You've all seen the Hollywood version of a trial: the bailiff solemnly orders everyone in the courtroom to rise. The judge takes the bench. The jury files in, stone-faced. The foreman hands the verdict to the clerk, who begins to read: “We the jury…” Spoiler alert: most of that is not going to happen in a South Carolina Family Court courtroom.
Our family courts are courts of equity, which means (long story short) that the parties are asking for remedies, not damages. Money and other property are certainly at issue in domestic litigation, but final decisions are made by judges, not juries. While most of our cases eventually settle, trials can and often do, happen in Family Court. In fact, our firm is currently handling a 10-day trial in a custody case in Spartanburg County as this blog goes to publication.
So, what does a trial in Family Court look like? First, by the time your case reaches trial, a couple things will have happened. Most cases have what is known as a Temporary Hearing soon after the case is filed. The Temporary Hearing is pretty much what it sounds like: a judge decides certain issues on a temporary basis (like custody, visitation, child support, or alimony). Those issues and any others held over by the Court are still subject to a final hearing or “trial.”
Also, by statute, all contested cases must be mediated before a final hearing can be requested. That means that the parties and their attorneys will attend mediation with a neutral third party and attempt to resolve some or all of the contested issues. This process, which has been written about elsewhere on the blog, can save expense and headache. But sometimes the issues are too complicated, or the parties' positions are too far apart, and mediation just doesn't work. In that event, your case will proceed to trial.
Remember, only the judge hears evidence in Family Court. The parties will of course testify. If custody is at issue, a Guardian ad Litem will have been appointed for your child, to represent his or her best interests. The Guardian's report and testimony will be heard by the Court, in order to assist the Judge in deciding what is in the child's best interests. If property division is at issue, evidence will be presented as to the values of the various assets and debts, as well as to whom the property should be awarded. If a fault-based ground for divorce has been alleged, evidence will be presented as to why the innocent party should be granted a divorce.
Trials in Family Court typically last a day or so, especially if the parties have come to an agreement on any of the issues since the Temporary Hearing was held. However, no two trials are alike, and the Family Court trial experience is unique in South Carolina. It is certainly unlike anything you've seen in the movies.
Our attorneys have tried many cases in Family Courts all across South Carolina and we are here to help you navigate your case no matter how daunting the path may seem. Don't let fear or uncertainty eat away at the foundation of your future. Contact us today at (864) 598-9172 or by clicking here to schedule a time to talk to us today.