Domestic Violence is an issue in South Carolina and every other state. When it occurs, sometimes an abused spouse considers it a one-time offense and ultimately forgives the other spouse. In many other cases, it leads to the break-up of the relationship. The abused spouse often does not know where to turn or what to do, so in this article, our family court lawyers explain some options:
What to Do If You’ve Been the Victim of Domestic Violence in South Carolina
1. Call the Police. In many cases where the abuse is not reported, it is more likely to become a “he said/she said” situation, and the abused spouse loses leverage because they are uncertain whether they can now prove it. Therefore, it is best to call the police immediately after it happens. Also, if there are any marks or injuries, even if you don’t call the police, these should be photographed right away and saved in a location of the phone where the abuser cannot access or delete them and where you will not lose them. The police, at a minimum, will come and take your statement and file a police report. They will then decide whether to make an arrest. If they arrest the abuser, the person will normally spend the night in jail and have a bond hearing the next day. The victim should go to a bond hearing and express their wishes. The bond judge may issue a “no contact” condition to the abuser being released which can include any or all of the following restraints: no contact with the victim or victim’s family members (this may include electronic contact and contract through third parties), no returning to the marital home, and no going by the victim’s work. If you think that you and your family are safe and you want to work on the marriage, you may consider requesting that there be no “no contact” order. If you want to keep the abuser away from you, you should request the “no contact” order. A criminal case can allow for a victim to have both their own attorney advocating for them in the family court while also having a prosecutor or other person associated with law enforcement advocating for them in a criminal court. Sometimes, through the criminal case, the abuser can be required to engage in batterer’s treatment counseling, which can help with any anger issues. Even if the couple breaks up over the incident, often they still have to co-parent their children, and anger issues should be addressed. In criminal cases, the prosecutor will have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the domestic violence occurred if the case goes to trial. These cases can also end by plea deal or by pre-trial intervention.
2. Avoid Contact With the Abuser. If you voluntarily put yourself in the abuser’s physical presence or even contact this person via phone or text, it can cause a judge to question whether the abuse happened or how much happened, or your claim that you fear your spouse. If you are afraid of your spouse, then you need to take proper safety precautions. Also, if they have been arrested, and a “no contact” bond condition is in place, then contacting this person is pointless because they can’t contact you back. It may even look as if you are antagonizing your spouse in this scenario. Finally, if the last episode of abuse occurred too far in advance of you initiating legal action or separating, there is a chance the judge believes that you resumed marital relations and doesn’t really consider evidence of abuse. In divorce-abuse cases, it is often best to allow the attorneys to handle the initial contact (such as making sure all of the bills are paid and accounted for), and then we can develop the best plan for future contact.
3. File for a Family Court Order for Protection. This is basically a restraining order in the family court. It is very different from the “no contact” conditions that can be placed in a bond order. First, the court can do other things in a Family Court Order for Protection, such as award child support or spousal support. Second, it is enforced differently. If someone breaks a “no contact” bond condition, then the prosecutor can move to rescind the bond, which takes time. With a Family Court Order of Protection, the police have more power to address the contact immediately. To obtain a Family Court Order for Protection, you have to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that your “household member” committed: physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the threat of physical harm; or committed sexual criminal offenses, as otherwise defined by statute. 4. File for Divorce. The grounds for divorce in South Carolina are (1) a one-year continuous separation, (2) physical abuse, (3) adultery, (4) habitual drunkenness or drug use, and to some extent (5) desertion. So, in some cases, you can get divorced faster if you can prove physical cruelty to the court. Aside from that, physical cruelty can have some effect on what you get out of the marital estate, how much spousal support should be awarded, and whether the abuser may have to contribute to the other spouse’s attorney’s fees. These things are all done on a case-by-case basis, but the “martial fault” of the domestic abuse can be a factor. To obtain a divorce on the ground of physical cruelty, you have to prove your spouse committed “actual personal violence, or such a course of physical treatment as endangers life, limb, or health, and renders cohabitation unsafe.” Determining whether physical cruelty exists to receive a divorce in South Carolina is done on a case-by-case basis, and there is not a bright-line rule. A single act of physical cruelty will not ordinarily provide a basis for divorce, unless the act “is so severe and atrocious as to endanger life, or unless the act indicates an intention to do serious bodily harm or causes reasonable apprehension of serious danger in the future.” A judge can grant a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty 90 days after you file your case.
5. File for Custody. If you can prove that your spouse is an abuser, this can go a long way in a claim for custody. For example, the family court may not want to award custody to a person who is capable of causing physical harm, even if the physical harm is not towards the children. A family court judge can also limit, restrict, or supervise visitation depending on the abuser’s issues and situation. The family court can impose things on parties such as ordering counseling for the children and requiring both parents to participate in it. The list goes on.
Conclusion If you are the victim of domestic abuse in South Carolina, document it as best you can, call the police if you are in danger or want to press charges, and consult with an experienced family court lawyer in South Carolina. The lawyers at Futeral & Nelson also handle criminal domestic violence cases, so we are also very familiar with what to expect out of the family court action.