Pruitt v. Pruitt, No. 4719.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtGEATHERS, J
Citation389 S.C. 250,697 S.E.2d 702
PartiesKaren B. PRUITT, Respondent,v.Raymond Scott PRUITT and Karen Leigh Pruitt, Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 4719.
Decision Date04 August 2010

389 S.C. 250
697 S.E.2d 702

Karen B. PRUITT, Respondent,
v.
Raymond Scott PRUITT and Karen Leigh Pruitt, Appellants.

No. 4719.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard June 22, 2010.
Decided Aug. 4, 2010.


697 S.E.2d 703

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

697 S.E.2d 704

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

697 S.E.2d 705

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

697 S.E.2d 706
Kenneth E. Sowell, of Anderson, for Appellants.

H. Lee Herron, of Florence and John Leon Schurlknight, Greenville, for Respondent.

GEATHERS, J.

In this divorce action, Raymond Pruitt (Husband) and Karen Leigh Pruitt, Husband's sister (Sister) assign several errors to the family court's final decree, including the conclusions that Sister did not loan $40,000 to Husband and that the marital home was transmuted into marital property. 1 Husband also challenges the finding that his adultery was the sole reason for the breakup of his marriage to Karen B. Pruitt (Wife). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Wife filed this action in January 2007, seeking a divorce on the ground of adultery. Husband filed an answer admitting the adultery but alleging that Wife forgave him. In March 2007, the family court issued a consent order granting temporary alimony pending further order of the court. Wife then amended her complaint to add Sister as a party to the action because title to the marital home and title to the real estate associated with Husband's business were in Sister's name. Sister answered, alleging that she loaned Husband money over a period of several years and that Husband conveyed the disputed property to Sister at her request following his failure to repay her.

The family court granted Wife and Husband a divorce on the ground of one year of continuous separation. The family court also granted Wife a lump sum award representing 55 percent of the marital estate as well as attorney's fees in the amount of $10,000. The family court ordered Sister to execute a deed conveying to Husband the marital home and the real estate associated with his business. Husband and Sister then filed motions for reconsideration. The family court denied Sister's motion but granted Husband's motion in part, allowing him a credit for the temporary alimony paid to Wife after the

697 S.E.2d 707
month of December 2007.2 This appeal followed.
ISSUES ON APPEAL
1. Did the family court properly find that Sister did not loan $40,000 to Husband?

2. Did the family court err in concluding that the marital home was transmuted into marital property?

3. Did the family court err in failing to consider the marital debts in determining the value of the marital estate?
4. Did the family court err in valuing the marital assets?
5. Did the family court err in concluding that Husband's adultery was the sole reason for the breakup of the marriage, thus entitling Wife to a greater percentage of the marital estate?
6. Did the family court err in failing to consider gifts from Husband's family when distributing the parties' household furnishings?
7. Did the family court err in refusing to deduct from Wife's equitable distribution award the full amount of temporary alimony she received from Husband because her adultery disqualified her from receiving alimony?
8. Did the family court err in awarding attorney's fees to Wife?
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Findings

“In appeals from the family court, this Court may find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence.” Nasser-Moghaddassi v. Moghaddassi, 364 S.C. 182, 189, 612 S.E.2d 707, 711 (Ct.App.2005). However, this broad scope of review does not require the Court to disregard the family court's findings. Id. at 189-90, 612 S.E.2d at 711. “[W]here evidence is disputed, the appellate court may adhere to the findings of the trial judge, who saw and heard the witnesses. The trial judge was in a superior position to judge the witnesses' demeanor and veracity and, therefore, his findings should be given broad discretion.” Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996). Moreover, the Court's broad scope of review does not relieve the appellant of the burden of proving to this Court that the family court committed error. Nasser-Moghaddassi, 364 S.C. at 190, 612 S.E.2d at 711.


Division of Marital Property

“The division of marital property is within the sound discretion of the family court, and on appeal, it will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion.” Simpson v. Simpson, 377 S.C. 527, 533, 660 S.E.2d 278, 282 (Ct.App.2008). “An appellate court should approach an equitable division award with a presumption that the family court acted within its broad discretion.” Dawkins v. Dawkins, 386 S.C. 169, 172, 687 S.E.2d 52, 54 (2010). The appellate court looks to the overall fairness of the apportionment. Deidun v. Deidun, 362 S.C. 47, 58, 606 S.E.2d 489, 495 (Ct.App.2004). If the end result is equitable, the fact that the appellate court would have arrived at a different apportionment is irrelevant. Id.


Attorney's Fees

The decision to award attorney's fees is also within the family court's discretion and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. Simpson, 377 S.C. at 538, 660 S.E.2d at 284.

LAW/ANALYSIS
I Loan

Husband and Sister challenge the family court's finding that Sister did not loan $40,000 to Husband. We affirm this finding.

Husband and Sister were questioned extensively on whether there was any written documentation supporting their claim that Sister loaned Husband large sums of money to support his business and to fund improvements to the marital home. Neither Husband nor Sister could point to any documentation

697 S.E.2d 708
of the alleged loans, and Wife testified that Husband never told her about any loans from Sister. The family court noted with suspicion the claim that the alleged loans were made in cash. It also cited Husband's history of conveying title to the marital home to another family member-his mother-during previous marital discord as an indication that his conveyance to Sister was, in fact, a further attempt to keep the home out of the marital estate. Moreover, no provision was put in place for Husband to redeem the property.

Husband has not carried his burden of convincing this Court that the family court erred in regarding the alleged loan as a fiction. Hence, we defer to the family court's assessment of witness credibility on this issue. See Woodall, 322 S.C. at 10, 471 S.E.2d at 157 (“The trial judge was in a superior position to judge the witnesses' demeanor and veracity and, therefore, his findings should be given broad discretion.”).


II. Transmutation

Husband argues that the family court erred in characterizing the marital home as marital property. We agree; however, we remand the case to the family court for a determination of Wife's entitlement, if any, to an equitable interest in the home's increase in value.

“Identification of marital property is controlled by the provisions of the Equitable Apportionment of Marital Property Act” (the Act). Johnson v. Johnson, 296 S.C. 289, 294, 372 S.E.2d 107, 110 (Ct.App.1988). The Act defines marital property as all real and personal property acquired by the parties during the marriage that is owned as of the date of filing or commencement of marital litigation, regardless of how legal title is held. S.C.Code Ann. § 20-3-630(A) (Supp.2009). Under the Act, property acquired by either party before the marriage is nonmarital property. Id. § 20-3-630(A) (2).

“The spouse claiming an equitable interest in property upon dissolution of the marriage has the burden of proving the property is part of the marital estate.” Johnson, 296 S.C. at 294, 372 S.E.2d at 110. If a spouse carries this burden, a prima facie case is established that the property is marital property. Id. If the opposing spouse then wishes to claim that the property is not part of the marital estate, that spouse has the burden of presenting evidence to establish its nonmarital character. Id. (citing Miller v. Miller, 293 S.C. 69, 71 n. 2, 358 S.E.2d 710, 711 n. 2 (1987)). If the opposing spouse can show that the property was acquired before the marriage or falls within a statutory exception, this rebuts the prima facie case for its inclusion in the marital estate. Johnson, 296 S.C. at 295, 372 S.E.2d at 110.

Even if property is nonmarital, it may be transmuted into marital property during the marriage. Id. Transmutation occurs if the property is utilized in support of the marriage or in such a manner as to evidence an intent to make it marital property. Canady v. Canady, 296 S.C. 521, 523-24, 374 S.E.2d 502, 503 (Ct.App.1988). Transmutation is a matter of intent to be gleaned from the facts of each case, and the spouse claiming transmutation “must produce objective evidence showing that, during the marriage, the parties themselves regarded the property as the common property of the marriage.” Johnson, 296 S.C. at 295, 372 S.E.2d at 110-11.

Evidence of intent to transmute nonmarital property may include using the property exclusively for marital purposes or using marital funds to build equity in the property. Id. at 295, 372 S.E.2d at 111. However, “[t]he mere use of separate property to support the marriage, without some additional evidence of intent to treat it as property of the marriage, is not sufficient to establish transmutation.” Id. at 295-96, 372 S.E.2d at 111.

Here, Husband testified that he started clearing the lot on which he built the marital home in 1979 and began construction of the home in 1983. Husband's mother, Dorothy Pruitt (Mother), testified that Husband started building the marital home on land owned by his grandmother, but that it was not completed when Husband married Wife in 1988. Wife's sister also testified that the home was not completed when Wife

697 S.E.2d 709
moved into it, and that Wife helped Husband complete the construction. However, Mother admitted that the couple were able to live in the home when they first...

To continue reading

Request your trial
25 practice notes
  • Conits v. Conits, Appellate Case No. 2014–000941.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 16, 2016
    ...equitable division of marital property also apply to the division of marital debts.” Id. at 437, 429 S.E.2d at 814. In Pruitt v. Pruitt, 389 S.C. 250, 267, 697 S.E.2d 702, 711 (Ct.App.2010), this court deferred to the family court's finding that alleged debts listed by the husband as marita......
  • Thornton v. Thornton, Appellate Case No. 2016-001177
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2019
    ...of marital litigation is a marital debt and must be factored in the totality of equitable apportionment." Pruitt v. Pruitt , 389 S.C. 250, 264, 697 S.E.2d 702, 710 (Ct. App. 2010). "Therefore, when a debt is proven to have accrued before the commencement of marital litigation, the......
  • Funderburk v. Funderburk, 2018-001173
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2021
    ...or falls within a statutory exception, this rebuts the prima facie case for its inclusion in the marital estate." Pruitt v. Pruitt, 389 S.C. 250, 261, 697 S.E.2d 702, 708 (Ct. App. 2010). Husband put up no evidence or testimony contrary to Wife's testimony, and he did not testify at an......
  • Farrar v. Farrar, NO. 2013-CA-000180-MR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • December 12, 2014
    ...784, 786-87 (1997)); Oregon (In re Marriage of Kopplin, 74 Or.App. 368, 703 P.2d 251, 253 (1985)); and South Carolina (Pruitt v. Pruitt, 389 S.C. 250, 268 (S.C.Ct.App.2010)). 6. The record is unclear if Brad did actually incur any costs as a result of the transfer of Melissa's interest, suc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Conits v. Conits, Appellate Case No. 2014–000941.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 16, 2016
    ...equitable division of marital property also apply to the division of marital debts.” Id. at 437, 429 S.E.2d at 814. In Pruitt v. Pruitt, 389 S.C. 250, 267, 697 S.E.2d 702, 711 (Ct.App.2010), this court deferred to the family court's finding that alleged debts listed by the husband as marita......
  • Thornton v. Thornton, Appellate Case No. 2016-001177
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2019
    ...of marital litigation is a marital debt and must be factored in the totality of equitable apportionment." Pruitt v. Pruitt , 389 S.C. 250, 264, 697 S.E.2d 702, 710 (Ct. App. 2010). "Therefore, when a debt is proven to have accrued before the commencement of marital litigation, the......
  • Funderburk v. Funderburk, 2018-001173
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2021
    ...or falls within a statutory exception, this rebuts the prima facie case for its inclusion in the marital estate." Pruitt v. Pruitt, 389 S.C. 250, 261, 697 S.E.2d 702, 708 (Ct. App. 2010). Husband put up no evidence or testimony contrary to Wife's testimony, and he did not testify at an......
  • Farrar v. Farrar, NO. 2013-CA-000180-MR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • December 12, 2014
    ...784, 786-87 (1997)); Oregon (In re Marriage of Kopplin, 74 Or.App. 368, 703 P.2d 251, 253 (1985)); and South Carolina (Pruitt v. Pruitt, 389 S.C. 250, 268 (S.C.Ct.App.2010)). 6. The record is unclear if Brad did actually incur any costs as a result of the transfer of Melissa's interest, suc......
  • 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