We offer free consultations to discuss your family law situation and help you determine if your matter will require the assistance of legal counsel.
Marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment. Unfortunately, vows get broken, marriages get irreparably damaged, and you can find yourself during a difficult divorce. At Smith Ammons, we understand that divorce requires the client to navigate legal complexities through an emotional storm. Our attorneys deal with our divorce clients with compassion and care while fighting vigorously to protect their legal rights regarding child custody, child support, alimony, property division, and restraining orders related to divorce.
Dividing property at the end of marriage can be one of the most difficult aspects of a divorce. Oftentimes, the issues of property distribution can be resolved between the parties through a marital settlement agreement. If the parties are unable to come to such an agreement, the court will determine an equitable, or fair, way to apportion the property between the spouses.
The first step for the court in this process is determining what property is marital property. Property gained or acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title to the property, is marital property, with a few limited exceptions. Property that belonged to a spouse prior to the marriage or gifted to one spouse only during the marriage is considered non-marital property. Non-marital property can be transmuted into marital property if it is used for the benefit of the marriage or shared with the other spouse.
Just as property acquired during the marriage is subject to division, any debts incurred during the marriage are subject to division between the spouses. If one of the spouses engaged in financial misbehavior during the marriage, the court will consider that factor in determining what is an equitable apportionment of that debt
In determining how to equitably apportion the marital estate, the court must consider the following:
- Duration of the marriage, along with the ages of the parties at the time of the marriage and divorce.
- Marital misconduct or fault of either or both parties.
- Value of the marital property.
- Income of each spouse, earning potential of each spouse, and opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets.
- Physical and emotional health of each spouse.
- Need of each spouse for additional training or education to achieve income potential.
- The nonmarital property of each spouse.
- Existence of vested retirement benefits for each spouse.
- Whether separate maintenance or alimony has been awarded.
- Desirability of awarding the family home to the spouse having custody of any children.
- Tax consequences to either party.
- Existence and extent of any support obligations from a prior marriage or for another reason.
- Liens and any other encumbrances on the marital property.
- Child custody arrangements and obligations at the time of the entry of the order.
- Such other relevant factors as the court shall expressly enumerate in its order.
Our experienced attorneys at Smith Ammons can help you understand how the court may consider all these factors, and we fight to ensure that the court hears these factors applied in manner most favorable for you.
When parties are separating or divorcing in South Carolina, a spouse can request alimony, or court-ordered payments, from the other spouse. The court has discretion as to whether to award alimony and what type of alimony to award. The types of alimony provided for under South Carolina law are:
- Pendente Lite Alimony (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-120) – This is alimony paid only during the pendency of the divorce process.
- Periodic Alimony (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(1) – This is support paid monthly, or in other regular installments, for a short-term to allow the supported spouse to become financially independent.
- Lump-sum Alimony (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(2) – This is a set amount of support determined by the court and paid in one complete payment or installments.
- Rehabilitative Alimony (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(3) – This is support paid while the supported spouse attends school or seeks to acquire skills necessary to enter the workforce.
- Reimbursement Alimony (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(4) – This is support paid to refund a spouse for money spent on the other spouse’s earning capabilities (education, training, etc.).
- Separate Maintenance (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-130 (B)(5) – This is support paid when the parties do not desire a divorce but no longer live together.
The Court, when deciding the type and amount of alimony, must consider the following factors:
- the duration of the marriage
- the ages of each spouse at the time of the marriage and at the time of the divorce
- the physical and emotional condition of each spouse
- both spouse's educational background, together with the need for additional training or education to achieve the spouse's income potential
- the employment history and earning potential of each spouse
- the marital standard of living
- the current and anticipated earnings of both spouses
- the current and anticipated expenses and needs of each spouse
- marital and nonmarital property awards to each spouse during the divorce
- whether either spouse is the custodial parent to a child whose condition or circumstances make it difficult for the parent to seek work outside of the home or full-time work
- marital misconduct or fault
- tax consequences to each spouse
- whether either spouse is court-ordered to support another spouse or a child, and
- any other factors the court considers relevant
Our experienced attorneys at Smith Ammons can help you understand how the court may consider all these factors and fight to ensure that the court hears these factors applied in manner most favorable for you.
There may be no more important issue we deal with at Smith Ammons than child custody. Determining which parent is the most fit to be the custodian of a child and what is in the child’s best interest requires consideration of numerous factors including:
- the child’s preference,
- the needs of the child,
- any history of domestic violence,
- the wishes of the parents,
- and the ability of each parent to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent.
Each of these factors is considered in determining what is in the best interests of the minor child. Our attorneys are experienced in helping our clients position themselves to be fit custodians who seek, and present themselves to be, the best interests of their children.
Regardless of which parent is awarded legal and/or physical custody of the child, each parent is entitled to visitation, or parenting time, with the child. Typically, non-custodial parents in South Carolina receive visits at least every other weekend and one night per week. If there are concerns of drug use or inappropriate behavior by the non-custodial parent, the court can require that the visitation be supervised by the other party or a responsible third party. When considering visitation with teenagers, the court may be hesitant to force that visitation between a parent and an estranged or defiant teenager. Whether you are seeking visitation with your child or seeking limited or supervised visitation for the other parent, Smith Ammons has knowledgeable and dedicated attorneys and staff to guide you through the process and fight for you and your child/children.
Child support is an issue that often develops between divorced or unmarried parents of a minor child. Both parents have a responsibility to contribute financially for the well-being of the minor child. Child support is almost always determined in accordance with the South Carolina Department of Social Services Child Support Guidelines, which factor the incomes of both parents, childcare expenses, and healthcare costs. The common issue of dispute when determining child support is getting an accurate reporting of income for both parents. Whether you have a need to establish child support or have a dispute with a current child support order, the attorneys at Smith Ammons have the experience and knowledge to assist you.
ADOPTION/TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
There are many things more rewarding or satisfying than assisting with the adoption of child. At Smith Ammons, we are thrilled when biological parents and children can remain together as an intact family. Unfortunately, not every biological parent is fit for parenting, and in such instances, it is not in the best interests of the child to maintain that parent/child relationship. Adoption is often the best solution in cases where the biological parents are unfit. Smith Ammons attorneys can help you through the arduous, but rewarding, process of adoption.
There are several statutory grounds for which a parent’s rights can be terminated in South Carolina, but the most common two are as follows:
- Willful failure to visit the child for a period of six months or more, and
- Willful failure to pay support for the child for a period of six months or more.
Additionally, a parent can agree, or consent, to having his or her parental rights terminated; however, a parent cannot terminate his or her own parental rights. An action for Termination of Parental Rights must be initiated by the custodial parent, DSS or other party in limited circumstances. Whether you are seeking to terminate the rights of a derelict parent or defending against an action to have your rights terminated, Smith Ammons has a team of experienced attorneys and skilled staff to fight your rights and the best interests of your child.
The South Carolina Department of Social Services becomes involved in cases in the Family Court when there has been a report of abuse or neglect against a minor child. After a report is made, authorities can take emergency protective custody of the minor child, without the consent of the guardians, if there is probable cause to believe that the child is in danger due to abuse or neglect. In EPC, DSS explores options for foster for the child. DSS has 45 days to complete an investigation after a report is made. When a child is taken into custody, DSS has 24 hours to complete an initial investigation to determine if probable cause exists. DSS should also seek a relative to take custody if the investigation indicates that continued removal is necessary.
If you have been accused of abuse or neglect, being reunited with your child, and ensuring that you are not required to have your name entered on the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect in South Carolina are of utmost importance. You may be required appear at Emergency Protective Custody hearings, Probable Cause Hearings within 72 hours of the child being taken into custody, or a merits hearing within 35 days of the receipt of a removal petition. In addition, there may Temporary Hearings during the process to address matters not handled in standard hearings.
Smith Ammons has a dedicated team of experienced attorneys and staff that can help you through any matter involving DSS and get you reunited with your child as quickly as possible.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM SERVICES
A Guardian ad Litem is a person appointed by the Family Court to represent the best interests of a minor child/children in a legal proceeding in South Carolina. During a custody or adoption action, the adverse parties are typically represented by counsel who seek the best interests of the respective parties. The interests of the minor child/children can get lost to the parties, and Guardian ad Litem is tasked with making sure that the best interests of the child/children remain at the forefront of the litigation. Oftentimes the parties, through counsel, can agree to a person to serve as the Guardian ad Litem. In situations where the parties cannot agree upon a suitable Guardian ad Litem, the court will appoint someone to fill that role, and the fees for that person’s services will be apportioned between the parties. The following are typical matters that require the services of a Guardian ad Litem:
- Contested custody and visitation
- Termination of Parental Rights
- Abuse and Neglect
- Name changes for minors
At Smith Ammons, all our family court attorneys are trained and experienced in serving as Guardian ad Litem and skillfully represent the best interests of minor children caught in middle of parental litigation.
FAMILY COURT MEDIATION
Mediation is a process in which the parties to a case attempt to reach a resolution through the help of a neutral third party. In most South Carolina Family Court actions, there is a requirement that the parties to a case participate in at least three hours of mediation unless an agreement is reached without the need for mediation.
Mediation can occur at any point during the litigation process, even prior to any lawsuit being filed. This process allows for parties to an action to craft a resolution that mitigates the risks of letting a judge determine outcomes and reduces the emotional hardships that would accompany a trial. A mediator does not force a settlement or make a judgment on the case; rather, the mediator helps the parties to reach a compromise.
Most often the neutral third party, or mediator, is an attorney who has been through a mediator training process to be approved as a court-certified Family Court mediator. The attorneys at Smith Ammons can provide experienced representation if you are facing a mediation in a Family Court case. Smith Ammons also has attorneys with certification and experience to serve as mediator in the most complex of matters, as well as the capabilities and facilities to host mediations in person or virtually.