Agreements and Court Orders in Family Court: What You Need to Know
When it comes to family court, there is always a lot to consider, especially for families and individuals who cannot afford to litigate every issue from start to finish. Agreements made between the parties, with their attorneys’ guidance and advice, can often be a great way to make the process more efficient in divorce, child custody, and other family court cases. These agreements can be enforced by the court once they become legally binding court orders.
One question often posed by clients is what types of agreements are eligible to become court orders? Let’s look at what you need to know about agreements and court orders in South Carolina’s family courts.
Types of Agreements that Become Court Orders
In South Carolina, there are a variety of agreements that can become legally enforceable court orders. Every family is different, and every family may approach divorce, support, and child custody issues differently based on more variables than I could ever discuss in one article. Therefore, in theory, the types of potential agreements are innumerable, but they can be categorized into certain types of agreements based on typical issues that are outlined in those agreements.
These issues typically include agreements about alimony, child support, child custody and visitation (sometimes referred to as Parenting Plan Agreements), and division of assets and/or debts. All these types of agreements must be approved by a family court judge before they become enforceable by the Court. It’s important to note that no agreement will be approved by the Court if it doesn’t meet certain criteria, so even if an agreement is in writing, if it is not approved by the Court, typically, it will not be enforced by the Court.
The Process of Turning an Agreement into a Court Order
Once both parties have agreed upon the terms of their agreement, their attorneys will work together, sometimes with a mediator’s assistance, to draft the Agreement terms into a formal document that will be reviewed by the parties and signed in the presence of their attorneys. The attorneys will request either a hearing or, in some cases, permission from the Court to submit a Consent Order without a hearing, so the Judge can review the proposed Court Order with the Agreement terms.
Assuming the Judge finds that it meets all applicable legal requirements under South Carolina law, they will sign it and forward it to the Clerk’s office for filing in the Court’s file. Once these steps have been completed and the Order is provided (or served) on the parties, it becomes a legally binding court order. This means that both parties are held accountable and are liable for abiding by its terms and conditions, as well as subject to consequences for not abiding by its terms.
Enforcing Family Court Orders
If one party does not abide by any of the terms of the agreement – and therefore violates the court order – the other party may file a contempt action with the family court seeking enforcement of the order and asking consequences be imposed against the offending party for having to involve the Court to ensure enforcement. This action must explain why enforcement is necessary and provide evidence that demonstrates why enforcement should be granted by the Court. If successful, this could result in punitive measures such as fines, community service, and/or jail time being imposed on those who violate their obligations under this order. The offending party could also be ordered to pay the attorney and court fees of the party who filed the action.
It’s important to remember, however, just because an Order is not followed, for a person to be punished in family court for not doing so, it must be proven that the person willingly violated the Order. If there is any evidence that they could not follow it for any reason that was outside of their control, the Court may find that the noncompliance was not willful and, therefore may choose not to issue any contempt finding or issue any punitive consequences against them. Before filing a Contempt Action in family court, you should discuss the facts of your particular case with an experienced family court attorney. This type of action is often what we refer to as a “bridge burner”, especially in cases where two parents must co-parent with each over long periods of time. Parents should be held to court orders and agreements, but it’s important to exhaust all avenues of ensuring compliance with court orders outside of the courtroom before taking the step of asking for the Court’s involvement.
Family law matters can be complicated and difficult for everyone involved, especially when it comes to reaching agreements between the parties to move forward with their lives in some way or another. This is doubly so when children are involved, and the parties are expected to co-parent with each other over long periods of time. In South Carolina, these agreements can be enforced through family courts as legally binding court orders if they meet all applicable legal requirements under the law and are approved by a judge.
Thus, knowing what types of agreements can become family court orders is essential for anyone considering bringing their case before a South Carolina family law judge in order to find ways to minimize the number of contested issues a judge must decide for the parties. By understanding how these orders work, how they should be properly drafted and presented to the Court, and how they are enforced, individuals will gain valuable insight into how best to approach their case and how best to work with their attorney to ensure their family court case is handled as cost-effectively and amicably as possible.
If you and your spouse are separating, and you intend to get a divorce, any agreements you reach together will be interpreted and enforced according to your state’s laws. Agreeing to things without advice from an experienced family court attorney helping you may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has represented parents in Family Court cases all across South Carolina for well over twenty-five years. If you or someone you know is facing separation, divorce, child custody, or other family law case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.
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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.
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