South Carolina Family Court Records
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What are South Carolina Family Court Records?
South Carolina family court records refer to all documented information, regardless of its storage medium, that details proceedings relating to the state’s family courts. These records include but are not limited to, depositions, witness testimonies, motions filed and court judgments. As defined by the South Carolina Code of Laws Title 30 Chapter 4, these records are public records and thus may be requested by any interested member of the public.
What is a Family Court in South Carolina?
The state of South Carolina operates a unified court system that consists of two Appellate Courts, the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals, as well as several Trial Courts which include the Circuit, Family, Probate, Magistrate and Municipal Courts. Pursuant to South Carolina Code of Laws Title 63 Chapter 3, the Family Courts have general jurisdiction over all domestic and family relationships matters. These courts are spread across the state’s 16 judicial circuits, and at least one Family Court can be found in each of the state’s counties. Appeals from the family courts are typically heard at the state’s Court of Appeals. However, appeals from cases involving an abortion by a minor are exclusively heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
What Cases are Heard by South Carolina Family Courts?
In accordance with statutory law, South Carolina Family Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving domestic and family relationships and also over cases involving minors accused of violating state laws or municipal ordinances. Typically, the family courts hear cases which involve:
- Legal separation
- Marriage annulment and divorce
- Adoption and termination of parental rights
- Child support and alimony
- Division of marital property
- Child custody and visitation rights
- Child neglect and abandonment
- Change of name
The Family Courts may transfer cases that involve minors indicted with serious criminal charges to the state’s circuit courts. In addition to this, South Carolina Family Courts also share concurrent jurisdiction with the magistrate and municipal courts in cases that involve minors involved in traffic and wildlife violations.
How to Serve Family Court Papers in South Carolina
Interested parties who wish to serve family court papers in South Carolina may initiate the process by filling and submitting a Family Court Cover Sheet, along with the original copies of the case summons and complaint at the office of the appropriate Clerk of Court for filing. It should be noted that a fee is typically charged for filing these documents. In the South Carolina judicial branch, a summons is issued by either the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney. In accordance with the South Carolina judicial branch Civil Procedure Rule 4, the act of serving papers, or service of process as it is officially referred to, may be performed by a sheriff, a sheriff’s deputy or any other law enforcement officer and/or court designated party above the age of 17, excluding parties to the case/action. Members of the public who wish to serve family court papers in this state may do so through any of the following means:
- The County Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff or a sheriff’s deputy in the county of residence of the defendant may serve family court papers on behalf of an interested party. After the service of the process has been completed, the sheriff or sheriff’s deputy is required to complete and return a notarized affidavit stating that the papers have or have not been duly served to the appropriate party. The original copy of this affidavit should be filed by the interested party at the office of the clerk of the court where the original case was filed. To aid members of the public who wish to utilize this method for serving family court papers, the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association maintains an online directory with contact information for all the county sheriffs’ offices. It should be noted that a fee is typically charged for this service. However, in cases where a motion for In Forma Pauperis has been granted by the court, this fee is waived.
- U.S Mail or Commercial Delivery Service.
Interested parties who are unable to serve family court papers via the sheriff’s office may do so through this method. When utilizing this method, members of the public are required to request for a return receipt card or delivery record that indicates that the papers have been duly served. When the return receipt card or delivery record has been returned, the interested party should complete and notarize an Affidavit of Mailing, which should then be filed at the office of the clerk of the court where the case was filed, along with the return receipt card or the delivery record.
- Private Process Server.
Interested parties who wish to serve family court papers may also utilize the services of private process servers, in accordance with South Carolina statutory law. Upon completion of the service of process, these process servers are required to complete and notarize an affidavit stating that the court papers have been duly served to the appropriate party. This affidavit should then be filed at the office of the court of clerk where the case was filed.
- Service by Publication.
This method involves publishing a notice in newspapers to alert the party to whom the family court records are intended to be served. Interested parties who wish to perform the service of process via this method are required to file a Petition for Order by Publication at the court where the case was filed. This petition may be granted by the court if it determines that all other methods of serving these papers have been fully explored and exhausted.
What Is Contempt of Court in Family Law in South Carolina?
In the state of South Carolina, contempt of court generally falls under two categories, Direct Contempt, and Constructive Contempt. Direct contempt of court involves disrespectful acts and/or acts that may maliciously hinder court proceedings, which occur during court sessions, such as the verbal abuse of a spouse or court official during court proceedings. Constructive contempt of court refers to acts that take place outside the presence of the court, and are contrary to the court’s orders, decrees and/or judgments. These include, but are not limited to:
- The refusal/failure of a spouse to pay alimony and/or child support
- Denial of child visitation rights
In accordance with the South Carolina judicial branch family court procedure rule 14, contempt of court proceedings in cases of constructive contempt of court can only commence after a rule to show cause has been initiated and issued, usually by a family court judge. When issued, the responding party is required to appear in court on a stipulated date, to provide reasons that show cause why the said party should not be held in contempt of court. A rule to show cause may only be issued when there is a supporting petition or affidavit which clearly identifies the court orders allegedly being violated by the responding party. This affidavit should also contain the specific act which constitutes the alleged act of contempt of court as well as the specific relief the initiating party seeks to obtain.
Pursuant to South Carolina Code of Laws Title 63 Chapter 3, adults who are found in contempt of court may be punished by either a fine not exceeding $1,500, a public works sentence of not more than 300 hours or a maximum of 1 year’s imprisonment in a local detention facility. A combination of these penalties may also be imposed.
Are Family Court Records Public in South Carolina?
According to the South Carolina Code of Laws Title 30 Chapter 4, public records are defined as all documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which are prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body. By this definition, family court records are public records and therefore may be requested and/or copied by interested members of the public. However, given the sensitive nature of the cases handled by family courts, access to some of these court records is severely restricted and may only be granted to authorized requestors. In the South Carolina judicial branch, all cases involving juveniles as well as cases involving child abuse and neglect are considered confidential and may only be accessed by authorized parties which include, but are not limited to, the child/juvenile’s attorneys, law enforcement officials, staff of the state department of social services and local child protective services agencies and parties legal responsible for the child’s care.
In addition to this, the state of South Carolina also automatically seals all family court records for cases that involve abortions for minors, adoption, and termination of parental rights. These records can only be accessed by interested parties who have obtained an appropriate court order authorizing the unsealing of the required records.
Are South Carolina Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?
South Carolina divorce records are generally considered public records and may be requested by members of the public. However, in some cases, a motion to seal a divorce record may be granted by the court. This usually occurs in cases that involve sensitive information involving a minor, such as allegations of child neglect and child sexual abuse. In addition to this, a family court judge may also grant a motion to seal a divorce record if it is perceived to contain highly inflammatory accusations against a named party or if it contains proprietary business information.
How Do I Find Divorce Records in South Carolina?
In the state of South Carolina, the clerks of court are the record custodians for divorce records. Interested parties who wish to access and/or obtain copies of these records may do so by contacting the clerk of court for the family court where the case was filed. In addition to this, divorce records for divorces that occurred between July 1962—December 2016 may also be obtained at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control located at 2600 Bull Street, Columbia, SC 29201. Interested parties who wish to obtain copies of divorce records from the SCDHEC will be required to complete a Vital Records Divorce Application Form which can be submitted in person or mailed to
DHEC Vital Records
2600 Bull Street
Columbia, SC 29201
It should be noted that the state of South Carolina charges a fee for obtaining copies of divorce records. This fee is usually calculated by the number of copies required. Interested parties who wish to obtain these records will also be required to provide a valid government issued photo ID. In addition to this, the state of South Carolina only issues certified copies of divorce records to either a party named on the record, a present or former spouse of either named party, an adult child of the named parties or a legal representative of either party. Interested requestors who wish to obtain copies of divorce records and do not belong to any of the aforementioned categories may be provided with a statement of the divorce.
Additionally, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
How to Access Family Law Cases in South Carolina
Members of the public who wish to access family law cases may do so in person at the office of the record custodian for the case in question. In addition to this, members of the public may also access family law records online through the Case Records Search database provided by the South Carolina judicial branch.
Family Court Records can include marriage records and divorce records. These records contain personal information of those involved and their maintenance is critical should anyone involved wish to make changes. Because of this both marriage and divorce records can be considered more difficult to locate and obtain than other public records, and may not be available through government sources or third party public record websites.
How to Request Family Court Records in South Carolina
The state of South Carolina is divided into 16 judicial circuits, which have various family courts spread out across them. Therefore, members of the public who wish to request copies of family court records must first determine the particular court where the case in question was filed. Once this has been established, interested parties may request for these records via the following means:
- In Person or By Mail
As mentioned earlier, the records custodian for family court records in the state of South Carolina is typically the clerks of court. Therefore, interested parties who wish to obtain these records may do so by either visiting the office of the record custodian in person or by sending a written request. To aid requestors with this process, the South Carolina judicial branch maintains an online clerk of court directory which contains up to date information on all the state’s clerks of court. Interested parties who wish to send in a written request for these records are advised to include as much case information as possible, so as to aid the record custodian in locating the necessary records. It is important to note that parties who wish to request for these records may be required to pay a search fee. Additional fees may also be required when obtaining copies of these records. This fee is usually calculated by the number of copies requested.
- Online Requests
Interested parties may request for family court records online through third party aggregate sites. These websites can locate and obtain court records on behalf of the requestor, in accordance with statutory law. Interested parties who wish to utilize this method will be required to provide the location of the record in question as well as the name(s) of any parties involved. It should be noted that, in addition to the fees charged by the courts for searching for and obtaining copies of family court records, third party aggregate sites may also charge an additional service fee.
Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.