Supreme Court changes Family Court 365 day benchmark administrative order

On August 27, 2014 the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an administrative order superseding the May 9, 2006 order that set the 365 day benchmark to dispose of family court cases. The new order is more detailed and provides guidance to family law attorneys and litigants.

Under the new order, written requests for a final hearing need to be “delivered” to the court clerk within 365 days to prevent the case from being administratively dismissed. Previously, the clerk would send out 365 day benchmark notices when the case was more than a year old and the parties would have one month to request a final hearing or a pre-trial. Now the onus in on attorneys or pro se litigants to request the final hearing before the year elapses. In mandatory mediation counties, such as Charleston, one assumes mediation will need to occur before the request for final hearing can be submitted. Thus one needs to be thinking about setting mediation well before the year elapses.

The new order clarifies that such dismissals are without prejudice. The December 2009 version of form order SCCA 469 [the form administrative judges utilized to comply with the 365 day benchmark to administratively dismiss a case] noted this but the Supreme Court’s May 9, 2006 administrative order did not.

Under the new order, “[o]nce a case older than 365 days has been scheduled for a final hearing, only the Chief Administrative Judge for the circuit or county may continue it, even if the request for continuance is received by the assigned judge during the week of trial…. If a case is continued for any reason past 365 days, the Order of Continuance must include a time and date rescheduling the case.”

The new order is explicit that “any existing orders in the affected case file which were not final will be considered null and void and no longer subject to enforcement by this court (including, but not limited to, the enforcement and collection of child support and/or alimony), with any support arrearages being thereby dismissed.” The December 2009 version of form order SCCA 469 noted orders from administratively dismissed cases were unenforceable and arrearages were dismissed but the Supreme Court’s May 9, 2006 administrative order was silent on this issue. This new administrative order clarifies that final orders in such cases (typically findings of contempt from rules to show cause) remain valid.

There are a few cases in which one party would be happy for it to be dismissed under the 365 day benchmark. For the other, vast majority, of cases one should probably docket the matter to set mediation nine months after the case is filed (unless it is court ordered or already taken place) and docket the matter to request a final hearing shortly before the year elapses. This will prevent cases from being dismissed through inadvertence.

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