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);


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


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).