Appeals From Family Court Orders in South Carolina

In Family Court in Horry County, Charleston County and Florence County, final orders from divorce and custody actions are frequently appealed to the SC Court of Appeals as well as the Supreme Court of South Carolina.  However, it is well-settled that temporary orders generally can not be appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals.  Only orders that address matters on a final basis may be appealed. Once a party receives a final order that has been executed by a family court judge, a party has thirty (30) days to file a notice of appeal.

A party may appeal a family court judge’s ruling on child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, equitable distribution, restraining orders and most frequently, the award of attorney fees.  It is important to note that a litigant who appeals a decree ordering child support or alimony will have to continue making the payments while the appeal is pending in the South Carolina Appellate Court.  However, most family court appellate attorneys agree that attorney fee awards and equitable distribution are generally stayed during an appeal.

When reviewing appeals from the family court in South Carolina, the court historically used the abuse of discretion standard.  However, in recent cases, the South Carolina Court of Appeals has held that the standard of review for family court rulings is de novo for factual and legal issues.  This means that the appellate court can find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence.

It is important to remember that the family court does not have jurors in South Carolina.  Only one family court judge makes a ruling at trial.  On appeal, the court reviews the record to see if the family court judge correctly followed the divorce and custody laws of South Carolina and how the law was applied to the facts of the case.  In some appeals, the South Carolina Court of Appeals may hold oral arguments.  Oral arguments are nothing like a trial.  During oral arguments, a family law appellate lawyer in South Carolina appears before a panel of three judges and argues the issues contained in the initial brief.  The respondent’s attorney must also appear before the panel and argue the contested issues.  During oral arguments, the appellate court judges engage in a question and answer setting, during which the family court appellate attorney must answer questions about the briefs.  There is no live testimony during these arguments.  The appellant and the respondent may be present, but do not address the appellate court judges.  An opinion is issues generally two to three months later.

Once an opinion is issued, the loosing party may petition the Supreme Court of South Carolina to hear the case.  However, the Supreme Court does not automatically accept the case.  The court must decide whether or not to allow the case to proceed in the Supreme Court.  If you have questions about appellate practice in South Carolina or would like to appeal a decision from the Family Court in South Carolina, contact the Mace Firm.


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