Family Court Shenanigans, 15-Minute Silver Bullet

Alex Campbell

The 15-Minute Hearing in South Carolina Family Courts is being used as a weapon to quickly hurl accusations that a judge has only 15 minutes to rule on.

U.S. Family Courts have temporary hearings. These hearings are usually just 15 minutes in length. In that 15-minute window, Family Court Judges are supposed to determine the fate of the marital property, child custody, child support, and visitation, alimony, no-contact or contact, prior restraint or pseudo gag orders, the merits of accusations including domestic violence, drug use, and other claims. That is an awful lot of considerations that a Judge would have to make in just 15 minutes. You may notice that most of these categories cover money either directly or indirectly. The reason for this is because Family Court is a Civil Court that deals in the equitable division of property.

This crosses from individual state law, federal law, mental health, physical health, property division and the equitable division of that property. Family Court proceedings are not criminal laws where video evidence can point to guilt. This is the mitigation of lives, children, families, and property. These 15-minute hearings usually don’t afford either party adequate time to present a case in Family Court. For example, a Judge could decide to cut the objections down and especially among Pro-Se Litigants or those who represent themselves without a lawyer. In these types of cases, one can usually notice that the Judge will move the case along without allowing the accused party to respond to claims.

Rushed cases and questionable time for the consideration of the evidence aren’t the only issues with these 15-minute hearings. The problem with these types of hearings become glaring when the Silver Bullet is applied. The Silver Bullet is a tactic used in Family Court that usually involves one party or both parties hurling accusations at the other side in the attempt to tarnish and destroy. Family Law Attorneys are well aware that it is very difficult to decide the merits of child custody, the truthfulness of a domestic violence claim, finances, and other things, it is very easy to get a leg-up in court by making the opposing side look as bad as possible.

In 2015, The South Texas Law Review published a study suggesting that false accusations in Family Court were on the rise. The study points out that joint and shared custody could be the reason for this. At no point does this study say that it is only mothers who make false accusations in Family Court. However, it is mothers most of the time and what could explain this is the prevalence of shared and joint custody.

In South Carolina, The Tender Years Doctrine provided a legal presumption that children, especially young children, would always go into the mother’s custody. Some people believe that The Tender Years Doctrine was abolished decades ago. This doctrine wasn’t abolished in South Carolina until 2012. That means that some of same S.C. Family Court Judges who were on the bench when the Tender Years Doctrine wasn’t abolished are still on the bench right now.

Someone suggesting that there isn’t any bias in S.C. Family Courts have to convince S.C. citizens that in just 8 years there was a fundamental change in government. This would fly in the face of all the Civil Rights Activist groups from every political persuasion claiming that governmental change is slow and inefficient. In just 8 years, somehow S.C. Family Court Judges get their act together and not favor one gender over another. The entire Feminist Movement is saying that structural and fundamental change like this isn’t possible in decades let alone 8 years. For comparison, in February 2020, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) stated that they were putting into place a 10-year plan to fix potholes. It takes a well-funded arm of S.C. Government 10 years to correct road conditions when it was a problem for decades yet this is the same state that wants to convince its citizens that it can fix a court system in just 8 years.

Now that the Tender Years Doctrine is abolished a Family Law Attorney representing a mother doesn’t have an automatic Family Court win in the bag. False accusations could be a final retreat. The same is true about some fathers who use false accusations to try to gain an upper hand in court. Depending on the judge involved in the case, the preponderance of the evidence rule in S.C. Family Courts can be a particularly powerful factor. This rule allows a Family Court Judge to review the evidence and then, based solely on their opinion, give a ruling in a case. That means that a judge who is biased in favor of one gender over another, social status, veteran status, race, sexuality, etc.

Since this rule exists and since many injustices have been justified by S.C. Family Court Judges, S.C. Legislators and S.C. Governor nobody could question the rulings in S.C. courts. The office charged with disciplining judges, S.C. Office of Judicial Conduct rarely disciplines judges even if presented with evidence of wrongdoing. Read More: Click Here

Here are a few common scenarios that are based on real situations in South Carolina but the names have been changed:

  • Roger owns a business exterminating pests. He has custody of his child. The mother is irresponsible as evidenced by the fact that the mother was arrested for felony child endangerment. Roger appears in court with the mother. The mother is out on bail for felony child endangerment and, yet, still gets a favorable judgment against Roger who is a former police officer. This was done thanks to the opinions of an S.C. Family Court Judge and the preponderance of the evidence rule. Without that rule, it would be inconceivable to give the mother a favorable judgment in this case. This is a real case and the man involved in a now a Guardian-Ad-Litem in South Carolina. That means he is now a court-appointed advocate for children in Family Court cases. Somehow, the man of this level of qualification didn’t get a favorable judgment against a woman who was out on bail for endangering the same child involved in the case.
  • Sarah was married to a man who came into a lot of money. Sarah and her husband became divorced. For whatever reason and despite them being married at the time, Sarah didn’t receive any of the money accumulated during the marriage. This is also even though Sarah’s funds were used to financially carry the couple through times of hardship. Sarah has been separated from her son and suffers from numerous psychological disorders as a result. This is not only a real case but this author routinely interacts with Sarah.
  • Tom is a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tom doesn’t have a criminal record and yet, because he decided to smoke cannabis, an S.C. Family Court Judge thought it was reasonable to make Tom pay more than $1200 a month for child support. He also doesn’t get to see his kid very often. Visitation is once every two weeks and that visitation is supervised. Tom struggles to find necessities and shelter.

You’ll notice that in every one of these cases the results were that an exceptional level of cruelty was applied. There could have been more than 100 examples given but the point would always remain the same. The reason why the preponderance of the evidence rule is used and leaned on like a crutch for these judges is because of the lack of penalties and the money interest which will be explored later. For now, what needs to be focused on is how a judge’s opinion and, even if that judge has the right intentions, the bombardment of that judge with accusation after accusation can hurt the lives of S.C. citizens.

Why would a judge or a lawyer allow so many false accusations to be levied in a court? Whenever there is research applied to any subject the first question should always be, “Who Benefits?” That question is referring to the financial aspect of S.C. Family Courts. If a slew of accusations are believed or at least a judge pretends to believe them then that opens up alternative revenue avenues for state and private entities. For example, if someone accuses a litigant of smoking cannabis and the judge believes it or pretends to believe it then the person will be ordered to take a drug test. The test ordered can be anything from an oral test which is cheap to a 10-panel hair follicle test that costs more than $100. The litigant is responsible for paying for their drug test and that’s even if they’ve never been arrested for anything drug-related.

In other words, this is an example that commonly occurs in South Carolina where the state appears to be funneling money to drug testing facilities such as Ark Point Labs located in Lexington, S.C. This drug testing facility is a favorite of S.C. Family Courts. Without evidence such as criminal convictions, S.C. Family Court Judges will order a test to be taken at this specific facility in multiple cases. Litigants who are ordered to take these tests are often poor and are Pro-Se Litigants or representing themselves in court. In any other situation, the action of ignoring Constitutional Rights and ordering litigants at their own expense to pay for a drug test when they’ve never been arrested for anything drug-related would be called predatory.

The problem gets worse when claims of domestic violence are believed. One would think that if all of the claims of domestic violence that are believed in S.C. Family Courts were legitimate then we would see more of these cases being elevated to Higher Courts. So many of these claims being levied justify the existence of state programs, state and federal funding, notions of one parent being more fit than another, and so on. A judge could just believe a domestic violence claim which then justifies the judge orders, at the cost to the accused litigant, to pay for supervised visitation with children, anger management, drug treatment programs (since a false claim was already believed then adding drug-use or alcohol-abuse claims is likely going to happen) and many other costs. That isn’t including the legal fees and attorney fees that litigant will have to cough up on top of everything the judge has ordered. If a domestic violence claim is believed then the accused litigant could also be responsible for the opposing attorney fees.

To those who might be thinking, “Well why don’t they just post about it on social media to raise awareness?” In South Carolina, Family Court Judges can give out prior restraint orders. This means that a litigant could be barred from posting about their case on social media. This a clear and irrefutable violation of the 1st amendment. How can a litigant publicly address their grievances if they’re not allowed to do so using social media which is the largest and most powerful medium in the world?

In conclusion, the Silver Bullet in concert with the 15-minute hearing in South Carolina and other states can be devastating to the targeted parent. Since this tactic hits so many parts of the targeted parent then it might as well be the Silver Shotgun Shell.

 

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