Choudhry v. Sinha, 2020-UP-262

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM:
Docket Number2020-UP-262
PartiesNeelu Choudhry, Respondent, v. Viresh Sinha, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2017-001082
Decision Date09 September 2020

Neelu Choudhry, Respondent,

Viresh Sinha, Appellant.

Appellate Case No. 2017-001082

No. 2020-UP-262

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

September 9, 2020


Submitted April 1, 2020

Appeal From Richland County Gwendlyne Y. Jones, Family Court Judge

Viresh Sinha, of Columbia, pro se.

William Benito Fortino, of Moore Taylor Law Firm, P.A., of West Columbia, for Respondent.

Richard Giles Whiting, of Law Offices of Richard Whiting, of Columbia, as the Guardian ad Litem.


Viresh Sinha (Father) appeals the family court's order modifying a prior order to award Neelu Choudhry (Mother) sole custody of their minor child (Child), awarding Mother attorney's fees, holding Father in contempt for failing to pay child support, refusing to hold Mother in contempt for failing to allow FaceTime calls, and ordering Father to pay child support. On appeal, Father argues the family court erred in (1) not allowing evidence of a prior agreement, (2) denying Father's motion for a continuance, (3) holding Father in contempt for not paying child support and denying his oral motion to amend his pleadings to include a cause of action to recalculate his child support, (4) imputing income to Father for purposes of child support and not finding Mother and her attorney committed fraud, (5) awarding attorney's fees and not finding Mother's current attorney, Mother's previous attorney, and the guardian ad litem (GAL) unduly delayed the case, (6) not holding Mother in contempt for not allowing FaceTime calls and failing to follow a February 2016 order, (7) not finding the GAL committed fraud, (8) refusing to allow Father to amend his pleadings, (9) relying on certain witnesses' testimonies, and (10) modifying child custody and making its factual findings. We affirm.

1. The family court did not abuse its discretion in not admitting testimony regarding a prior agreement under Rule 408, SCRE. See Stoney v. Stoney (Stoney I), 422 S.C. 593, 594 n.2, 813 S.E.2d 486, 486 n.2 (2018) (stating an appellate court reviews the family court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion); Reiss v. Reiss, 392 S.C. 198, 208, 708 S.E.2d 799, 804 (Ct. App. 2011) ("An abuse of discretion occurs when the family court's ruling is controlled by an error of law or based upon findings of fact that are without evidentiary support."). Evidence of prior agreements or negotiations are not admissible under Rule 408, SCRE, except to show another purpose, such as bias or prejudice, to negate an allegation of undue delay, or to prove an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation. Because Father's purpose to admit evidence about the agreement does not meet one of these exceptions, the family court properly excluded testimony about the agreement. See Hunter v. Hyder, 236 S.C. 378, 387, 114 S.E.2d 493, 497 (1960) ("[C]ompromises are favored and evidence of an offer or attempt to compromise or settle a matter in dispute cannot be given in evidence against the party by whom such offer or attempt was made."); Rule 408, SCRE ("Evidence of conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations is . . . not admissible."); id. (stating Rule 408 "does not require exclusion when the evidence is offered for another purpose, such as proving bias or prejudice of a witness, negativing a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution"). Additionally, Father's arguments that Mother and her attorney committed fraud and the family court violated Father's First Amendment rights by not allowing him to testify about the agreement are not preserved. See Doe v. Doe, 370 S.C. 206, 212, 634 S.E.2d 51, 54 (Ct. App. 2006) ("To preserve an issue for appellate review, the issue cannot be raised for the first time on appeal, but must have been raised to and ruled upon by the trial court.").

2. The family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motion for a continuance. Prior to trial, the family court inquired about Father's ability to represent himself, and Father stated he understood he would be held to the same standards as an attorney. Father moved for a continuance on the third day of trial to hire an attorney.[1] Based on the family court's inquiry and Father actively participating in trial, we find the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for a continuance. See Stoney I, 422 S.C. at 594 n.2, 813 S.E.2d at 486 n.2 (stating an appellate court reviews the family court's procedural rulings for an abuse of discretion); Rule 40(i)(1), SCRCP ("As actions are called, counsel may request that the action be continued. If good and sufficient cause for continuance is shown, the continuance may be granted by the court."); S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Broome, 307 S.C. 48, 51, 413 S.E.2d 835, 838 (1992) ("The granting or denial of a continuance is within the sound discretion of the trial [court] and is reviewable on appeal only when an abuse of discretion appears from the record."); S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Laura D., 386 S.C. 382, 385, 688 S.E.2d 130, 132 (Ct. App. 2009) ("The denial of a motion for a continuance 'will not be upset unless it clearly appears that there was an abuse of discretion to the prejudice of appellant.'" (quoting Williams v. Bordon's, Inc., 274 S.C. 275, 279, 262 S.E.2d 881, 883 (1980))).

3. The family court did not err in finding Father in willful contempt for failing to pay child support because Father admitted he never paid child support even though the court ordered him to do so. See Stoney I, 422 S.C. at 595-96, 813 S.E.2d at 487 (stating an appellate court reviews the family court's factual and legal issues de novo); Stoney v. Stoney (Stoney II), 425 S.C. 47, 76, 819 S.E.2d 201, 217 (Ct. App. 2018) ("Contempt results from the willful disobedience of an order of the court." (quoting Bigham v. Bigham, 264 S.C. 101, 104, 212 S.E.2d 594, 596 (1975))), cert. denied Stoney v. Stoney, SC Sup. Ct. Order dated Jun. 28, 2019; Miller v. Miller, 375 S.C. 443, 454, 652 S.E.2d 754, 760 (Ct. App. 2007) ("In a proceeding for contempt for violation of a court order, the moving party must show the existence of a court order and the facts establishing the respondent's noncompliance with the order." (quoting Hawkins v. Mullins, 359 S.C. 497, 501, 597 S.E.2d 897, 899 (Ct. App. 2004))); Wilson v. Walker, 340 S.C. 531, 538, 532 S.E.2d 19, 22 (Ct. App. 2000) ("Before a party may be found in contempt, the record must clearly and specifically show the contemptuous conduct."). Although Father testified about his reasons for not paying child support, we find these reasons do not justify his failure to pay when the testimony at trial showed he had the ability to pay child support, including Father's testimony that he deposited money into his bank accounts and chose to pay other bills. See Miller, 375 S.C. at 454, 652 S.E.2d at 760 ("Once the moving party has made out a prima facie case, the...

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