Legal Knowledge & Writing Skills Have Never Been More Important
FAMILY COURT RULES CHANGE: Legal knowledge and writing skills have never been more important.
On November 21, 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court made significant changes to the way Temporary Hearings in Family Court are scheduled and heard. Prior to the changes, the wait time for a temporary hearing was uncertain, extending into months in some counties. Temporary hearings now must be scheduled within four weeks of the filing of the motion. Prior to the changes, page limits on affidavits submitted were not the norm. The page limit is now eight (8) pages.
The new rule states that:
“All routine Temporary Hearings shall be allotted fifteen minutes and each party shall be limited to eight pages of affidavits, excluding the Background Information Form SCCA 459 (11/12), proposed parenting plans, financial declarations, attorneys’ fees affidavits, and attachments or exhibits offered only as verification of information contained in the affidavits. Parties wishing to extend the fifteen minutes limit to thirty minutes must request additional time from the Clerk of Court and will not be held to the eight-page document limit set forth herein. Either Counsel of record may upon written request of the Chief Administrative Judge ask that a matter be deemed complex, and if such request is granted, the Judge shall set the temporary hearing for appropriate time to consider the issues.”
So what does this mean if you are considering filing an action in Family Court? Or if you need an additional temporary hearing in a pending action due to a change of circumstances? The good news is that you should not wait longer than four weeks for your first hearing. The bad news is that you are severely restricted as to the amount of information you may present the Court. This may erode your Due Process rights.
In order to protect yourself, be sure that the attorney you choose is experienced in Family Court matters and knows what information is most important to the Court in making decisions. Litigants no longer have an unlimited page allowance to state their cases. To have a chance at being successful, you must have an attorney assist you with your affidavits who is knowledgeable and who is an excellent writer. You cannot afford to waste words. Handwritten affidavits done by the client or others have never been favored, but they are now simply a disastrous waste of affidavit space. Legal knowledge and writing skills have never been more important.
No guidance is provided by the rule as to what will constitute a “complex” matter, but one can safely assume that will be cases that involve large marital estates or potentially complex legal issues. Cases of De Facto Parents and Third Party Custody cases come to mind as the type of case that may qualify. If your case is complex, you have an even bigger need for experienced trial counsel. You must first get your case designated a “complex” case in order to get the Court time you need and to avoid serious Due Process problems.
The sad reality for many cases is that Temporary Orders often have a way of morphing into Final Orders. This is simply due to the tremendous amount of time it takes to get a contested case through Family Court in most places. Temporary Hearings are now more restricted, statewide. So know what you are doing. Don’t let anyone tell you that this change doesn’t matter. It matters and it matters a lot.