What portions of foreign domestic relations orders are enforceable in South Carolina Family Court?

When an opposing party lives or has assets in South Carolina, it can often be more effective to enforce a foreign state’s domestic relations order in South Carolina than to enforce it in the state where it was issued.  If the party against whom the order is being enforced no longer lives in the issuing state, that party–realizing the issuing state has little power over him or her–might well ignore enforcement attempts in that state.  Thus, in a mobile society, a significant part of family law practice involves enforcing the domestic relations orders of other states.

Almost always these enforcement issues fall into one of three broad categories: 1) obtaining control of a child–custody and visitation; 2) obtaining support obligations–child support and alimony; and 3) obtaining compliance with marital property and debt division.  One might think that family court is the proper place to enforce all foreign domestic relations orders. In South Carolina, that’s not necessarily the case.

“The family court is a statutory court created by the legislature and, therefore, is of limited jurisdiction… Its jurisdiction is limited to that expressly or by necessary implication conferred by statute.”  In re, Shaquille O’Neal B., 385 S.C. 243, 684 S.E.2d 549, 552, n. 2 (2009).  The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has specific procedures to enforce foreign state’s custody and visitation orders.  S.C. Code § 63-15-350, et seq.  The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) has specific procedures to enforce foreign state’s child support and alimony orders. S.C. Code § 63-17-3610, et seq.  Thus, it’s clear that foreign orders involving child custody and visitation and child support and alimony can be enforced in family court.

However, domestic relations orders that divide spouses’ assets and debts result in judgement.  There is a South Carolina statute detailing how to register foreign judgments for enforcement, the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. S.C. Code § 15-35-900, et seq.  That statute allows foreign judgments to be filed with a county clerk of court and docketed and indexed in the same manner as a South Carolina judgment. S.C. Code § 15-35-920.  Nowhere is this act is there any indication that foreign domestic relations judgments that have been registered may be enforced in the family court.

There are no reported South Carolina cases discussing whether foreign orders that divide marital property and debt can be enforced in the family court.  However, given that family court requires statutory authority, I suspect, counterintuitive as it may appear, that only the circuit court can enforce such foreign orders.


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