How to Enforce South Carolina Family Court Orders
Regardless of whether your family court order was the result of a long, contested family court trial or an agreement that was approved and adopted by the judge after attending mediation with your opposing party, the order must be followed by both parties to avoid allegations of contempt. Most family court orders contain provisions requiring one or both parties to do certain things such as pay alimony or child support, divide assets by a certain formula, or abide by a particular schedule for parenting time, etc. But what happens when one party refuses to follow the instructions of the order issued by the judge? Unfortunately, this type of behavior happens much more than it should in family court cases, and below are some steps potential clients should consider when seeking to enforce family court orders.
DOCUMENT EXAMPLES OF NONCOMPLIANCE
First, it is imperative that you document each example of non-compliance by the other party. Sometimes this can be the hardest step to take because it can involve having to communicate with the other party, which won’t always be pleasant with someone determined not to follow the court order.
If your family court order contains continuing obligations, such as child support or child custody and the other party is not complying timely, document this by sending them a reminder of their obligations and when they were due. Email works great in these situations, as it is easy to document the date and time that the message was sent. Texting may be another option.
This communication shows the court that you are attempting to resolve the lack of compliance without having to drag everyone back to court for a resolution. You should avoid including personal attacks, name-calling, or referencing past bad behaviors that are not related to the current issue. Use straightforward, non-emotional language, such as:
This is a reminder that our divorce decree requires you make monthly child support payments directly to me in the amount of $____ on or by the 5th of each month. I have not yet received this month’s payment, which is now ___ days late. Please let me know when I can expect this payment from you.
You should send this documentation of failing to comply in writing and you should save a copy for your files, along with the method of delivery to the other party (i.e., text, email, US Mail, etc.). Having the demand for compliance in writing demonstrates to the court that you are making a good faith effort to maintain compliance with the other party before taking any kind of official legal action.
Do not offer any threats if the non-compliance continues, for example, withholding parenting time or holiday visits. This will not help your case when you file your enforcement action with the family court. Also, the other party’s failure to comply with an order does not give you the ability to do the same. For example, the failure to pay child support does not mean that the other parent loses access to the child for visitation.
Do not use social media or any public forum for a public shaming platform of the other party. Everything you post or communicate to others about the situation can and will be used against you when your case goes to court, and family judges are not impressed by a person who attempts to embarrass or harass another party into submission.
CONSULT WITH A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY
Second, when the other party does not respond to your request or refuses to comply with the family court order, schedule a consultation with an experienced family law attorney in your area. Sometimes it takes an attorney’s involvement to get the other party to finally comply with the order. The attorney can also explain the contempt process to you, along with the expected costs and risks involved, so that you can have the information to make an educated decision about how to proceed.
FILE A CONTEMPT ACTION IN FAMILY COURT
Third, if you are still unable to get the other party to comply with your court order, you may be left with no option but to file a contempt action in family court. In most cases, your attorney will request that the court require the other party to reimburse your legal fees for having to file this action, and it is not uncommon for the court to do so, especially if the other person’s contempt was willful.
If you have followed the earlier steps and documented each step of the pre-litigation process to ensure compliance, you will have maximized your chances of getting reimbursed for your litigation expenses. The family court will generally be more willing to award attorney’s fees to a party when they must bring someone back into court for an enforcement or contempt action, especially when you have proof you’ve done everything in your power to avoid the litigation process.
Ben Stevens is a Fellow and First Vice President in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over a quarter of a century, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. He and his team are well-equipped to handle all family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman, one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the United States, serves dynamic businesses, individuals and families. With 16 offices and nearly 250 lawyers who counsel clients across more than 30 areas of practice, Offit Kurman helps maximize and protect business value and personal wealth by providing innovative and entrepreneurial counsel that focuses on clients’ business objectives, interests and goals. The firm is distinguished by the quality, breadth and global reach of its legal services and a unique operational structure that encourages a culture of collaboration. For more information, visit www.offitkurman.com.
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