Today the South Carolina Court of Appeals published a decision in Brown v. Brown. Brown v. Brown is an appeal of the family court’s final divorce decree between George and Julie Brown. George Brown (Husband) argues the family court improperly (1) divided the martial estate given the short duration of Husband and Julie Brown’s (Wife) marriage, (2) awarded custody of the parties’ minor children to Wife, and (3) ordered Husband to pay a portion of Wife’s attorney’s fees and guardian ad litem (GAL) fees.
Husband and Wife were married for eight years, mostly living long distance due to Husband’s military service and out of state government contract jobs. During the marriage, Husband and Wife had four children that resided primarily with Wife.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the family courts order. The Court found that there was an equitable distribution of the martial property, pursuant to the factors of § 20-3-620 of the S.C. Code As well, the Court agreed that there was no evidence that Husband questioned Wife’s abilities to care for their children while he was out of state. While not outcome determinative, the Court noted that Wife had been the children’s primary caretaker for the entirety of their lives, and that awarding Husband primary custody would require the children to move, which was found not to be in the children’s best interests. Therefore, the Court affirmed the family court’s custody determination.
Finally, in determining the reasonableness of attorney’s fees, the Court looked to six factors: (1) the nature, extent, and difficulty of the case; (2) the time necessarily devoted to the case; (3) professional standing of counsel; (4) contingency of compensation; (5) beneficial results obtained; and (6) customary legal fees for similar services. Applying those factors, the Court determined the family court properly ordered the Husband to pay a portion of Wife’s attorney’s fees and the remaining GAL fee balance finding that Husband had failed to show proof of prejudice in the family court’s division of these fees.