Family Court, SC – Timeline of Proceedings

South Carolina Family Court Timeline – this is a rundown of a typical Family Court life span, along with the typical issues breaking the chain. It is especially helpful for those who wish to do a little homework before consulting with an attorney.

Note, that this information should not be construed as advice, but merely to illustrate the Family Court process as I typically see it.

1. A Family Court case starts with the filing of a summons and complaint (attorney’s also generally have a verification signed that states their client believes what is stated in the complaint is true). The complaint asks for what is is that your are seeking and the summons requires the opposition to respond to your request(s).

Generally, a motion for temporary relief is attached, this is where you ask for the relief requested pending a trial on the matters. No contest divorces are a common type of action where no motion for temporary relief is requested.

When filed, you leave the original and all copies with the clerk of court. They are assigned an action number and if a motion was filed, a court date is set. If you provide a return envelope they will mail the pleadings back after the motion date and action numbers are filled in.

2. Service (5-10 business days before the temporary hearing, otherwise, immediately) – the pleadings then must be served on the opposing party. If there is a motion, there are time limits to service as they must be served the requisite number of days before the Hearing. For example, notice and motion for temporary relief must be served five (5) business days before the Hearing.

The summons and complaint are generally served directly to the person, or to an adult at their home. The opposition has thirty (30) days to answer the complaint. When filing an answer (or a reply to a counterclaim), you leave the original with the Court while retained stamped copies of the same to serve and for the file.

3. Temporary Hearings (held 3 or 4 weeks after filing) – the orders from the Hearings should be done immediately after the Hearing. The Court will generally order one party to write the proposed order while giving the opposition an opportunity to suggest proposed changes. After sending the proposed order, the amount of time to respond before submission to the Judge should be explicit.

One copy of the proposed order should be sent to the Judge. The clerk will provide signed copies to the parties after the Court files it.

4. Discovery (immediately after the temporary hearing) – after the temporary hearing, parties may engage in discovery. Discovery is where you request information or documents from the other party. Note that discovery is only available once ordered (generally at a temporary hearing).

You generally have thirty (30) days to answer a discovery request although most attorney’s will give you more time if you request more time.

5. Mediation (immediately after discovery or if none, immediately after the temporary hearing) – after discovery has completed, or if the parties do not conduct discovery, the parties mediate. Mediation is where a person trained to help parties reach a compromise try to do just that. Most cases resolve during or after mediation. In some counties, mediation is mandatory before you can request a trial.

6. Final Hearing (Agreement) – once the parties have reached an agreement they generally are able to request a short, fifteen (15) minute hearing to get it approved by the Court. The only exceptions have to do with statutory waiting periods, like ninety (90) days when asking for a divorce on fault grounds or one year when using irreconcilable differences. You can generally get this Hearing set three or four weeks after it has been requested.

7. Trial – If the parties haven’t been able to reach an agreement then they proceed to trial. You have 365 days from the date of filing to request a trial or the clerk will dismiss your case, so it is important to move through the steps diligently.

Once requested, the date of your trial will depend on how much time you require. The more time you need the more difficult it will be to get the case set quickly.

Cases are also assigned a priority. The clerk will often set three (3) cases at once and assign a priority. This means that the second and third in-line may not be called if the first case goes to trial; on the other hand, if the cases ahead are settled or continued then your case will be called. In the event your case doesn’t move forward it will be reset another day while also moving up in priority.

Typical Issues breaking the timeline

1. Second temporary hearings – many cases have more than one temporary hearing. These happen when something changes in the case or the Judge orders a second one after deciding there wasn’t enough information available to decide the first one. It should be clear as to this possibility immediately after the first temporary hearing.

2. Guardian investigations – in child custody cases there is generally a Guardian ad litem appointed to investigate and report to the Court as to the best interests of a child. In these instances, it wouldn’t be prudent to mediate until the investigation is complete considering the report sets the stage for negotiations.
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Please remember that each case is unique. If you have any questions about Family Court proceedings or Family Law in general, we urge you to contact us. In order to be flexible and convenient, we have open office hours, easy appointment scheduling, and payment plans available. Call today and schedule your free confidential consultation.

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