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Contempt in the South Carolina Family Court

January 2, 2017


Sometimes at the end of a relationship it seems as though you and your former spouse can’t agree on anything. Perhaps the only thing you and your spouse have in common is that you both want a divorce. However, in many other cases, through the help of experienced family law attorneys, divorcing parties can outline all the rights and responsibilities of each spouse. Agreements help establish expectations for each spouse and allow them to become aware of the things they need to do or refrain from doing after a divorce is finalized. But what happens when someone doesn’t uphold their end of the agreement?


What happens in South Carolina when a spouse does not cooperate with a written agreement?


Even when a couple can agree on what should be in their divorce agreement, they may not always follow the terms exactly. An individual may choose to not follow the terms of a divorce agreement for a number of reasons. However, ignoring the terms of the agreement does not come without consequences. 


In order to make a divorce or custody agreement formal, it must be approved by a South Carolina family court judge, who will review the terms of the agreement and make it an order of the court. When someone ignores the terms of a divorce or custody agreement that has been made into a formal court order, they can be held in contempt under South Carolina law.


What are the different types of contempt in South Carolina?


There are two types of contempt in the South Carolina family court: direct and constructive. Direct contempt actually occurs in the courtroom. This may result from actions such as deliberately failing to answer a question when there is no privilege present or being disrespectful to a judge. Constructive contempt, on the other hand, may happen outside the courtroom and may arise from actions such as willfully not paying child support.


In addition to constructive contempt and direct contempt, the family court also distinguishes between civil and criminal contempt. Civil contempt is used to make someone do what is required of them by the family court like paying child support. Civil contempt can end once the individual does what is required of them.


Criminal contempt is used to punish willful violators. Unlike civil contempt, the violator can’t fix the problem on their own and must serve out their sentence.


How can an Aiken, SC attorney help when a spouse does not cooperate?


If there has been an agreement between two parties, it is always a good idea to follow the terms of the agreement. While the attorneys at Surasky Law cannot directly compel your former spouse to cooperate, they can help you file a Rule to Show Cause, which presents evidence of the failing spouse’s compliance for the court. Rule to Show Cause proceedings are serious legal proceedings, and it is possible that the party who violated the initial agreement may end up in jail or have to pay fines.


If you need to file or defend against Rule to Show Cause, contact us today for a free consultation.



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