If you have ever been involved in a Family Court case, or if you have even heard about one, chances are good that you have heard complaints about how SLOW it is and HOW LONG everything takes. Even Charleston Family Law attorneys are known to complain. Why can the process be so slow? Please consider the following:
1) There are a limited number of judges for the Family Court.
Not only is there a shortage of judges, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in creating more seats. Our state legislature controls the funding for these positions, and the funding remains limited.
2) While there are 69 judges listed on the current roster of Family Court judges, a number of those are “retired/active”, meaning they accept a limited role in the Family Courts when needs are great.
3) 69 people for the entire State of South Carolina may sound like plenty to you, but please also consider the these factors:
a. All “abuse and neglect” cases for minors, commonly referred to as “DSS cases”, are handled by Family Court judges.
b. All juvenile criminal cases are handled by Family Court judges.
c. All divorces, adoptions, separations, protection from domestic abuse and similar cases are handled by Family Court judges.
d. By statute in this state, certain kinds of cases have strict deadlines for hearings being held and Orders being issued. For instance, in DSS cases or in adoption or termination of parental rights cases, the deadlines are mandatory and the consequences for failure to meet the deadlines are potentially severe.
4) In recent years, there has been a considerable outcry about allowing divorce cases/custody case/adoption cases etc. to linger in the Family Court system for extended periods of time.
Divorces taking 2 years have not been uncommon. In response to the public interest in resolving these issues more efficiently, our South Carolina Supreme Court has issued a variety of Orders which require certain changes to be made in the handling of Family Court case.
5) Most notably, all cases are directed to be concluded within one year of the filing date.
Is this possible? Probably not: there are too many cases and too few judges to accomplish this feat. But, in the busiest counties (and Charleston Family Law attorneys can tell you Charleston is one of them), this deadline is considered to be met when a request for a final hearing is submitted within the 1 year time period. The final hearing itself may take place some months later; however, the deadline is still a very real thing, and cause to push forward. In some counties, judges are dismissing cases which reach one year in age and have not had their final hearing yet. It is still unclear as to whether or not there is an intent to enforce the one year deadline strictly. For all intents and purposes, this appears to be impossible.
6) There is another Rule change which mandates that all “Temporary” hearings be scheduled and heard within 30 days of their filing.
This refers to “Motions for Temporary Relief” which are commonly filed at the beginning of cases, seeking temporary rules for all involved, while the case is pending. So far, some counties have been able to manage this while others simply do not have the available court time to meet these deadlines.
7) There is presently underway a task force preparing new Rules for the Family Court which would place all the case management on a calendar with enforceable interim deadlines.
Those new Rules are not yet in force. When they do come into play, the plan is that they will act to move cases along more quickly on the front end of cases, rather than allowing them to pile up on the far end.
If you find yourself in the Family Court system, be assured that you will spend some significant amounts of time waiting in their outer waiting areas. Your Charleston Family Law attorneys can tell you that waiting is simply part of the system, and that over-scheduling is commonly done so as to allow the judges the luxury of keeping busy while requiring that lawyers and clients wait for whatever time is available. It is not, by any means, a perfect system at all. However, the court administration and the judges keep continuing to make changes which are designed to do the very best with the resources at their disposal. If you have the opportunity, urge your legislators to fund more staff and judges to serve the citizens of this state.