South Carolina Family Court Statutory Contempt Powers

Many people contact a South Carolina family law attorney when the adult opposing party is allegedly not complying with an Order that a Family Court Judge has signed, wondering what can be done to get the other party to obey the Order.  Examples include, but are not limited to, not paying child support, denying visitation, not paying alimony, exposing the minor child or children to persons prohibited by the Order, and other such situations.  Though it is not proper to give broad-stroke legal advice, as each individual situation is different and extremely fact specific, the Family Court Judge has statutory authority (this means that the South Carolina legislature has created a law, as opposed to Judge made caselaw) to punish an adult found to be in willful contempt of a valid Family Court Order.  An adult found in willful contempt of court may be punished by a fine, by a public works sentence (read: community service of some type), or by imprisonment in a local detention facility (probably your county jail), or by any combination of them, in the discretion of the court, but not to exceed imprisonment in a local detention center for one year, a fine of fifteen hundred dollars, or public works sentence of more than three hundred hours, or any combination of them.

This can be difficult to read and fully comprehend in a long sentence, so I will sort it out for convenience.  Possible penalties by statute for an adult willfully violating, neglecting, or refusing to obey a lawful order of the Family Court, at the discretion of the presiding Family Court Judge:

1) A fine of up to one-thousand five-hundred and 0/100 dollars ($1,500.00);

and/or

2) Up to three hundred (300) hours of community service;

and/or

3) Up to one (1) year in jail.

The “and/or” above is there for a reason – a Family Court Judge can potentially sentence an adult in willful contempt to all three of these!  In short, this statute gives the Family Court’s Orders pretty sharp teeth.

The United States Supreme Court has recently, as of this writing, issued a ruling as to findings a Judge must make prior to finding an alleged contemnor (the person who is brought before the court and accused of violating the Court’s valid order) in willful contempt (the Supreme Court case arose from facts involving the issue of non-payment of child support), so it is important to consult with a licensed South Carolina Family law attorney to discuss your particular situation prior to “jumping to any conclusions.”  There are also numerous procedural steps that need to be “checked and followed” prior to ever getting before a Judge to ensure the best chance of success in these matters.

If you would like to speak with an attorney from our firm concerning your South Carolina family law matter, please call us at (843) 474-0614 or (800) 996-0683.

Lee Law Firm, LLC is a South Carolina based law firm that advocates for and counsels clients throughout South Carolina and its Low Country, primarily in Beaufort and Jasper counties (including Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Daufuskie Island, Ridgeland, Callawassie Island, Okatie, Hardeeville, and Beaufort).

Why hire an attorney to help me in my family law case?

A lot of people, particularly in these tough economic times, certainly wonder why hiring an experienced family law attorney in a family law case matters.  Though the reasons are arguably countless, I have gathered a few of my top thoughts for your consideration:

1) The other party’s attorney is not your attorney.  An attorney in a family law matter represents one side, not both.  How can an attorney truly advise each party as to what steps he or she should take if the attorney’s loyalties are divided?  You need someone to look after your interests.

2) A huge portion of this firm’s clients did not have an attorney in an initial matter, especially dealing with children, and are left with either the proverbial “short end” of the stick utilizing an agreement drafted by the opposing side’s attorney without the benefit of “friendly review” (see number 1 above) or with an agreement that is obviously from a website or store bought package.  These versions rarely address the contingencies and matters that seem unexpected to someone who does not “do this for a living.”  While it is nearly impossible to draft for all contingencies and life changing events, an experienced family law attorney should have enough experience to provide you with guidance as to terms and provisions to include that protect your interests based on your concerns now and in the future.  It is often better to pay a bit more now than to wait until something goes wrong with a store or internet bought agreement and have to pay a lot then to fix it.

3) It is our belief that a good family law attorney should not only be willing and able to fight for your cause, but he or she should also be willing and able to provide you with solid advice and counsel as to how to approach the issues and events that occur, discuss possible settlement, to prepare you for any court appearances, and to be a sounding board for your ideas and concerns with your best interests in mind.  Good counsel can be invaluable.  Also, family law cases are unique creatures – your friend in a different state that went through a divorce and custody battle may seem qualified to give you advice, but family law cases are often extremely fact specific and domestic laws vary by state, such that listening to someone unqualified to give advice is often a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

4) An experienced family law attorney will be able to focus on your case while you focus on your job and life.  Though it is nearly impossible to block out a family law matter completely, having an attorney to assist allows a client to concentrate on work, family, relationships, health, and other such matters while the attorney does what he or she is trained to do.

If you would like to speak with an attorney from our firm concerning your family law matter, please call us at (843) 474-0614 or (800) 996-0683.

Lee Law Firm, LLC is a South Carolina based law firm that advocates for and counsels clients throughout South Carolina and its Low Country, primarily in Beaufort and Jasper counties (including Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Daufuskie Island, Ridgeland, Callawassie Island, Okatie, Hardeeville, and Beaufort).