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South Carolina Family Courts and Judges

     

Legal Authority

The uniform statewide Family Court system was established by statute (Title 63, Chapter 3 Family Court) in 1976.

SC Code of Laws Title 63 - Chapter 3 Family Court

Jurisdiction

The Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving domestic or family relationships. The Family Court is the sole forum for the hearing of all cases concerning:

  • Marriage;
  • Divorce;
  • Legal separation;
  • Custody;
  • Visitation rights;
  • Termination of parental rights;
  • Adoption;
  • Support;
  • Alimony;
  • Division of marital property; and
  • Change of name.

The Family Court also has exclusive jurisdiction over minors under the age of 17 alleged to have violated any state law or municipal ordinance. The Family Court "shall have exclusive original jurisdiction and shall be the sole court for initiating action" concerning a child who "is alleged to have violated or attempted to violate any State or local law or municipal ordinance" (S.C. Code Ann. 63-3-510). However, Magistrate Courts and Municipal Courts of South Carolina have concurrent jurisdiction with the Family Courts for the trial of persons under the age of 17 years and charged with traffic laws or fish, game and watercraft laws when such courts would have jurisdiction of the offense charged if committed by an adult.

Furthermore, children 16 years of age or older charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a misdemeanor, a Class E or F felony or a felony which provides for a maximum prison term of 10 years or less, the Family Court may bind over the child for proper criminal proceedings to a court which would have trial jurisdiction of the offense if committed by an adult. Likewise, when a child 14 or 15 years of age is charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be a Class A, B, C, or D felony or a felony which provides for a prison term of 15 years or more, the Family Court may bind over the child for proper criminal proceedings to a court which would have trial jurisdiction of the offenses if committed by an adult. Therefore, when jurisdiction is relinquished by the Family Court in favor of another court, the court shall have full authority and power to grant bail, hold a preliminary hearing and other powers as now provided by law for Magistrates in such cases. Under these circumstances, a summary court judge would be conducting a criminal proceeding over a child when the child is 16 and it is so ordered by the Family Court, or when the child is charged with a traffic offense within the jurisdiction of the summary court judge. However, a summary court judge may never commit a child under 17 years of age to jail.

Electing Family Court Judges

Two or more family court judges are elected for staggered six year terms to each of the sixteen judicial circuits. They rotate primarily from county to county within their resident circuits, however, they can be assigned to other circuits based upon caseload requirements as directed by the Chief Justice.

Family Court judges are elected by the General Assembly for terms of 6 years and until their successors are elected and qualify.

Eligibility and Terms of Family Court Judges

Persons eligible to the office of Family Court judge must be:

  • At least 32 years of age,
  • Served at least 8 years as a licensed attorney of law;
  • A citizen of the U.S. and a citizen of South Carolina for the preceding 5 years;

...at the time they are elected to the Family Court bench.

Furthermore, candidates for the position of Family Court judge must be residents of the circuit where the Family Court is located. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, former member of the General Assembly may be elected to the office of Family Court judge.

South Carolina Family Court Judges