South Carolina Legal Services > Articles by: South Carolina Legal Services

Help for Victims of Domestic Violence

A few weeks ago, a man was charged with a double homicide in Sumter, South Carolina.  The man was accused of killing a woman he was involved in a romantic relationship with.  He was also accused of killing her 5-year old daughter.  He may have killed another woman in a different state about one month prior to the double homicide in Sumter.  In a different case, a woman in Richland County was charged with murder.  She had allegedly stabbed her boyfriend. Police had responded to 52 calls for service from the couple’s residence in 2019.  In court, the accused claimed that she had been the victim of domestic violence at her boyfriend’s hands.  His family claimed that the accused woman was the violent one and had previously cut off the deceased man’s ear.

In thinking about these horrific tragedies, I ponder if these people would be alive today if something had been done differently?  Did law enforcement do everything they could have done to protect them?  Should the law enforcement have arrested someone during those 52 times that they were called to that home?  If the abuser had been arrested and convicted, would these victims still be alive today? If our laws were stricter, would that 5-year-old little girl have started kindergarten this year? Of course, no one will ever know the answer to these questions. 

Currently, police officers have discretion whether to arrest or not arrest if they have probable cause to believe that a person is committing or has freshly committed an act of domestic violence.  Would a change in the law requiring officers to arrest when there is probable cause help us lower our domestic violence related homicides?  Or, would it just lead to less victims calling the police?  Again, I don’t know the answer. 

One thing I do know is that there are free resources available to victims of domestic violence who are ready to get out of the abusive relationship.  Lighthouse for Life provides “freedom bags” full of essentials when a victim leaves an abusive relationship.  There are domestic violence shelters like Sister Care and the YWCA that offer emergency housing and counseling.  South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) offers free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.  SCLS can help victims get an Order of Protection, custody of their children, or even a divorce from the abuser.  These are just a few of the many resources available.  You can apply for our help by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at www.sclegal.org. Our eligibility for free legal help depends on your income and your legal problem.

In 2018, 41 people lost their lives in South Carolina as a result of domestic violence. That is 41 too many.  October is domestic violence awareness month.  If you or someone you know needs assistance in getting out of an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Bullying is any act intended or that should be reasonably intended to hurt or harm another person that is usually repeated or occurs more than once. Everyone (students, employees, and volunteers) who witnesses bullying or harassment in public schools or even outside of schools when it causes a major disruption in school has a duty to report it to the principal or other appropriate persons.  Unfortunately, society seems to reserve the term bullying for behavior associated with youth.  However, bullying can be found in relationships of all ages and in all social groups.  Adults can be victims of bullying and harassment in many settings: online, at home, at school and at work.  We can identify some forms of bullying as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.  

People react differently in an undesirable situation when they perceive that nothing can be changed.  However, there will be a reaction. For victims of bullying, we do not know if the reaction will be internal, external, or a combination of both.  According to a 2017 report by the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, in South Carolina, suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of death for children ages 15 to 17.  The Committee on Children also reported that the number of high school students that attempted suicide in South Carolina was significantly higher than the national percentage.  Bullying is not the cause of all suicides, but it can cause or increase mental health disorders.  Also, it is common for bullying or harassment to be mentioned as a trigger for extreme responses such as behavioral issues in school or even school shootings.

Perhaps, if we want to prevent bullying, we should remember, bullying is not something that only happens to children in public schools.  It is a form of abuse similar to domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and others.  We observe bullying in many forms and cultures, and we become desensitized to it.  It is difficult to prevent or stop, but we should not stop trying. If you need free legal assistance to combat aggression or bullying in any form, apply at South Carolina Legal Services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at www.sclegal.org. Our eligibility for free legal help depends on your income and your legal problem.

LGBTQ+ Issues and Resources in South Carolina

The history of the LGBTQ+ community is one that is long and rocky, filled with the struggles of people who even today are having to fight for their rights. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and other sexual identities. Of course, Supreme Court cases such as Obergefell v. Hodges make a huge impact and spur greatly the progress of the community. However, the Supreme Court cannot handle all of the everyday legal issues that members of the community face. Fortunately, at the local levels, legal aid organizations like South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) are there to handle specifics that one may not even consider at first: name and gender changes on birth certificates, marriage licenses, adoption and divorce.

Just last year, SCLS helped a transgender man get a name and gender change on his birth certificate. He faced a roadblock in his home state which did not recognize gender changes for those in the transgender community. The court there refused his request to change his name and gender on his birth certificate. SCLS took the case and was able to get a judge in South Carolina to order both changes. This client’s experience in his home state shows that the law and society still have a long way to go toward true equality for members of the LBGTQ+ community. At the same time, the successful completion of the case here shows that small, but life changing victories are happening every day.

Local programs also exist to empower people and give them a place in their city or town. South Carolina’s own Upstate Pride was founded in 2008 as a grassroots effort to spread awareness and educate members of the upstate. Their first march had around 500 people attend, and that number has only grown in the years since. Upstate Pride has since garnered support from many local and national resources, businesses, and even some churches.

Other resources include organizations focused on creating positive environments, such as BJUnity, which provides a safe harbor for those in the LGBTQ+ community that have been negatively affected by fundamentalist Christianity. There are medical resources such as AID Upstate that provide support for those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as prevention services. Mobile groups such as PrideLink travel throughout the Upstate, providing assistance with medical and social issues through their mobile community center. Businesses such as Cafe and Then Some in Greenville host frequent drag brunches where tips are donated to LGBTQ+ organizations like Upstate Pride itself.

There are almost constant events being offered throughout the upstate. In fact, Upstate Pride week is October 25th to November 3rd, ending with a drag brunch from South Carolina’s own Delighted Tobehere at Cafe and Then Some in Greenville. SCLS will be attending the Upstate Pride March and Festival at Barnet Park in downtown Spartanburg on Saturday, November 2. We will be providing information and brochures about our services, so come by if you have any legal needs!

SCLS is a non-profit law firm that provides free legal help to low-income South Carolinians. To apply for our services, please call at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.  

DV Awareness Events

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. South Carolina. Every year, South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) staff members participate in a variety of local activities to raise awareness to the issue of domestic violence and help survivors. This year was no exception.

Our Spartanburg office hosted a donation drive for the benefit of local survivors. With the funds collected, they purchased personal hygiene products and other essential items. Staff then assembled individual bags with these items, legal information and lots of love, and delivered them to the local police department.

Bridget Hall and Rita Roache at No Excuse For Abuse outreach event in Mt. Pleasant. Sponsored by the local police department, this was a display of unity and support by agencies and businesses that work toward a goal of stomping out domestic violence. Bridget and Rita talked to survivors and provided information about the legal help available at SCLS.

The Rock Hill office participated in the Young Lawyers Division’s Voices Against Domestic Violence Shelter Drive. Staff purchased and donated four boxes of toiletries, diapers, washcloths and other personal items for survivors of domestic violence.

In honor of domestic violence victims who lost their lives due to domestic violence, our Greenwood office participated in a balloon release ceremony in Abbeville.

Everyone Needs a Will

Less than fifty percent of Americans have a Last Will and Testament (Will), which is the document that tells your loved ones what you want to happen to your belongings after your death.  Wills are not just for people who have a lot of money and land to divide among their loved ones after their death.  Wills are for everyone.  Do you care who gets your property when you die?  Do you care who gets your money when you die? Do you care who is appointed as the guardian of your minor children when you die?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need a Will.

            A Will lets you name the people you would like to inherit your belongings after your death. If you have children under the age of eighteen, a Will lets you name who you would like to be appointed as their legal guardian.  Having a Will makes your wishes clear to your family member and will cause less confusion for them after your death.  The Will also names a specific person, called a personal representative, to be responsible for making sure that the wishes stated in your Will are followed and that your chosen heirs receive the correct property or items after your death.

            If you die without a Will, the Probate Court Judge will divide your personal belongings according to the South Carolina intestacy law. Under the current law, your closest living family members will have it divided among them.  This may not be the same way that you wish to divide up your belongings and may not be the same people you wish to inherit from you after your death.  With some exceptions, you cannot prevent your family members from inheriting from you unless you have a Will that states that you do not want that person to receive anything.

The only way to make sure that your wishes are followed after your death is to have a valid Will prepared by an attorney. It must be properly witnessed and notarized.  You will not have any input or control over how your belongings are divided after your death unless you have a valid Last Will and Testament.  If you are interested in having a Last Will and Testament, but cannot afford an attorney, then you should contact South Carolina Legal Services at  1 (888) 346-5592 or apply online to see if you are eligible for a free attorney to help you.

Temporary Hearing in Family Court

In our last issue, we discussed the purposes of a temporary hearing in Family Court.  Here, we will discuss which forms and documents will be used in the temporary hearing.

Except in unusual circumstances, the parties in a case do not testify in temporary hearings.  Testifying is when you verbally tell the Judge what you have observed and what you are asking of the Court.  Instead, in temporary hearings, the parties and witnesses express their positions, observations, and opinions by completing affidavits.  An affidavit is a written, signed and notarized statement. 

The parties in the case should prepare their own affidavits with the assistance of their attorneys.  They may also want to use affidavits from additional witnesses.  Your attorney may provide a form for you to give to witnesses so that the witnesses can prepare their own affidavits.  The most helpful witnesses are generally people who are assumed to be neutral.  For example, a child’s teacher or a pastor’s affidavit may be considered useful to the Judge’s decision if the witness writing the affidavit has observed events that are relevant to the issue. 

If the issue is which parent should get custody, some relevant facts may include which parent helped the child with schoolwork, which parent appeared at teacher conferences, which parent takes the child to religious services, or how each parent interacts with the child.  Witnesses who have not observed the parent with the child, may be able to provide other useful information.  For example, the parent’s boss may write an affidavit about the parent’s good work ethic.  While these facts may not be quite as relevant to the issue of custody, they still may help the Judge with his or her decision.

There may be some evidence that could be attached to an affidavit, such as photos, bills or medical records.  Your attorney can help determine which attachments are appropriate and would be helpful.

Financial declarations are also required at temporary hearings.  A financial declaration lists a party’s income, bills, debts, and the value of their property.  Financial declarations are also sworn, notarized statements.  It is important to be truthful in your financial declaration. Also, carefully review the other party’s financial declaration.  Point out any mistakes to your attorney.

If there are children involved in your Court case, you will also prepare a temporary proposed parenting plan.  This document shows the Court what you believe would be best for the children. It includes a schedule for the child seeing both parents.  You can also list necessary restrictions in a parenting plan. For example, you could ask that the child not be exposed to R-rated movies.  In most cases, Judges want children to spend significant time with both parents.  If you believe it is unsafe for your child to spend time with the other parent, you and your attorney will need to explain why it is unsafe.  Your attorney may have other forms and steps they advise you to complete for the best chance of success.

As you can see, preparation for a temporary hearing can take some time.  Whenever you let the Judge decide an issue, you are giving up control about how it will be decided.  Also, the Judge does not know about your life.  You do.  For that reason, it is always best to see if there is way to reach an agreement before you let the Judge decide.  The Judge will often ask if you have tried yet to reach an agreement with the other party.  If there are children involved, the Judge will want to know that you are trying to do what is best for the children.   A temporary hearing is one step of many Family Court cases.  What is decided at the temporary hearing may be changed in the future, but it is important to spend time preparing for your best chance of success.

In Farmworkers’ Shoes

This past summer, I worked as an intern with South Carolina Legal Services in the firm’s Migrant Unit. Before I came to South Carolina, I did not quite know what to expect in terms of the actual conditions for farmworkers here. I did not know what their thoughts would be about their employers or their situations. Once I started meeting workers, I heard their concerns about wages, living conditions, and transportation.

Many workers that we visited complained about being overworked and underpaid, some working up to 16 hours a day. They were not getting paid for all their hours worked. They were not getting any overtime wage rate. They were about to travel back to their home countries with little or no money because of the wage theft by their employers. This was really disturbing to me because I could tell in their eyes that they felt hopeless. I knew that they were not getting given what was promised in their contracts. These were really young men. I understood their pain. I knew it could have been me in their position.  

I also witnessed terrible living conditions. These workers were living in tents and having to pay rent. I could not believe it. The scary aspect of this was that they were told to cook in their tents using propane gas tanks. They did not even have a refrigerator.

While those situations were terrible, I am glad I took part in Student Action with Farmworkers. It allowed me to inform the workers about their rights and connect them to our attorney in order to discuss their issues and how we could provide aid for them. I genuinely feel as if my participation in the program truly helped the workers because I was able to reach out to hundreds of farmworkers throughout the summer.

2019 Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) Intern
South Carolina Legal Services, Migrant Unit 

Living Without a Birth Certificate

Imagine you have no birth certificate because you were delivered by a midwife and were born in your parent’s home over 50 years ago. Your birth was never recorded, and there is no record of your birth at Vital Records. Last month we learned about people with birth certificates that needed to be corrected. People with no birth certificate have a different and sometimes more challenging problem. You essentially need to prove to Vital Records that you exist. Only then will the agency create a delayed birth certificate for you.

Obtaining a delayed birth certificate is often a very challenging process. Without a birth certificate, you cannot get an identification card (i.d.) or drivers’ license. Without an i.d. or license, you cannot get a birth certificate.  So begins the frustrating process of trying to obtain a delayed birth certificate.

Many people first discover that they have no birth certificate when they apply for Social Security Retirement benefits. One SCLS client who successfully obtained a court order had traveled throughout the country and abroad as a trainer for race horses. He carried around a check from the Social Security Administration for thousands of dollars for nearly a year, because he did not have a birth certificate and could not open a bank account. The client was unable to obtain public housing that he otherwise qualified for until his SCLS lawyer obtained an order for a delayed birth certificate for him.

Vital Records has an administrative process for obtaining a delayed birth certificate. An applicant must provide the agency with 3 different documents verifying the birth facts claimed. Only original or certified documents can be submitted. One document must show the full name of the applicant’s mother prior to any marriages. A marriage license or a Social Security Card may supply this information. A second document must show the correct age or full date of birth and place of birth of the applicant. School records, birth certificates for an applicant’s children, voter registration cards, or marriage licenses for the applicant would provide this information. The third document must also  show and verify the full, correct date of birth, including month, day and year of birth of the applicant. Documents such as driver’s records, insurance policies, medical records or military records may be used.

More recently, the trend in home births has caused similar problems, especially when the birth is unattended by a certified midwife or doula. If there are no efforts by a parent to document the child’s birth, the delay in doing so can make it more difficult to do so later.

            With the Real ID requirements fast approaching in October 2020, this problem can become even more urgent for persons without a birth certificate, which is the most important document required to obtain a Real ID. Without it, one cannot enter a federal building such as the Social Security office or use air travel or travel interstate by train or bus.

                Anyone who has never seen their birth certificate, or who is aware that they do not have a birth record, should take immediate steps to apply to Vital Records to get a copy of their birth certificate. If no record is found, this should generate a “Not Found” letter that will be needed to file a court action for a delayed birth certificate.  

            South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help with this process. To apply for our services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online.

Achieve the Dream: Removing Obstacles to Success Through the Expungement Process

I have made mistakes in the past. A lot. Despite my mistakes, I have been able to find a path to success. Despite my mistakes, I was able to get help along the way. However, there are many in our society who are denied help because of their past mistakes. Some are denied access to employment because of a lapse in judgment from years ago. Some are denied access to the most basic means of overcoming the hardships in life because of a wrong that they did as a minor.

The expungement process can remove certain criminal records from a person’s background. It is an effective way to erase the past mistakes. Certain crimes that are not eligible for expungement, may be eligible for a pardon. The pardon does not erase the criminal record, rather, it acknowledges that a person has been forgiven for those blunders.

Without the criminal record as an impediment, housing, employment, and other necessities are more readily accessible. Without the past criminal records getting in the way, all are free to work for and achieve their dream… just like I did.

On September 17th, SCLS hosted our annual Constitution Day Legal Forum. This year, the focus was on removing barriers to employment. Our legal team discussed options available to those wishing to get their life back on track. You can watch the video here.

If you would like to attend an expungement clinic, contact your local SCLS office for information about one coming up in your area.

SCLS regularly partners with other organizations to conduct expungement clinics. For example, last month, the Greenwood office of SCLS partnered with Meg’s House to present an expungement clinic. Meg’s House is a domestic violence shelter whose mission is to provide housing and supportive services that reduce the impact of domestic violence and chronic homelessness in the communities we serve. We would be happy to help your organization conduct a similar clinic. If your organization would like to partner with us to hold an expungement clinic, contact Tiffney Love at tiffneylove@sclegal.org.

Tips for Preparing for a Temporary Hearing in Family Court

Family Court cases can take a long time and may involve several court hearings. Temporary hearings are typically held early in the case.  They may be used when a client needs the Judge to make decisions on issues that need to be addressed quickly and on a temporary basis. What the Judge orders at the temporary hearing lasts until the next hearing.  At a temporary hearing, a Judge may order a temporary parenting plan, temporary child support, or temporary alimony. If the parties are married, the Judge may also decide who gets to use the marital home or vehicle. The Judge may also order restrictions about behavior of the parties. For example, the Judge may order that the parties cannot sell property that was purchased during the marriage or that they cannot talk badly about each other in front of the children. 

If an attorney knows that the case is likely to be contested, he or she may request a temporary hearing to ask for some deadlines to be established in the case.  In Family Court, if the parties do not agree about some issues, they must attend mediation. Mediation is a process where a third party, typically a trained and certified mediator, helps the parties try to reach an agreement. At the temporary hearing, the Judge may determine which mediator the parties should use and how the parties should pay for mediation. Typically, the Judge makes both parties divide the cost of mediation. You and your attorney will discuss what mediation option is best for your situation. You can then ask the Judge for that option. Ultimately, the Judge will make the decision about the choice of the mediator, the payment, and the deadline for mediation.

If the parties disagree about what is best for the children, the Judge will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem. This person will do an investigation of custody issues and will write a report for the court about what they found. The Guardian Ad Litem may visit the homes of both parties and speak to the children’s teachers or other family members. He or she may also look at the children’s medical records and search for other information about the children. It is important to cooperate with the Guardian Ad Litem. However, what you say to the Guardian Ad Litem is NOT protected by attorney-client privilege. At the temporary hearing, the Judge is likely to also decide how the Guardian’s fees will be handled. Typically, both parties are ordered to contribute to the fees. The Judge may also order the parties or other key adults in the case to take drug tests. 

Tell your attorney the truth about your situation, even facts that you think may hurt your case. If your attorney does not know these things, he or she cannot represent you effectively. Some facts that could hurt you include dating someone else while you are still married, drug use, and recent criminal history. What you post on social media can be used against you in Court. In the next segment, we will discuss the forms used at temporary hearings and how you can help your attorney represent you.