South Carolina Family Court is not like court you see on television. In fact, in some key aspects, it’s not even like other real courts in South Carolina. Of course, any court in South Carolina will have a judge present and the rules of civil procedure and rules of evidence will apply. However, there are some key differences in South Carolina Family Court.
1. You Cannot be Granted Relief not Requested in the Pleadings
In other courts, there are situations where the court is allowed to grant relief to a party even when the party did not request it. That is not so in family court. In family court, a party can only receive the relief for which he or she asks for in writing or making an oral motion to judge court. This differs from South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c).
2. No Summary Judgment
In most courts, a party can ask the judge to rule on a case without a hearing based on the ground that there are no genuine disputed facts between the parties. South Carolina Rule of Family Court 2 repeals the applicability of South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 56, so there is no such thing as summary judgment in Family Court. This means a hearing required to bring a resolution to your case even if there is an agreement among the parties.
3. You are Allowed to Ask Leading Questions on Direct Examination
South Carolina Rule of Evidence 611(c) and the former South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 43(b)(1) say that leading questions cannot be used in direct examination, subject to some exceptions. In Family Court, however, the relaxed rules allow an attorney to ask leading questions. See South Carolina Rule of Family Court 2.
4. No Jury Trials
State and federal law grants citizens a right to a jury trial for criminal matters and for matters for damages of money. Neither of those happen in South Carolina Family Court. Due to this, all cases in the family court will be presented to a family court judge elected by our legislature, and because the family court judges “ride circuit”, you may or may not get a local judge for your hearing.
5. Default is not Default
Generally, if a party does not respond to the complaint, they lose by default and are essentially stopped from defending the case. But in our family courts, this is not the case. Even if a defending party does not respond to your complaint, you must still provide them notice of any hearing being held on the merits, as is normally the case under South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 5(a). Their failure to respond is also not deemed an admission, as it normally would be under South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 8(d). Additionally, that defendant may be heard at a merits hearing when the issue is child custody, visitation, alimony, support, equitable distribution, or attorney’s fees.
6. Admissible Evidence
As mentioned above, generally the South Carolina Rules of Evidence apply. However, South Carolina Family Court Rule 7 specifically allows five certain documents to be admitted into evidence without completely abiding by the traditional evidentiary requirement that a person issuing the statement be there to authenticate it. These are: (1) a written statement of a child’s attendance signed by the principal or duly authorized school official; (2) a school report card; (3) a written doctor’s statement showing what a patient was treated for and when the treatment was received; (4) a written report from DSS regarding a home investigation when DSS is not a party to the action; and (5) a written statement from an employer showing wages, or a W-2.
There are many specifics that come with the territory of trying cases in different courts, and you should keep these in mind whether you are an attorney or a pro se litigant. Because of these specifics, we strongly recommend that you meet with an attorney to find out where your case will be filed and what court you are going to be in. We have a team of attorneys at King Law Offices who practice regularly in the family court in South Carolina, and we would be happy to set up a free consultation at our Greer, SC office, Gaffney, SC office or by telephone to discuss the details of your case. Please give us a call at (864) 877-3355.