Jenkins v. Jenkins, No. 5058.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtWILLIAMS
Citation401 S.C. 191,736 S.E.2d 292
PartiesGregory H. JENKINS, Respondent, v. Shaniqua D. JENKINS, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2010–152986.
Decision Date05 December 2012
Docket NumberNo. 5058.

401 S.C. 191
736 S.E.2d 292

Gregory H. JENKINS, Respondent,
v.
Shaniqua D. JENKINS, Appellant.

Appellate Case No. 2010–152986.

No. 5058.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard May 8, 2012.
Decided Dec. 5, 2012.


[736 S.E.2d 294]


Shaniqua D. Green, formerly Shaniqua D. Jenkins, of Charleston, pro se, for Appellant.

Justin Scott Byars, of Mays Foster Gunter & Murphy, LLP, of Columbia, for Respondent.


WILLIAMS, J.

[401 S.C. 194]Shaniqua D. Jenkins (Wife) appeals the family court's division of Gregory H. Jenkins' (Husband) military retirement benefits, arguing the date of valuation for the retirement benefits and the percentage awarded to Wife was incorrect. In addition, Wife asserts the family court's reliance on Wolfe v. Wolfe, 220 S.C. 437, 68 S.E.2d 348 (1951), was a violation of her equal protection rights because that decision relies on outdated views regarding women. Wife also claims the family court improperly imputed income to Husband and improperly reduced Husband's child support obligation. Finally, Wife argues Husband's assertion that the vehicle debt is not subject to equitable distribution is flawed because there is significant evidence of joint benefit. We affirm as modified and remand.

FACTS

Husband and Wife married on August 14, 1993, when Husband was twenty-three years old and Wife was twenty-one years old. Once the parties married, they moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana where Husband was stationed with the United States Army for approximately two years. During that time, they had one daughter, Tylia, born on June 11, 1994. One month after Tylia was born, the parties agreed to let Wife's mother care for Tylia in Charleston, South Carolina. According to Wife, they agreed upon this arrangement so they could try to reconcile their marital differences and work out their financial issues. Shortly thereafter, Wife moved back to Charleston to work for the Charleston County Sheriff's Department as a police officer. Wife testified the decision to move back to Charleston was motivated by their financial issues and her desire to further her education so it would be easier to find a job when Husband was again transferred in the military.

When questioned at the final hearing about her desire to pursue additional education, Wife testified the Sheriff's Department was changing rapidly, and to be promoted, she needed to improve her education more. To that end, Wife began attending North Carolina Central University in 1997 where she double majored in English and Political Science, receiving her B.A. degree in 1999. The same year she obtained her B.A. degree from North Carolina Central University[401 S.C. 195], she decided to move to Washington, D.C. Initially, she lived with a relative, and her mother took care of Tylia and her son from a previous relationship. Wife testified Husband talked about relocating to D.C., but this fell through, and Husband filed for divorce in 2000. According to Wife, the parties did not pursue the divorce because Husband thought they could reconcile their marital differences.

Wife stated she could not earn an adequate living with only a bachelor's degree, so between 2000 and 2004, she earned her paralegal certification as well as a master's degree in Public Policy and Social Policy from Georgetown University. During this time, Wife's mother assisted Wife in caring for the children. After obtaining her master's degree in 2004, she worked for a judge in New York for two years, and then she returned to Washington, D.C. Her children lived with her in Maryland while she worked at various agencies within the federal government. In 2006, Wife's mother, who lived in Charleston, died from cancer. After her mother's death, Wife accepted a job offer in Charleston, and moved back that same year to Charleston with her children. She remained in Charleston

[736 S.E.2d 295]

a year before returning to Washington, D.C. in 2008, where she and her children were living on the date of the final hearing.

Husband also testified at the final hearing about the parties' relationship and living arrangements during their marriage. Husband stated he was transferred from Fort Polk, Louisiana to Fort Bliss, Texas in 1996 where he served for two years. Wife chose not to move to Fort Bliss, instead remaining in Charleston with her mother, Tylia, and her son. In 1998, Husband was deployed for one year to Korea. When Husband returned in 1999, he moved to Fort Gordon, Georgia where he was stationed with periodic overseas deployments until he retired from the military on January 1, 2009. Upon Husband's retirement, he began to receive $1,878 per month in military retirement benefits.

Prior to Husband's retirement in January 2009, the parties agreed to end the marriage in November 2007. Husband filed a petition for divorce on January 9, 2008. Wife filed an answer and counterclaimed for equitable distribution of personal property and debts, division of Husband's retirement [401 S.C. 196]benefits, child custody, child support, and attorney's fees. Both parties agreed they lived together for only approximately three and a half years of their sixteen-year marriage.

The family court held a hearing on August 24, 2009. In its final order filed on October 1, 2009, the family court granted the parties a divorce based on one year's continuous separation. The court awarded the parties joint custody of their daughter, Tylia. In its computation of child support, the family court imputed an additional $2,000 to Husband as income based on his 2008 earnings. With Husband's monthly military retirement pay of $1,878, Husband's monthly income totaled $3,878, and Wife's monthly income was $8,500. Based on this income, Husband was required to pay Wife $321 per month in child support.

The family court ordered the parties to maintain all real and personal property in their respective possessions. It also required each party to pay his or her own debts incurred since the parties' separation on May 15, 1995, which included Wife's college expenses and the outstanding debt on Wife's car. In determining Wife's entitlement to Husband's military retirement benefits, the family court found Wife was only entitled to the portion of his benefits that accrued during the three and a half years the parties lived together. As such, the family court awarded Wife half of the benefits accruing during that time period for a net monthly payment of $144.94.1

Wife filed a Rule 59(e), SCRCP, motion for reconsideration, arguing, among other things, the family court improperly calculated Wife's share of Husband's military retirement benefits[401 S.C. 197]. Wife argued Husband received $1,878 per month in retirement benefits, and because Husband acquired the majority of these benefits during their sixteen-year marriage, she was entitled to 50% of those benefits, or $939 per month. The family court issued an amended order on January 27, 2010, and calculated Wife's share of the retirement benefits based on the total number of years of marriage, but instead of awarding Wife 50%, it awarded Wife 11% of the marital share of the benefits, resulting in the same monthly payout to Wife as contained in the original October 2009 order. 2

[736 S.E.2d 296]

In support of its decision, the family court stated,

This Court feels that to award [Wife] an amount greater than this would be to reward a spouse who 1) benefitted greatly from her estrangement from her husband[;] 2) was not a credible witness[;] 3) does not need the funds as greatly as the other party[;] and, finally 4) will, for the foreseeable future, always be in a much better financial position than the other party.

The family court affirmed the remainder of its original order. This appeal followed.


STANDARD OF REVIEW

“The family court is a court of equity.” Lewis v. Lewis, 392 S.C. 381, 386, 709 S.E.2d 650, 652 (2011). In appeals from the family court, the appellate court reviews factual and legal issues de novo. Simmons v. Simmons, 392 S.C. 412, 414, 709 S.E.2d 666, 667 (2011). “De novo review permits appellate court fact-finding, notwithstanding the presence of evidence supporting the [family] court's findings.” Lewis, 392 S.C. at 390, 709 S.E.2d at 654–55. However, this broad standard of review does not require the appellate court to disregard the factual findings of the family court or ignore the fact that the family court is in the better position to assess [401 S.C. 198]the credibility of the witnesses. Pinckney v. Warren, 344 S.C. 382, 387, 544 S.E.2d 620, 623 (2001). Moreover, the appellant is not relieved of the burden of demonstrating error in the family court's findings of fact. Id. at 387–88, 544 S.E.2d at 623. Accordingly, we will affirm the decision of the family court unless its decision is controlled by some error of law or the appellant satisfies the burden of showing the preponderance of the evidence actually supports contrary factual findings by this court. See Lewis, 392 S.C. at 390, 709 S.E.2d at 654–55.

LAW/ANALYSIS(1) Wife's Share of Husband's Retirement Plan

Wife first argues her direct and indirect contributions to the marriage entitled her to a greater share of the marital estate.3 Thus, Wife argues the family court erred in only apportioning Wife 11% 4 of the marital share of Husband's retirement benefits and in valuing Husband's retirement plan as of May 15, 1995, because the parties were not legally separated at that time. We agree in part.

In apportioning the marital estate, the family court must consider fifteen criteria specified by section 20–3–620 of the South Carolina Code (Supp.2011), giving to each such weight as it finds appropriate based on the facts of the case. See Johnson v. Johnson, 296 S.C. 289, 297, 372 S.E.2d 107, 112 (Ct.App.1988). These criteria guide the family court in exercising its discretion over apportionment of the marital property and are nothing more than equities to be considered in reaching a fair distribution of marital property. Id. at 297–98, 372 S.E.2d at 112. The...

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8 practice notes
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, 2020-UP-262
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn more income than he is earning, the family court may......
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, 2020-UP-262
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 16, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn more income than he is earning, the family court may......
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, Appellate Case No. 2017-001082
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn morePage 5 income than he is earning, the family cou......
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, Appellate Case No. 2017-001082
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn morePage 5 income than he is earning, the family cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, 2020-UP-262
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn more income than he is earning, the family court may......
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, 2020-UP-262
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 16, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn more income than he is earning, the family court may......
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, Appellate Case No. 2017-001082
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn morePage 5 income than he is earning, the family cou......
  • Choudhry v. Sinha, Appellate Case No. 2017-001082
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2020
    ...are at times outweighed by . . . child support obligations." (quoting Kelley, 324 S.C. at 489, 477 S.E.2d at 731)); Jenkins v. Jenkins, 401 S.C. 191, 203, 736 S.E.2d 292, 299 (Ct. App. 2012) ("If the obligor spouse has the ability to earn morePage 5 income than he is earning, the family cou......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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