Rudick v. Rudick

Decision Date31 August 2022
Docket NumberAppellate Case No. 2020-000431,Opinion No. 28108
Parties Alicia M. RUDICK, Petitioner, v. Brian R. RUDICK, Respondent.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

437 S.C. 270
878 S.E.2d 686

Alicia M. RUDICK, Petitioner,
Brian R. RUDICK, Respondent.

Appellate Case No. 2020-000431
Opinion No. 28108

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard April 14, 2021
Filed August 31, 2022
Rehearing Denied October 26, 2022

Gregory Samuel Forman, of Gregory S. Forman, PC, of Charleston and Karl Huggins Smith, of Smith Watts & Associates, LLC, of Hartsville, both for Petitioner.

Marian Dawn Nettles, of Nettles Turbeville & Reddeck, of Lake City and Kevin Mitchell Barth, of Barth, Ballenger & Lewis, LLP, of Florence, both for Respondent.


437 S.C. 272

Petitioner Alicia Rudick (Wife) raises a single issue before the Court: whether a former spouse who was both the primary

437 S.C. 273

wage earner and caretaker may be a "supported spouse" under our statutory scheme governing alimony. The family court awarded Respondent Brian Rudick periodic alimony of $3,000 a month, and the court of appeals affirmed, reducing it by $300 monthly based on a mathematical miscalculation. We affirm the court of appeals.


Husband and Wife married in 1999 and had three children before Wife filed for divorce in 2015. During the course of their marriage, Wife consistently earned a significantly higher income as an employee at Sonoco Products than Husband, who worked as a law enforcement officer. Early in the marriage, the couple built a 3,500 square foot home with a pool, and they owned a vacation timeshare in Disney throughout the marriage. In addition to earning approximately four times that of Husband, Wife was also the primary caretaker of the children. However, Husband also cared for the children, including assisting them with their homework, packing lunches, doing laundry, and being fully responsible for them when Wife traveled for work.

In 2016, the family court held a two-day trial and subsequently issued a final order that granted the divorce based on one year's separation, ordered Husband to pay child support, awarded Husband $3,000 per month in permanent periodic alimony, and divided the marital estate 60/40 in favor of Wife. Wife then filed a motion to reconsider, which the family court denied. Thereafter, Wife appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court disagreed with the family court's valuations of certain assets and with Wife's bonus income, the latter resulting in a decrease in alimony by $300 per month. Accordingly, the court of appeals reduced Wife's alimony obligation

878 S.E.2d 688

to $2,700 per month. We granted Wife's petition for a writ of certiorari.


Did the court of appeals err in affirming the alimony award when Wife was both the primary wage earner and caretaker, thus purportedly depriving Husband of "supported spouse" status under section 20-3-130 of the South Carolina Code ?

437 S.C. 274


In appeals from the family court, appellate courts review the factual and legal conclusions de novo. Stoney v. Stoney , 422 S.C. 593, 596, 813 S.E.2d 486, 487 (2018). However, de novo review does not require the Court to disregard the family court's factual findings because that court was in the best position to judge witness credibility. Lewis v. Lewis , 392 S.C. 381, 388, 709 S.E.2d 650, 653 (2011) ("The tendency to affirm family court findings of fact may be traced to the two features noted above—the superior position of the trial judge to determine credibility and the appellant's burden to satisfy the appellate court that the preponderance of the evidence is against the finding of the trial court.").


Wife contends Husband is not a "supported spouse" and therefore does not meet the legal requirement to receive alimony or in the alternative, that the alimony award should be reduced. While Wife acknowledges our statutory scheme does not define the term "supported spouse," she argues that a spouse who is both the primary wage earner and caretaker does not fall within that definition. Specifically, Wife asserts Husband is not a supported spouse because he did not reduce his earning capacity in support of the marriage. In other words, because Husband did not depress his income by seeking employment which would allow him more time to care for the children, he was not a supported spouse. Additionally, Wife argues the family court overemphasized the statutory factor addressing the parties' standard of living during the marriage.

Conversely, Husband argues the court of appeals properly affirmed the family court's decision to award alimony, that Wife's argument elevates the term "supported spouse" to a contrived meaning not contemplated by the General Assembly, and that the term is descriptive only, and simply designates the person who receives alimony. Further, Husband argues the family court properly considered the parties' standard of living as one factor in awarding alimony. We agree with Husband.

437 S.C. 275

Every state recognizes some type of alimony which may be awarded upon the dissolution of a marriage.1 "In most jurisdictions, including South Carolina, courts are allowed to award alimony to any spouse who needs it to avoid significant disparity in the spouses' post-divorce financial standing." Emeritus Roy T. Stuckey, Marital Litigation in South Carolina Substantive Law 172 (4th ed. 2010). South Carolina's General Assembly has enacted a detailed statute which recognizes various forms of alimony and sets forth a panoply of factors that the family court "must consider and give weight in such proportion as it finds appropriate[.]" S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(C) (2014). This provision includes the phrase "supported spouse" over a dozen times without defining it. However, a statute is not ambiguous merely because

878 S.E.2d 689

a term is undefined. Instead, when reviewing section 20-3-130 as a whole, it is clear the descriptive term "supported spouse" is used merely to delineate the person actually receiving alimony. We refuse to accept Wife's invitation to augment the language of the statute by requiring an alimony recipient to establish that he or she has actively reduced his or her earning capacity in order to support the marriage.

We find further support for this common-sense definition by reviewing section 20-3-130 as a whole. The General Assembly knew how to include a prerequisite to alimony, as it did by disqualifying a spouse who commits adultery from receiving alimony. S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130. We decline to

437 S.C. 276

engraft an additional requirement onto a provision that is otherwise clear on its face. See Berkebile v. Outen , 311 S.C. 50, 55, 426 S.E.2d 760, 763 (1993) ("We can not [sic] construe a statute without regard to its plain and ordinary meaning, and we will not resort to subtle or forced construction in an attempt to limit or expand the scope of a statute.").

While we disagree with Wife's invitation to define the phrase "supported spouse" in a manner never heretofore recognized, we do agree with Wife that our jurisprudence has, at times, overemphasized the standard of living factor in deciding whether to award alimony. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(C)(5). Alimony cases in this state both before and after the enactment of our alimony statute have consistently stated the primary purpose of an alimony award is to enable the supported spouse to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. See, e.g. , Crossland v. Crossland , 408 S.C. 443, 451, 759 S.E.2d 419, 423 (2014) ("Alimony is a substitute for the support normally incidental to the marital relationship.... ‘Generally, alimony should place the supported spouse, as nearly as is practical, in the same position he or she enjoyed during the marriage.’ ") (internal citations omitted); Craig v. Craig , 365 S.C. 285, 292, 617 S.E.2d 359, 362 (2005) ("Generally, alimony should place the supported spouse, as nearly as practical, in the same position as enjoyed during the marriage."). We emphasize today that this consideration is only one of the twelve statutory factors that shapes an alimony award. See S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130(C)(1)-(12). However, this does not render our prior decisions addressing the parties' standard of living irrelevant. Apart from delineating specific factors to be considered in an alimony award, our General Assembly has also vested considerable discretion in the family courts by providing that the factors may be weighed "as it finds appropriate." Depending on the facts presented in a given case, some factors may assume more importance and be entitled to more weight than others. The family court here carefully weighed the relevant factors, and there is nothing in the record that suggests the court overemphasized this consideration in deciding to award Husband alimony. See Lewis v. Lewis , 392 S.C. 381, 392, 709 S.E.2d 650, 655 (2011) ("[W]hile retaining the authority to make our own findings of fact, we recognize the superior position of the family court...

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