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

Domestic Violence Behaviors

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

More than 2 in 5 women will experience either physical violence, sexual violence, or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. South Carolina ranks in the top 10 worst states for the rate of women murdered by men.

Domestic violence is not just physical violence against a partner. It is also sexual and psychological violence, as well as emotional abuse. It can also look quite different depending on the relationship and depending on the abuser.

Those who use domestic violence to create power and control over their partner can use a variety of tactics. This includes, but is not limited to, using intimidation, emotional abuse, and isolation. The abuser can also minimize, deny, and blame the victim in a way to manipulate and shift responsibility. This abuse can also look like the use of threats, including economic threats, and the use of children.  

If a person is in an abusive relationship as the victim, (s)he is not the one to be blamed and does not need to be ashamed.     Help for the survivor is just a phone call away. Visit www.sclegal.org for a listing of shelters throughout the state that will provide you with a safe space away from your abuser. You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 1.866.331.9474.            

South Carolina Legal Services may also offer free legal assistance to domestic violence victims, including obtaining Orders of Protection, divorces, and custody. To apply, you can call 1.888.346.5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Eviction Averted After First Moratorium Ended

Jane, a single mother with several young children, was served with an eviction notice in February. She had lost her job and had applied for but had not received any unemployment benefits and was awaiting her income tax refund.

Later, Jane was able to pay the past due rent. However, she did not answer the eviction action because she assumed that payment of the rent ended the eviction. Jane made several attempts to pay ongoing rent at the management office of her complex, but the office was closed due to the COVID 19 stay at home order.

The landlord did not move forward with the eviction action filed in February because of the Supreme Court’s issued moratorium. However, when that moratorium ended Jane received a certified letter from the landlord on July 31st advising her to move out of the property within 30 days. The eviction action from February had moved forward even though she had paid her back rent. Jane was unaware of this until she was served with a Writ of Ejectment, informing her that she had to be out of her home in three days.  Jane applied for legal services while in the process of packing her personal belongings. Not only would Jane lose her home, but she would also lose her Section 8 voucher if the eviction was ordered.

An SCLS attorney filed a motion to stay the eviction action. With the attorney’s assistance, the eviction case was dismissed by the Judge. Jane and her children were able to stay in their home and keep the Section 8 voucher. She has returned to work and is now able to pay her rent without difficulty.

Facing Eviction?

South Carolina Legal Services can represent you. Call our toll-free number at 888-346-5592 or applying online at https://sclegal.org/

Can’t pay rent?

Click here to see a list of agencies that can help you pay your rent.

Need Help Completing The Declaration To Stop Eviction?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an Order that could stop evictions for those who have unpaid rent.  The Order will last until the end 2020. Tenants must continue to pay rent. The rent is not forgiven. Tenants still may have to pay late fees for not paying your rent on time.  The Order does give relief to tenants who are unable to pay rent due to a financial hardship and who are making efforts to pay what they can.  

Every adult living in the rental unit must sign a Declaration that contains the following information AND give it to the landlord with proof of delivery to the landlord to be protected by the Order:

  1. Have used their best efforts to get all available government rental help;
  2. Have a specific income;
  3. Are unable to pay full rent;
  4. Using their best efforts to make timely payments;
  5. Have no other housing options if evicted;
  6. Understand full rent must be paid and other terms of the lease followed;
  7. Understand can be charged fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent on time;
  8. Understand that the moratorium will end on December 31, 2020.

The CDC Order provides steep penalties if the landlord violates the Order or if a tenant gives false information.

The Order does NOT stop all evictions.  The following evictions are still allowed:

  1.  Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;
  2. Threatening the health or safety of other residents;
  3. Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property;
  4. Violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or
  5. Violating any other contractual obligation.

SCLS can help with the following by calling our toll-free number at 888-346-5592 or applying online at https://sclegal.org/

  • Explaining the qualifications;
  • Filling out the Declaration;
  • Locating agencies who may assist with rental payment;
  • Representing if served with an eviction action.

Avoiding COVID-19 Related Foreclosures

Homeowners who have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis have been worried about the prospects of foreclosure this year.

Foreclosure Moratoriums

In March, the S.C. Supreme Court and the federal government halted foreclosures for a few months. Since then, the five federal agencies that own or insure most of the mortgage loans in the U.S. have extended foreclosure moratoriums for their mortgages through at least December 31, 2020. The “Big Five” are Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) (through the Rural Development Program), and the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). There is no foreclosure moratorium for private mortgages that are not owned or insured by one of the Big Five.

Payment Relief

If you have a mortgage backed by one of the Big Five you can obtain a payment forbearance if you cannot make a mortgage payment because you have had a COVID-19 related financial hardship. A forbearance means that you may put off, or “forbear,” making mortgage payments for a set period of time. The payments are not forgiven and will come due at the end of the forbearance period. If you have a COVID-19 related hardship, you can ask your mortgage company for a “CARES Act Forbearance.” If you are eligible, then you should get a CARES Act Forbearance that will last up to 180 days. You should not have to prove you suffered a COVID-19 related financial hardship, and you should not be charged late fees or penalties during the forbearance. You can ask for another 180 days if your circumstances have not improved by the end of the first CARES Act Forbearance. You will still owe the money that would come due during this time. You normally would have to pay it all in a lump sum at the end of a forbearance period. But if your mortgage is backed by one of the Big Five, you have other options.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: If you were current on your payments and can afford to resume payments when it ends, you can get a special COVID-19 Payment Deferral, which moves your missed payments to the end of the loan. If not, you can apply for a loan modification. This would change the terms of the loan to make the payment more affordable.

  1. FHA and HUD: Depending on whether you were current before the forbearance, they may offer a mixture of Partial Claims (placing arrears into a junior lien that is repaid when you refinance or sell the home, or at the end of the loan), loan modifications, or both. They may offer other programs as well.
  2. USDA: If you can resume your payments, you can get a repayment plan or extend the term of the loan by the length of the forbearance. If you cannot resume your payments, you can ask them to review you for their standard loss mitigation options.
  3. VA: You may request a deferral program, repayment plan, or loan modifications depending on your needs. They cannot require you to make a lump sum payment at the end of the forbearance.

These programs are not automatic! You must reach out to your mortgage servicer to ask for this help. If you get a forbearance under the CARES Act, you should reach out again before the forbearance ends to discuss your options about how the missed payments will be repaid. If you do not have a mortgage backed by one of the Big Five, you still should ask your loan servicer what options it has to avoid foreclosure.

Call SCLS at (888) 346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org if you get a foreclosure notice or if you have any questions about foreclosure issues.

Social Security Administration and Its COVID Related Plans

COVID-19 continues to guide the way we interact with government agencies. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offices remain closed to the public.  It is unknown when they will fully reopen. It is important that we remember that SSA’s field and hearing offices have rather small public areas.  These areas are often packed with vulnerable individuals. SSA is trying to develop procedures to protect its staff and the public.

SSA is encouraging the public to set up a personal “my Social Security” account.  This will allow you to check your earnings record, eligibility for benefits, your current benefits and even get a replacement Social Security card. Go to https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ to set up an account. You can apply for most benefits online. You can also file an appeal if you are denied benefits. Remember to keep proof of any on-line transaction (even if it is just taking a picture with your smart phone). One of the projects SSA is developing for the field offices is a mobile app. The app will let you check in for an appointment on your smart phone from your car. 

Social Security hearings are still being heard solely by telephone.  But, SSA has plans to go to video hearings using Microsoft Teams. Unrepresented individuals with an email address have started to get their hearing record by secure email rather than on a disc.  It is important to ask for the hearing record if you have a hearing scheduled and cannot get someone to represent you. This allows you to see the evidence SSA is using to deny or cut off your benefits.

SSA and its Inspector General is reminding the public to be on the alert for scams. Be very careful if you get an unwanted call from someone saying they are from the government. Do not give out personal information like your date of birth, social security number, place of birth, or mother’s maiden name. SSA will never call and threaten you with arrest or legal action, tell you that your social security number has been suspended, demand secrecy in handling a Social Security-related problem or ask for payment in exchange for services.

If you have any issues regarding your Social Security Benefits, you may apply for free legal services by calling the SCLS toll free number 888-346-5592 or apply online at https://sclegal.org/

15th Annual Neighbor Day

The 15th Annual Neighbor Day was a success in spite of the restrictions of COVID-19.  Generous donations, established sponsorships, and dedicated employees at the Charleston office of South Carolina Legal Services were determined to make this another successful year.  Due to COVID-19, a more creative and strategic approach was needed for this year’s community outreach project. Parents who previously attended Neighbor Day  were contacted via phone, email and mail.  They were given instructions on how to sign up and later schedule an appointment to pick up the items.  We were able to provide over 160 children including the children housed at the Carolina Youth Development Center with shoes, socks, school supplies, dental hygiene kits, and PPE supplies.  We also made a sizable shoe donation to The Lowcountry Orphan Relief.

COVID-19 didn’t stop our efforts of providing resources and much needed items for the people of our community.  We will continue to be a resource for our community and look forward to a COVID-19 Free Neighbor Day 2021. 

Evictions and Education

The McKinney-Vento Act provides valuable protections for families with children in school, who are facing eviction or homelessness. These services can be particularly beneficial during the pandemic, when more families may face eviction. The Act requires that public school entities ensure that homeless children have the same access to public education as other youth. The Act defines a student as homeless if he or she is staying in a shelter, motel, vehicle, trailer park, on the street or with relatives or friends. If a student falls within one of these categories, public schools have to provide the student with educational services. The services include transportation to the school the child was enrolled in before becoming homeless, if feasible, referral to other social and health services (e.g. shelters, mental health services, domestic violence agencies), enrollment in school of choice, enrollment in school without a permanent address and other services. Families may contact their school(s) to obtain contact information for the McKinney-Vento Act liaison who can assist with obtaining the benefits under this law.

The Importance of Being Prepared

Losing a loved one is hard, but it can be made harder by not being prepared. If you are over age 18 then you need a Will to simplify the probate process for your loved ones. There are lots of places that you can get a low-cost or free Will, so a simple Will does not have to break the bank. We recently did a presentation on Wills and other types of Advance Directives. You can watch this training here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdrDLq6_Ros&t=1s

We always strongly encourage you to meet with an attorney to execute a Will. Sure, there are lots of free programs on the internet that can help you do your own Will, but those programs do not contemplate your specific situation. Wills can be made complicated by things like blended families, adult children with disabilities, or minor children. This is why it is important to talk to a licensed attorney who has experience drafting a Will and can talk you thorough all the potential issues that can arise in a Will.

After you have your Will you need to make sure that the person you have named as a Personal Representative knows where your original Will is located. Your Personal Representative must take your original Will to probate court, with your death certificate, funeral program or obituary, and a copy of your paid funeral bill as soon as possible.

Probate courts have super-helpful staff. They can not give you legal advice, but they can tell you what forms the court needs completed and when they need them completed by. Most courts give you a checklist of what form is due and when you must submit it by.

The most important thing to remember is that an estate must be probated within 10 years of a person’s date of death. This means that if you wait 11 years to turn over a Will and open an estate, the court can not let you do that. I have seen cases where a person holds on to the Will not realizing it must be filed until years later. This can cause some serious heartache and headaches. If an estate is not opened within 10 years of a person’s date of death, a more formal action must be brought in the court called a Petition to Determine Heirs. This action can be quite expensive, because the court requires certified birth certificates, death certificates, funeral programs or obituaries, and all the potential heirs must be served with notice. The court also requires a hearing and the testimony of a disinterested witness who knew the person who passed away and knew who their family members are. Some probate courts even require that the petitioner pay for a court reporter for this hearing, which can also be very expensive.

So, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Many people handle the estates of their loved ones without an attorney. However, if you have recently lost a loved one and do not know where to turn, you can call and apply for our services at 1.888.346.5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

SCLS Attorney’s Mission Reflection

At the start of this week, I needed to remind myself how important this job is. (Been there?) So I took some time to reflect on some of the ways we really help change people’s lives for the better. It helped.

Here are a few of the examples that renewed me with a sense of purpose:

  • Because of us, undocumented mothers — survivors of extreme poverty and domestic abuse — get to live and work in peace in the same country where her children were born. They get to drive their kids to soccer practice without the fear of being stopped by police, taken to jail, and deported.
  • Because of us, jealous, angry, unruly parents who want to hire a lawyer and take custody of their children out of spite, or pettiness, or a desire to get out of paying child support (and think they can do it because the other parent is poor), are met with a dose of reality. Those children then get to remain with the only good parent they have, and that parent gets to keep raising the children who are at the center of their universe.
  • Because of us, the Department of Employment and Workforce is made to understand that our client wasn’t actually at fault for being terminated from their job. As a result, that client gets to make their mortgage payment, and car payment, and utility bill with the benefits that would have otherwise been denied to them.

This is a job with serious implications for people who have no other option but us. Sometimes, the weight of that can make you feel overwhelmed, like treading water alone in the middle of a dark ocean. This week, it makes me feel connected to humanity.

This is truly what it means to work as a Staff Attorney with SCLS. Do you want to make a difference in the lives of people who so desperately need someone to be their voice? If you would like to have the same ability to connect to humanity and be a part of our mission, please visit our website at https://sclegal.org/employment to become a part of our team.

Putting Your Affairs in Order – Advanced Directives Documents You Need Prepared

Given the current pandemic, everyone is trying to make sure that they stay healthy.  You may be wearing a mask or being careful when you leave the house, but have you thought about making sure your loved ones know your wishes about your medical care?  You can communicate your desired treatment by signing certain advance directives: a Living Will; a Health Care Power of Attorney; and a Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST).

           A Living Will is a legal document that allows you to make medical decisions ahead of time about life-sustaining procedures in the event you are ever faced with a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state.  You state whether or not you want life-sustaining procedures, such as artificial nutrition or hydration, withheld or used.  This is a statutory form available in South Carolina which means that it is available for free.  However, you should discuss the document with an attorney to make sure that it is properly executed and that you understand the choices you are making in the document.

            A Heath Care Power of Attorney is similar to a Living Will because it also covers decisions if you are terminally ill or in a vegetative state.  However, in a Health Care Power of Attorney you name someone as your agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself.  You do not need both a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney.  You should decide which of these documents is best for you.  If you do not know which one you should proceed with or which document works best for your situation you should speak with an attorney to give you advice on the two types of documents.

A Physician Order for Scope of Treatment (POST) is a document that works along with other advance directives.  It is a medical order that you complete with your doctor that addresses key medical decisions about the care that you will receive at the end of your life. You should consider a POST document when you have been diagnosed with a serious illness and may be expected to lose capacity within 12 months.

            You should consider having an advance directive in place so that your family members will know your wishes about your medical care in a situation in which you might not be able to communicate with them.    The attorneys at South Carolina Legal Services can assist you with these documents. To apply for services call 888-346-5592 and speak with one of our In Take Staff.