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Crossland v. Crossland

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 2, 2014

Robert Crossland, Respondent,
Shirley Crossland, Petitioner

Heard March 18, 2014

Page 420

Appeal from Richland County. Appellate Case No. 2012-212190. George M. McFaddin, Jr., Family Court Judge.

Brian Dumas, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Melvin D. Bannister, of Columbia, for Respondent.



[408 S.C. 447]

Page 421



In this appeal from a divorce action, Appellant Shirley Crossland (" Wife" ) contends the court of appeals erred in reversing the family court's alimony award, in modifying the equitable division of the marital estate, and in remanding the issue of attorney's fees. We agree and reverse.


Respondent Robert Crossland (" Husband" ) and Wife were married in 1997 and separated for the final time on September 6, 2006. Husband filed for divorce on August 17, 2007. Both parties were previously married and had adult children from those marriages; however, no children were born of this marriage. At the time of the divorce hearing on March 1, 2010, Husband was seventy-six years old and Wife was sixty-two years old.

At the time of marriage, Husband was sixty-three years old and had been retired for twenty years. His income during his marriage consisted of social security retirement benefits, Air [408 S.C. 448] Force retirement benefits, and veterans disability benefits. At the time the parties married, Husband owned two mobile homes, the marital residence--a house Husband purchased in 1955,[1] and savings in the form of stocks, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and mutual funds (collectively " savings accounts" ). Shortly after the couple married, Husband added Wife's name to all of the savings accounts; however, after the parties separated, he transferred the money from the savings accounts to an annuity fund in his name only.[2] Directly prior to the transfer, the savings accounts contained approximately $180,000.

Before the marriage, Wife worked in a bookstore making minimum wage and lived with her daughter because she was unable to support herself financially. At the time the parties married, Wife was fifty years old and

Page 422

had just returned from an extended mission trip to Ukraine. She testified the bookstore held her position open during her mission trip, but upon her return, Husband asked her not to return to her job so they could travel together. Wife owned no assets at the time of the marriage and did not work during the marriage except for period of employment with the Census Bureau in 1998 and 1999 during which she earned approximately $26,000. During the marriage, Wife also received $5,632.84 in proceeds resulting from an automobile accident. Wife testified she deposited both her Census Bureau earnings and the auto accident proceeds into the parties' joint accounts. Additionally, Wife testified she was eligible for social security retirement benefits, but had not applied to receive them because she did not wish to do so before reaching the official retirement age.

Both Husband and Wife suffered from various health problems, Wife to a greater degree. Husband has hearing problems [408 S.C. 449] and underwent two knee replacements and surgeries for heart and prostate issues. Wife has suffered from degenerative neck and back pain and has undergone two separate back surgeries. Additionally, Wife has undergone shoulder surgery and has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and arthritis. In 2001, Wife was in an automobile accident and injured her back, shoulder, and right arm. Thereafter, Wife re-injured her shoulder and arm when she fell down a flight of stairs. In August 2005, Wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was successfully treated and continued to be in remission at the time of the divorce hearing. Wife testified she was unable to work because of her health problems. She also testified she stood to lose her medical insurance as a result of the divorce and would need to procure new insurance at a cost of at least $330 per month.

In his divorce complaint, Husband claimed Wife left their marital home on September 6, 2006, and did not return. Husband stated Wife had previously left the home three times, but eventually returned each time. Husband estimated they lived together for only five years of their ten-year marriage due to various separations initiated by Wife. In her Answer, Wife contended she was forced from the marital home by Husband's erratic and overly controlling behavior, especially in regards to the couple's finances.[3] Wife further requested equitable division of the marital property, alleging Husband had secreted assets and denied her access, and she [408 S.C. 450] requested separate support and maintenance, alimony based on Husband's fault, and attorney's fees and costs.

The family court granted Husband a divorce based on one year of continuous separation. The family court found it was clear the parties " entered into a traditional marriage, with the Husband to be the major, if not sole financial contributor to the financial stability of the marriage with the Wife mainly taking care of the household duties, until the point at which her health deteriorated," and both had regularly saved through " frugal living" and contributed to the marital estate. Thus, the family court awarded Wife forty percent of the marital estate, represented by the annuity [4] in Husband's ...

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