South Carolina Supreme Court promulgates rules for rules to show cause in family court

Posted Monday, April 30th, 2012 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Contempt/Enforcement of Orders, Family Court Procedure, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Specific

On April 30, 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court finally created the long-awaited, oft-deferred family court rules for the handling of rules to show cause.  Those rules are now set forth in South Carolina Rule of Family Court 14.

This new rule establishes formal procedures regarding rules to show cause.  Most of these changes merely codify existing case law or rules of civil procedure.  However, there are a few important changes or clarifications.

The supporting affidavit or verified petition must now “identify the court order, decree or judgment which the responding party has allegedly violated, the specific act(s) or omission(s) which constitute contempt, and the specific relief which the moving party is seeking.” Rule 14(c), SCRFC.  Due process would have appeared to have required such notice but previously such information was sometimes lacking in the affidavit or petition.

Rules to show cause now have to be served ten days before the hearing unless the court order issuing the rule specifies otherwise.  Rule 14(d), SCRFC.  Rules may now be served “by any other person not less than eighteen (18) years of age, not an attorney in or a party to the action.” Rule 14(e), SCRFC. While the language in this rule is unclear whether rules to show cause must be personally served or may be served on a household resident of suitable age and discretion as allowed under Rule 4(d)(1), SCRCP, the notes to Rule 14(e), SCRFC clarify this, stating, “the rule to show cause and supporting affidavit or verified petition are to be served by personal delivery upon the responding party.”

One provision deals with returns to rules to show cause: “If at the contempt proceeding the responding party intends to seek counsel fees and costs, or other appropriate relief permitted by law, then he shall serve a return to the rule to show cause prior to the commencement of the hearing, unless a Family Court judge requires a return to be served at some other time.” Rule 14(f), SCRFC. Left unresolved is how long prior to the commencement of the hearing such a return must be served.  Is service as the parties are walking into the courtroom sufficient?

Finally, the new rule makes reply testimony discretionary, whereas I would have previously considered it mandatory if requested.  See Rule 14(g), SCRFC, “If requested, the Court may allow reply testimony.”

While providing needed clarity in the procedure for family court rules to show cause, these new rules have obvious ambiguities that could have and should have been resolved before they issued.

8 thoughts on South Carolina Supreme Court promulgates rules for rules to show cause in family court

  1. John Robinson says:

    I will never forget the first time I explained to a brilliant lawyer from a top-20 law school, fresh to SC, that there was no rule number in the SCRCP or SCRFC that formed the basis for a Rule to Show Cause in the Family Court, other than the vagaries of Rule 27. I just got a blank stare in return.
    I am also glad they fixed the service issue- this was a constant procedural headache with rules, although as you point out, we may have substituted one ambiguity for another.
    Better yet would have been an explicit rule that would have clarified (a) whether an RTSC is a stand-alone action (as it sometimes is couched by practitioners) ; and (b) whether an RTSC entitles parties to discovery.

  2. Megan says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this — mostly because I have a RTSC to defend next week.

    (1) Do you think that denying the respondent the ability to offer reply testimony raises any due process concerns, particularly since jail is an available sanction?

    (2) This one plagued me before Rule 14 — since only 10 days notice is required, how can motions affecting the Rule be properly filed and served?
    For example, if a RTSC is served on the last day for proper service, and the respondent would like to file a motion for a more definitive statement (which is frequently needed when the RTSC is filed by a self-represented party) or to dismiss or whatever, there is not enough time to properly serve the motion before the hearing. Would the Court then be left with the options of (a) continuing the Rule and associated motion, or (b) ruling on the motion and disregarding the notice requirement?

    1. Megan says:

      Nevermind question #1. I just went and re-read Rule 14. I see that the discretion deals with Petitioner’s ability to reply to defense testimony.

  3. Linda says:

    I notice in reading Rule 14 that in the “Note” section below (e) Service, it specifies that it has to be served “by personal delivery upon the responding party”.

    1. Linda,

      You are correct. I should have read the note to 14(e), which clarifies the ambiguity in the rule itself. I have corrected this in my blog.

  4. Julie says:

    My husband was mailed an RTSC package by his ex’s lawyer. We wrote up a response to each allegation and mailed it certified mail on Fri. The thing I can’t figure out is: will the judge read his response before the hearing (no papers have been served on him as of yet so we have no hearing date)?

  5. Dee says:

    The problem now created though is how to serve a respondent oweing support who dodges service? At which attempt do you call it Due Process? And where do you go from there?

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