Woodall v. Woodall, No. 24434

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtBURNETT; FINNEY
Citation471 S.E.2d 154,322 S.C. 7
Docket NumberNo. 24434
Decision Date06 March 1996
PartiesGary Michael WOODALL, Appellant, v. Mary Helen WOODALL, Respondent. . Heard

Page 154

471 S.E.2d 154
322 S.C. 7
Gary Michael WOODALL, Appellant,
v.
Mary Helen WOODALL, Respondent.
No. 24434.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard March 6, 1996.
Decided May 20, 1996.

Page 156

[322 S.C. 9] Douglas K. Kotti, Columbia, for Appellant.

Michael S. Pauley and Marne Sherman, both of Lide, Montgomery & Potts, Columbia, for Respondent.

Leslie K. Riddle, Columbia, Guardian Ad Litem.

BURNETT, Justice:

Mary Helen Woodall (Wife) and Gary Michael Woodall (Husband) were married on May 11, 1990. Their only child, Lawrence Moultrie Woodall (Son), was born on October 14, 1990. After a brief marriage, the parties were separated on May 28, 1991. On appeal, Husband asserts the family court erred in (1) awarding custody of Son to Wife, (2) ordering standard visitation rights, (3) computing his child support obligation, and (4) awarding attorney's fees and costs to Wife.

FACTS

Son was born premature and required special physical and emotional care. Wife, a certified public accountant, was not employed full time during the marriage, but did occasional part-time accounting work. She ultimately decided to return to college to become a mathematics teacher in order to have a less demanding career which would be more conducive to caring for Son. Husband holds a GED and maintained steady employment as a computer programmer throughout the marriage.

It is uncontroverted that Husband and Wife mistrusted each other and that their short marriage was fraught with arguments and accusations. Some of the altercations between the parties involved physical violence.

On July 12, 1991, the family court issued a pendente lite order which provided, inter alia, that the parties would share joint physical custody of Son and that Husband would make monthly child support payments in the amount of $185.00. The family court issued a second pendent lite order on May 27, 1993, which discontinued the child support payments and changed the times of the custodial periods. A final decree of divorce was issued on September 30, 1993, awarding full and [322 S.C. 10] complete custody of Son to Wife, ordering standard visitation rights to Husband, and computing Husband's child support obligation to be $588.60 per month.

Wife incurred attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $36,155.00. On September 23, 1994, the family court issued an order requiring Husband to contribute $15,000.00 toward her attorney's fees and costs and requiring each party to pay one-half of the guardian ad litem 's total bill--the total bill amounted to $7,308.75. Husband sought a new trial and/or alteration, amendment and vacation of the final decree. The family court disposed of Husband's post-trial motion by merely making minor modifications to the final decree. This appeal followed.

ISSUES

Did the family court err in:

I. Awarding custody of Son to Wife?

II. Ordering standard visitation rights to Husband?

III. Computing Husband's child support obligation?

Page 157

IV. Awarding attorney's fees and costs to Wife?

DISCUSSION

When reviewing the factual determinations of the family court, an appellate court may take its own view of the preponderance of the evidence. Hough v. Hough, 312 S.C. 344, 440 S.E.2d 387 (Ct.App.1994). However, where 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. McAlister v. Patterson, 278 S.C. 481, 299 S.E.2d 322 (1982); Hough v. Hough, supra; Sealy v. Sealy, 295 S.C. 281, 368 S.E.2d 85 (Ct.App.1988). Furthermore, the appellate court should be reluctant to substitute its own evaluation of the evidence on child custody for that of the trial court. Stroman v. Williams, 291 S.C. 376, 353 S.E.2d 704 (Ct.App.1987).

I. Custody

Husband contends that based upon the evidence presented, the family court abused its discretion in awarding custody of Son to Wife. In addition, Husband argues that the family [322 S.C. 11] court erred in awarding custody on the basis of the "tender years doctrine".

The welfare and best interests of the child are paramount in custody disputes. The family court must consider the character, fitness, attitude, and inclinations on the part of each parent as they impact the child. Epperly v. Epperly, 312 S.C. 411, 440 S.E.2d 884 (1994). In addition, psychological, physical, environmental, spiritual, educational, medical, family, emotional and recreational aspects of the child's life should be considered. Wheeler v. Gill, 307 S.C. 94, 413 S.E.2d 860 (Ct.App.1992). Thus, when determining to whom custody shall be awarded, all the conflicting rules and presumptions should be weighed together with all of the circumstances of the particular case, and all relevant factors must be taken into consideration. Ford v. Ford, 242 S.C. 344, 130 S.E.2d 916 (1963).

The "tender years doctrine", in which there is a preference for awarding a mother custody of a child of tender years, was abolished effective May 18, 1994. 1 However, when custody of Son was determined on September 30, 1993, the health, age, and sex of a child--often referred to as the "tender years doctrine"--were factors to be considered in awarding custody of a young child. See Wheeler v. Gill, supra.

In this case, when the family court ascertained what was best for Son, it did not rely exclusively upon the "tender years doctrine", but considered all applicable doctrines and tests. For example, the court examined the following factors: (1) which parent evolved as the primary caretaker; (2) the conduct, attributes, and resources of each parent; (3) the opinions of third parties, including the guardian ad litem; and (4) the age, health, and sex of the child. In the final decree, the family court decided that neither parent evolved as Son's primary caretaker. When considering the attributes and resources of each parent, the family...

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144 practice notes
  • Davis v. Davis, No. 4188.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 21, 2006
    ...and assign comparative weight to their testimony. Scott v. Scott, 354 S.C. 118, 124, 579 S.E.2d 620, 623 (2003) (citing Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996)). However, our broad scope of review does not relieve appellant of the burden of convincing this court the f......
  • Lafrance v. Lafrance, No. 4158.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 2, 2006
    ...and assign comparative weight to their testimony. Scott v. Scott, 354 S.C. 118, 124, 579 S.E.2d 620, 623 (2003) (citing Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 Initially, we dispose of a procedural issue challenging this court's jurisdiction to consider Husband's appeal in t......
  • Couple v. Girl, Opinion No. 27148
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • July 26, 2012
    ...upon the guiding principle that "[t]he welfare and best interests of the child are paramount in custody disputes." Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 11, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996); see also S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Cochran, 364 S.C. 621, 614 S.E.2d 642 (2005) (stating that the best intere......
  • Lanier v. Lanier, No. 3966.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • March 21, 2005
    ..."should be reluctant to substitute its own evaluation of the evidence on child custody for that of the trial court." Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996). Our broad scope of review does not relieve appellant of her burden to convince this Court the family court com......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
144 cases
  • Davis v. Davis, No. 4188.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 21, 2006
    ...and assign comparative weight to their testimony. Scott v. Scott, 354 S.C. 118, 124, 579 S.E.2d 620, 623 (2003) (citing Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996)). However, our broad scope of review does not relieve appellant of the burden of convincing this court the f......
  • Lafrance v. Lafrance, No. 4158.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 2, 2006
    ...and assign comparative weight to their testimony. Scott v. Scott, 354 S.C. 118, 124, 579 S.E.2d 620, 623 (2003) (citing Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 Initially, we dispose of a procedural issue challenging this court's jurisdiction to consider Husband's appeal in t......
  • Couple v. Girl, Opinion No. 27148
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • July 26, 2012
    ...upon the guiding principle that "[t]he welfare and best interests of the child are paramount in custody disputes." Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 11, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996); see also S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Cochran, 364 S.C. 621, 614 S.E.2d 642 (2005) (stating that the best intere......
  • Lanier v. Lanier, No. 3966.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • March 21, 2005
    ..."should be reluctant to substitute its own evaluation of the evidence on child custody for that of the trial court." Woodall v. Woodall, 322 S.C. 7, 10, 471 S.E.2d 154, 157 (1996). Our broad scope of review does not relieve appellant of her burden to convince this Court the family court com......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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