Though the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to slow down and limit our public interactions, daily life still continues as we find ourselves adapting to new regulations and mandates that touch every part of our communities. For those looking to file divorce or currently working through the process, changes in the South Carolina court systems may cause delays or change the process altogether. Here’s what we know:
When the first wave of COVID-19 hit in early March, businesses and organizations began to limit their hours opening or close down altogether, and courts were no exception to this. Many court hearings were postponed or rescheduled. Even now, the South Carolina Judicial Branch said the primary method for court matters should be through video conference, though there are exceptions for non-jury matters and for those who must meet in person.
Courts are operating on limited hours to abide by social distancing mandates, but may remain open to accept payments and filings, or to hold emergency hearings that can’t be done through video conferencing. You can check the hours and availability of courthouses in your area on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website.
For divorcing couples, meeting with attorneys, judges, or mediators can easily be done through video conference, so much of the process is possible to do. In April this year, the South Carolina Judicial Branch released new mandates for family court matters:
- Family courts can grant uncontested divorces without hearings if they follow the criteria listed here under (f) Family Court: “The parties submit written testimony in the form of affidavits or certifications of the parties and corroborating witnesses that address jurisdiction and venue questions, date of marriage, date of separation, the impossibility of reconciliation and the alleged divorce grounds.”
- The same document states that settlement agreements and general, temporary, and final consent orders can be resolved without a hearing if they follow the criteria listed under (f)(2).
- For those who require a form of hearing, this document states that hearings should be conducted remotely if possible. If a judge determines a hearing must take place in person, there can’t be more than 10 people in the room and the hearings may need to be staggered to limit the number of people attending.
Other factors to consider for divorcing couples:
- Divorcing couples with children must determine whether child support will be paid and to whom, and visitation or guardianship must be established and can often lead to further court proceedings.
- Child support is determined by income of each spouse, but with the impact COVID-19 has had on job security, individuals may experience significant changes in the amount of income at their disposal. If an individual is unable to pay the determined child support amount, this may result in additional court proceedings.
- Visitation may be impacted by the pandemic. The South Carolina Judicial Branch encourages couples to follow their traditional visitation system as closely as possible, but if the individuals involved come to an agreement on changes, document them in writing and be prepared to make adjustments as we ease back into normalcy.
Finding representation you trust to guide you through this process is crucial for those navigating through divorce proceedings. The Law Office of Sara A. Turner focuses on family law, to help couples through this difficult process with the compassion, understanding, and flexibility it requires. Reach out today to set up a consultation.