How to Enforce a Family Court Order in South Carolina?

Rule to Show Cause

Worried your Ex might not comply with a family court order? Compliance with divorce decrees, child custody orders, and similar agreements is a valid concern. Though there are not many prospective remedies available to ensure compliance with a court order or agreement, there is a specific enforcement mechanism called a Rule to Show Cause that helps aggrieved parties achieve compliance with the court order. 

A Rule to Show Cause pressures a party in violation of a court order to become compliant with the order’s terms. It asks the judge to exercise contempt power over the violating party until he or she complies with the order. Contempt is an acknowledgement of the Court that the violator has impeded on the functions of the court process with ill intentions. 

When a judge holds someone in contempt, the violator could receive a fine or be held in jail until he or she agrees to comply with the court order. In family court, Rule to Show Cause is especially powerful due to the sanctions authorized under S.C. Code § 63-3-620 because the jail time can reach up to one year and the fines issued by the court can be up to $1,500. The judge also has the power to force the violating party to do community service for up to 300 hours. The most coercive method to obtain compliance is often an award of the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees and costs for bringing the Rule to Show Cause before the court. 

The rules for filing a Rule to Show Cause is that there is a specific court order that is clear and specific to the conduct. Then, there must be evidence the conduct violated the order. Failing to pay child support or alimony, for instance. The offender’s actions must also be “willful” meaning he or she intended to violate the order. Under this standard, willfulness can be subjectively shown.

There are some pro tips to keep in mind. For starters, it is very difficult to violate an order that requires “reasonable visitation” because the conduct that is violative cannot necessarily be interpreted from the order – so make sure your agreements are specific. There are also alternatives when there is the potential for irreparable harm, called an injunction, which might be necessary to prevent certain conduct. A lawyer can help you determine the best course. 

Filing of Rule to Show Cause

Typically, a Rule to Show Cause is started by filing an initial complaint or petition with the court to set a hearing to hear the aggrieved party’s reasons for attempting to hold the violating party in contempt. The complaint or petition document must include the following statements:

  • A Request for a Rule to Show Cause Hearing to be scheduled;
  • Specific facts (allegations) that lead to the need for a contempt hearing before the court;
  • Request for relief; and 
  • Supporting affidavit of the aggrieved party which restates the facts and specific court order that is the basis of the claim against the violator. 

Once a Rule to Show Cause has been filed, the filing must be served 10-days prior to the date the hearing will be held on. This can make for difficult execution of service because the family court in South Carolina requires personal service on the defendant. This means that you will have to serve the other party by process server or a sheriff’s deputy. There is an exception that Judges can make to the notice requirement in emergency situations. 

Rule to Show Cause Hearing

Once the complaint and motion for the Rule to Show Cause hearing has been served, there is a hearing scheduled with the court for both parties to bring forth evidence of violation of the order as well as evidence that could serve as justification of violation. This kind of hearing allows for submission of documents and live testimony for evidence. If the aggrieved party can show non-compliance with the order successfully, then the violating party must overcome the burden of proof to avoid sanctions by the Court for contempt.

How Henderson & Henderson Can Help

Filing a Rule to Show Cause can be stressful and confusing for people to navigate. Our family law attorney Caity Plocica can help you through this difficult time. If you would like to get in contact with our office, please call 843.212.3188.

Note that this is distinct from my law practice. If you are searching for personalized legal advice for your business in South Carolina, please contact me, Wesley Henderson, directly at wesley@hhlawsc.com or check out our firm’s website for more information.

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