759 (Ct.App.2006). "Contempt results from the willful disobedience of an order of the court." Bigham v. Bigham, 264 S.C. 101, 104, 212 S.E.2d 594, 596 (1975); Smith v. Smith, 359 S.C. 393, 396, 597 S.E.2d 188, 189 (Ct.App.2004); S.C.Code Ann. § 20-7-1350 (Supp.2004) (A party......
  • Miller v. Miller
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • October 5, 2007
    ...22-23, 88 S.E.2d 788, 790-91 (1955)). "Contempt results from the willful disobedience of an order of the court." Bigham v. Bigham, 264 S.C. 101, 104, 212 S.E.2d 594, 596 (1975); Smith v. Smith, 359 S.C. 393, 396, 597 S.E.2d 188, 189 (Ct.App.2004); S.C.Code Ann. § 20-7-1350 (Supp.2004) (A pa......
  • Cheap-O's Truck Stop, Inc. v. Cloyd
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • June 3, 2002
    ...as to the acts or conduct upon which such finding is based. Edwards v. Edwards, 254 S.C. 466, 176 S.E.2d 123 (1970); Bigham v. Bigham, 264 S.C. 101, 212 S.E.2d 594 (1975). . . . . Compensatory contempt is a money award for the plaintiff when the defendant has injured the plaintiff by violat......
  • Kosciusko v. Parham
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • November 6, 2019
    ...of an order of the court." Miller v. Miller , 375 S.C. 443, 454, 652 S.E.2d 754, 759 (Ct. App. 2007) (quoting Bigham v. Bigham , 264 S.C. 101, 104, 212 S.E.2d 594, 596 (1975) ). However, it is well settled that a party may not be held in contempt for violation of a void order. See Arnal v. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT