Bridging the Gap: Challenges and Solutions in Access to Legal Services

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is crucial to acknowledge the ongoing struggle for equal access to justice, particularly for low-income individuals and marginalized communities. The legal system should be a beacon of fairness and equality, yet for many, it remains out of reach due to systemic barriers and inequities. In this blog post, we delve into the challenges faced by those seeking legal services and explore initiatives aimed at breaking down these barriers to ensure access to justice for all.

The Challenges:

Economic Barriers:
For low-income individuals, the cost of legal representation can be prohibitive. Legal fees, court costs, and other expenses associated with pursuing justice can quickly become overwhelming, forcing many to forego legal assistance altogether.

Legal services organizations, like South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS), aim to combat these barriers by providing free representation for individuals who qualify for our services.

Lack of Information and Resources:
Navigating the legal system can be complex and daunting, especially for those without access to adequate information and resources. Many individuals are unaware of their rights or how to access legal aid, further exacerbating disparities in access to justice.

At SCLS, we have invested time and resources into creating access to legal information. With over 450 free video resources, tons of brochures, a library of other resources, and a website dedicated to helping fight eviction, we are constantly working to ensure that South Carolinians have the information they need to combat the complexities of our legal system.

Systemic Discrimination:
Black and other marginalized communities often face systemic discrimination within the legal system, including racial profiling, biased judgments, and disparities in legal representation. These injustices undermine trust in the legal system and perpetuate inequalities.

SCLS stands against systemic discrimination as we represent clients of all communities. Utilizing internal groups like our Cultural Humility Unit and Racial Justice Institute (RJI) Committee, we take steps to hold ourselves accountable in the fight against discrimination in the legal system.

Initiatives for Change:

Legal Services Organizations:
Nonprofit legal aid organizations, like SCLS, are crucial in providing free or low-cost legal assistance to those in need. These organizations offer a lifeline for low-income individuals and marginalized communities, helping them navigate legal challenges and access justice.

Pro Bono Services:
Many law firms and individual lawyers donate their time and expertise through pro bono work, offering free legal services to clients who cannot afford representation. Pro bono efforts help bridge the gap in access to legal aid and ensure that everyone has equal access to justice.

SCLS provides opportunities for attorneys to provide pro bono representation through our Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) program. By participating in the PAI program, private attorneys can help SCLS in the fight to expand our reach in providing access to legal services.

Community Legal Education:
Education is key to empowering individuals to understand their legal rights and navigate the legal system effectively. Community legal education initiatives provide workshops, seminars, and resources to educate the public about their legal rights and available resources for legal assistance.

Through our free community events and clinics, we provide opportunities to educate communities throughout South Carolina on their rights in civil legal matters.

Conclusion:

As we reflect on the achievements and struggles of Black history, let us recommit ourselves to the fight for equal access to justice. By addressing the economic, informational, and systemic barriers that prevent low-income individuals and marginalized communities from accessing legal aid, we can create a more just and equitable society. Together, through initiatives aimed at expanding access to legal aid and advocating for systemic change, we can ensure that justice is truly accessible to all, regardless of race, income, or background.

Apply for Legal Help Online at www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake or call our telephone intake line at 1-888-346-5592.

Data Privacy Week

It’s Data Privacy Week, and if you’re not concerned about data privacy, you should be. One tool that’s probably available right now on your computer is “Incognito Mode”.

Incognito mode (also called private browsing or privacy mode) is a feature available in most web browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Apple Safari. It allows users to browse the internet without storing local data such as browsing history, search history, and cookies. If you open a new incognito window, your browsing history, passwords, and other personal information aren’t saved. A layer of privacy is provided, but your internet activities don’t become totally invisible. Websites you visit, your internet service provider, and maybe even your employer may still be able to track your activity.

Here are some reasons you should open an incognito mode window, according to staysafeonline.org:

  • Enhanced Privacy: It can prevent others from accessing your personal information and passwords left behind during regular browsing sessions. You should still avoid accessing email, bank, and other sensitive accounts when using public wi-fi or a public computer.
  • Avoiding Targeted Ads: It can help reduce targeted advertising by preventing websites from tracking your online behavior and tailoring ads based on your browsing history.
  • Bypass Paywalls: In some cases, it can help avoid the paywalls set up for online news outlets or other content.
  • Safer Online Shopping: It can help you compare prices when online shopping while preventing the automatic saving of your payment information and ensures a clean slate with each session.

HOWEVER, incognito mode isn’t flawless. It doesn’t hide your online activity from your ISP or employer, for example, and if you log into websites through a social media or email account, your incognito window doesn’t hide them from you. Also, your incognito session might be tracked in some way until you close the window.

The enhanced privacy and clean browsing experience that incognito mode provides makes it a valuable tool for safeguarding your internet activity. Here are more behaviors suggested by staysafeonline.org that you may want to consider:

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) to hide your location and IP address from websites.
  • Regularly check your account and app permissions to fit your comfort level.
  • Use a password manager to generate and store hundreds of long, complex, and unique passwords.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for any account that permits it to add another layer of protection to your login credentials.
  • Turn on automatic updates to ensure you have the latest security features.

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR DATA

That’s the theme of Data Privacy week in 2024. If you have lost control of your data through experiencing a cyberattack, data breach, privacy incident or other technology hack and need legal help, S.C. Legal Services may be able to help. If your data has been leaked or breached in a way that has caused you real legal harm, contact us to learn about your rights and see if we can assist you with the related legal problems that arise.

South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) provides free legal assistance in a wide variety of civil (non-criminal) legal matters to eligible low-income residents of South Carolina.

Apply Online | LawHelp.org/SC – Free and low-cost legal aid, assistance and services guide for South Carolina!

Or call our telephone intake line at 1-888-346-5592

Supplemental Security Income Reporting Responsibilities

Keeping track of the various changes that affect your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can be challenging. It’s important to remember your reporting responsibilities. Informing the Social Security Administration (SSA) of any change in circumstance that may affect your benefits is critical to ensure that you receive the right amount each month.

Common changes that need to be reported include changes in:

  • Income;
  • Resources (e.g., bank accounts, vehicles, property);
  • Employment (e.g., starting/stopping a job or change in earnings);
  • Housing (e.g., address or persons moving in or out);
  • Care (e.g., entering or exiting a nursing home);
  • Incarceration status (e.g., entering or exiting a correctional facility);
  • Citizenship (e.g., U.S. citizenship or lawful non-citizen status);
  • Marital status.

How to Report Changes:

  • Call toll free at 1-800-772-1213, weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Deaf or hard of hearing clients may call TTY 1-800-325-0778. · Contact your local Social Security office.

How to Report Wages:

  • Call our Toll -Free Telephone Wage Reporting System at 866-772-0953.
  • Use the SSA Mobile Wage Reporting app, available as a free download from either the Apple or Google Play stores. · Use your personal my Social Security account.
  • Mail or fax to your local Social Security Office.

Before using any of the SSA’s automated wage reporting applications, or, if you already use one and you change employers, your or your representative payee must contact the SSA. Please contact your local Social Security office or call the SSA Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to provide the employer’s information and employer identification number (EIN).

You can also sign up for monthly SSI wage reporting email or text reminders.

You can get additional information about wage reporting at SSI Wage Reporting | SSA. For a complete list of SSI reporting responsibilities, please read our publication, What You Need to Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income.

Understanding Auto Fraud: Lemons, YoYos, Repos, and Warranties

Auto Fraud is a very big problem facing South Carolinians. Auto Fraud can be tricky to understand. That is why we are going to explain some of your rights when it comes to Auto Fraud.

Let’s talk about some important federal laws that you should know. The Federal Odometer Act says it is against the law to mess with a car’s odometer (that thing that counts miles). Another important law is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This act makes it illegal for an auto supplier to go against a warranty. So, let’s say you had damage to your car and had it under warranty. This law pretty much makes it so that the person who sold you the car has to honor that warranty no matter what. Another good one to know is the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). TILA makes lenders tell you their interest rates before processing a loan. This Act can help a customer shop around for a better rate. If a lender does not tell a person the rate before processing the loan, that person would have a legal claim.

As far as State Law goes, there are a few more laws that might be helpful for you to know! Every state has its own repossession laws. These laws are rules for how repossession should happen if needed. For example, every state has its own Lemon Law. South Carolina’s Lemon Law protects people if they buy a new car, and something is wrong with it. A “lemon” car is a car that follows three conditions. The problem has to show up within the first 12 months or 12000 miles of use. The problem also has caused significant problems with use, such as safety issues. The problem also has to be one that the dealer cannot fix in a reasonable amount of time. A reasonable amount of time is either three attempts to fix it or a 30-day period when the person cannot use the car. If the problem matches those conditions, it is a “Lemon.” If a car is a lemon, then the manufacturer has to either fix, replace, or refund the car. It is important to know that if abuse causes the problem, it cannot be a lemon.

Another law that is much easier to understand is the S.C. Dealers and Distributors Act. This act protects you from unfair actions like false advertising when you buy a car.

Here are some common problems that South Carolina Legal Services might be able to help you with!

1. You bought a car, and it turned out to be a lemon car.

2. You were the victim of a YoYo sale. A YoYo sale is when a dealer gives you a contract but then asks you to come back to the dealership to sign a worse contract. They might do this by raising the interest rate or asking for a larger downpayment.

3. False Advertising. This is when a dealer lures you to the dealership with a great deal, then tells you that that deal is not available.

4. Finance problems. This is when a dealer undervalues a trade-in or inflates the price of the new car.

5. Repossession. The first time you miss a payment on a vehicle, the creditor has to send you a notice that you are more than ten days late. This notice is what we call a “right to cure” notice. But they do not have to send another one after the first notice. That means that it is very important to be on time with your payments. It is especially important to be on time if you have already gotten a notice in the past.

Let’s also take some time to get to know how warranties work. There are two types of warranties.

The first type of warranty is an express warranty. This is a written or spoken agreement about whatever the customer is buying. These are most often written. A dealer would make an express warranty by describing the car to you. Let’s say a contract says that the car is a 2023 Infiniti, but they give you a 1995 Honda Civic. In that case, they have broken an express warranty.

The second type of warranty is the implied warranty. This type of warranty applies to the sale and covers things you can assume about a car. This type of warranty means that a car has to do what the dealer says it will do. For example, if you wanted a car with high horsepower, and the dealer sold you a car that had low horsepower. In other words, a car has to do what it is supposed to do.

Make sure you always read contracts and pay attention to any warranty disclaimers. Warranty Disclaimers are parts of an agreement that a dealer puts in there to try to keep from giving a warranty.

Finally, make sure you don’t keep your documents inside your car! If you do want to keep the documents from your car purchase in your car, make sure to make copies! If your car gets repossessed or taken, you will need the documents from your purchase.

If you want more information on Auto Fraud, contact South Carolina Legal Services!

@sclegalservices

♬ original sound – Lucy

Eviction in South Carolina

Are you a tenant in South Carolina who is worried about being evicted? It’s important to know the eviction process in case you ever find yourself in this situation. Here is a step-by-step guide to the eviction process in South Carolina:

  1. If you do not pay rent, violate the rental agreement, or stay in the rental property after the lease term has ended, your landlord can start the eviction process.
  2. Your landlord must first give you a written notice to vacate the rental property. If your lease is not month-to-month or week-to-week and has ended, your landlord is not required to provide a written notice. If your lease says that the landlord can have you evicted for failure to pay rent, your landlord is not required to give an additional notice before your landlord files for eviction.
  3. Your landlord will then file an application for ejectment in magistrate court. This application will explain why you should be evicted.
  4. The magistrate will then issue a rule to vacate or show cause based on your landlord’s allegations.
  5. The magistrate’s constable or other process server will serve you with the rule. They must make two attempts to serve you in person. If both attempts fail, the third and final attempt will be via mail.
  6. You then have 10 days to respond to the rule.  Usually this means calling the magistrate’s court to request a hearing.  But review the Rule or ask the magistrate’s court if you have to make a written response.  Also, if you have legal defenses, you should set those out in writing.
  7. You can either vacate the rental property or file an answer and request a hearing with the magistrate court within 10 days. You should request a hearing whether you plan to vacate or not. If you do not vacate or file an answer, you will be in default and automatically lose.
  8. At the hearing, your landlord has the burden of proving why you should be evicted. You must prove any defense you assert.
  9. If the magistrate finds against you, they will issue a writ of ejectment within five days. If the magistrate rules in favor of the tenant, they are not evicted.
  10. You will be served with the writ and will have 24 hours to vacate the rental property.
  11. If you do not vacate, law enforcement will conduct a physical set out.

It’s important to remember that eviction is a serious legal matter. If you find yourself facing eviction, it’s best to seek legal advice from a lawyer or a legal aid organization. They can help you understand your rights and options, and may be able to help you negotiate with your landlord. Apply for our services at South Carolina Legal Services by visiting lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake or by calling 1-888-346-5592.

More Eviction Resources from SCLS (all free and do not require signup):

Did you know a South Carolina case was part of Brown v. Board of Education?

Briggs v. Elliott was one of the cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education and it started in Clarendon County. The school district had reserved all buses for white students, leaving Black students with long commutes, some of which included rowing paddle boats across bodies of water, 16 mile walks, and other harsh conditions.

Local members of the Black community, Levi Pearson, Hammett Pearson, and Joseph Lemon raised money to buy a used school bus, but its need for frequent maintenance led them to ask the superintendent, Roderick M. Elliott for a bus from the district to be used for Black students. Elliott refused stating that Black citizens didn’t pay enough taxes to provide a bus and asking white taxpayers to fund the bus would be an unfair burden.

Wanting to continue the fight for transportation for Black children, Pearson retained South Carolina attorney Harold Boulware and NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall and brought the lawsuit Pearson v. Clarendon County. Marshall argued that since the school board had provided bus transportation for white students, but not for Black students, they were violating the “separate but equal” doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson. Because of his lawsuit, Levi Pearson was subjected to acts of terror including gun shots fired into his home, and economic consequences like being refused credit from local banks to buy farming equipment.

Pearson v. Clarendon County was dismissed on a technicality because Pearson’s property spanned multiple districts. Not deterred, NAACP attorneys decided to pivot and aim for desegregation as a whole. Instead of asking for Black schools to be brought up to equal standards with white schools, the plaintiffs decided to ask that segregation be declared unconstitutional. Eventually, others in Clarendon County joined the suit, including the Briggs who became the main named plaintiffs.

A South Carolina three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that segregation was lawful but issued an injunction to equalize the obvious inferiority of Black schools in Clarendon County. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, who returned it for rehearing in the district court, who found that progress had been made in Clarendon County toward equal school facilities. Thurgood Marshall argued that while progress had been made, if separation existed, schools would be unequal. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court again where it was consolidated with other desegregation cases into Brown v. Board of Education and was the first case argued for the landmark decision.

Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark victory in the fight for equality in the United States. However, it is important to acknowledge that the victory came with a cost to those associated with Briggs v. Elliott in the aftermath of the decision in South Carolina. People involved with the case were fired from their positions, had their church burned, and were victims of drive-by shootings. The fight for equality is always worth it, but not always easy. Thank you to those South Carolinians who fought for equal access to education!

US Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments on the Constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act During Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month. This is a time to recognize the significant contributions Native Americans have made, and continue to make, to the United States of America. This month celebrates the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native peoples. It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by Native Americans, many of which continue in the present.

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday November 9th in the case of Brackeen v. Haaland, which will decided whether certain sections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argue that it provides an unlawful racial preference in child custody and adoption cases and unlawfully intrudes on a state right to regulate child placement. Those in favor of the law say that it aims to prioritize the placement of Native American children with their extended families or tribal communities, where their cultural identities will be understood and celebrated. 

The ICWA was passed by Congress in 1978 in response to the long and tragic history of separating Native American children from their families by state agencies, sometimes by force, who would place the children in institutions or with non-tribal foster families. The removal of a Native American child was not always due to abuse or neglect by a parent but was often due to misplaced beliefs about tribal life and poverty. The separation notorious with the federal government’s removal of Native American children to boarding schools, continued into the mid-20th century through state-court proceedings that determined, without considering Native American culture, that children had been neglected or abandoned. These children were then placed with families that were not Native American.

To address this history, the ICWA establishes minimum standards for the removal of Native American children from their families and establishes a preference that Native American children who are removed from their families be placed with extended family members or in Native foster homes. By keeping Native American children within their family and tribe, there is opportunity to better foster their culture and identity. Under ICWA, tribal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over child-custody proceedings involving Native children who live or have their permanent residence on tribal land. 

Brackeen v. Haaland was filed in federal court in Texas by the states of Texas, Indianan and Louisana, three couples who are not Native American who have tried to foster or adopt children with Native American ancestry, and one of the children’s biological mother. Four tribes have joined the case to defend the ICWA. The federal district court held that the ICWA was unconstitutional, but this was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. 

A decision in Brackeen v. Haaland will address two fundamental issues:

  1. Whether the ICWA’s placement preferences — which disfavor non-Indian adoptive families in child-placement proceedings involving an “Indian child”— discriminate on the basis of race in violation of the U.S. Constitution
  2. Whether ICWA’s placement preferences exceed Congress’ Article I authority by invading the arena of child placement — the “virtually exclusive province of the States,” as stated in Sosna v. Iowa — and otherwise commandeering state courts and state agencies to carry out a federal child-placement program

The challengers (Texas and the non-Native American adoptive families), contend that the ICWA’s use of an “Indian child” classification to create placement preferences violates the Constitution’s requirement of equal protection under the law.  They also argue that states, not Congress, have long been delegated the power to regulate adoption and child-custody proceedings. The tribes counter that Native American children have “always been a federal (and tribal) sphere,” insisting that the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate Native American affairs broadly, as part of the duty of protection that the federal government owes to Native Americans. In particular, they say Congress’ power to regulate commerce with tribes has never been limited to “buying, selling, and transporting goods” (a common definition of “commerce”). They contend that the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate all interactions between Native Americans and non-Native Americans.

Native American tribes have called the ICWA “one of the most important pieces of federal Indian legislation ever enacted,” and warn that a ruling in favor of the challengers “would work profound harm on Indian children and Tribes.” They feel that the ICWA “prospectively incorporates Tribes’ own preferences into federal law.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court:

“If the Supreme Court overturns ICWA, states would once again be allowed to indiscriminately remove Native children from their families and culture while simultaneously depriving tribes of future generations — putting the very existence of tribes in jeopardy.”

Today Native American programs and courts work with state courts to determine the best placement of a Native American child with preference being given to placement with a family or tribal member to help the child remain in touch with their extended tribal family. 

For more information, check out this article from SCOTUSblog. To read more about the oral arguments that occurred Wednesday, click here.

Did you hear about the new student loan forgiveness? Scammers did, too.

You’ve probably already heard about the new government plan that is in the works to forgive some federal student loans. Also in the news: the federal student loan payment pause has been extended to December 31, 2022. But scammers are watching the news, too.

You don’t need to do anything or pay anybody to sign up for the new program — or the pause. Nobody can get you in early, help you jump the line, or guarantee eligibility. And anybody who says they can — or tries to charge you money for it — is (1) a liar, and (2) a scammer.

Right now, the Department of Education is working hard on the details of the new plan: who’s eligible and how to apply to get your student loan debt cancelled. It won’t happen overnight, and they’ll announce it widely when the program opens up for debt forgiveness. 

Meanwhile, check on your federal loan servicer: be sure you know who they are, and that they have your most recent contact info. That will help you get the latest on the cancellation and pause.

Also, remember that there’s a whole separate program you might be eligible for: the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSFL) program. If you’re eligible, you’ll get federal student loan forgiveness after you have 120 qualifying payments. And until October 31, 2022, the limited waiver offers additional credit for time that previously didn’t count. Check out the PSLF Help Tool to learn more:

Become a Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool Ninja – Federal Student Aid

And remember: don’t pay anybody who promises you early or special access, or guaranteed eligibility. 

Those are scams. If you spot one, report it to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Name and Gender Marker Changes: Learn how to Update Your Name and Gender Marker in South Carolina

As members of the LGBTQ+ community strive to live their most authentic life, they may desire to change their name or the gender marker on their birth certificate. Continue reading to learn more about this process in South Carolina.

Name Changes

To make a name change for an adult, there are 4 key requirements that must be met:

1. Fingerprint and Criminal Background Check from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)

While it is possible to go on the SLED website and quickly do a criminal background check by submitting the information SLED requires, for a name change you need to do fingerprint screening as well. This will involve going to a local law enforcement center to complete a fingerprint card. You can do this at any law enforcement center, though fees may be different at each center.

After completing this background check, you will get a “Record Check” document back from SLED that you need to attach to your petition to change your name. If you have a criminal record, it will say so and include a printout of your criminal record. If you do not have a criminal record, this form will indicate that you do not have a criminal record. This will also include whether someone is listed on the sex offender registry.

Once you have completed this document, you will mail it to SLED at the address below, with a self-addressed and stamped envelope, as well as $25. They will use the self-addressed envelope to mail the results back to you.

SLED
PO Box 21398
Columbia, SC 29221

2. Screening statement from the Department of Social Services (DSS) that indicates whether the person is listed on the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect

This process can be found on the DSS website (https://dss.sc.gov/resource-library/forms_brochures/files/3072.pdf), however this document will need to be witnessed or notarized. You will mail this form to DSS at the address below, as well as the payment for an $8 fee.

DSS
PO Box 1520
Columbia, SC 29202

3. Affidavit that indicates whether the person is under court order to pay child support or alimony (“Affidavit of No Support”)

This affidavit will be a sworn statement to the court including your name, and stating that there are no outstanding payments in your name, including all previously used names (e.g. maiden name)

4. Screening statement from SLED whether the person is listed on the sex offender registry

This documentation can be obtained when contacting SLED for the first requirement, fingerprint, and background check.

Once you have obtained these documents, you will file a petition with the Family Court, including a $150 filing fee. Then, you will request a hearing and attend the scheduled hearing. The Final Order will be submitted to the judge for their review and signature. It is important for you to then obtain CERTIFIED copies of the Final Order from the clerk’s office, as you will need a certified order for another step.

At this stage, if the court has granted it, your name has been legally changed. However, if you want your birth certificate to reflect this change, you will need to take additional steps. You will need to ask DHEC to amend your birth certificate to reflect the name change. To do this, you will need:

  1. Certified copy of Final Order (this is why it’s important to make sure you get the certified final order because that is what DHEC requires)
  2. Vital Records Birth Application
  3. Included copy of state-issued ID
  4. $27

This information can be mailed to DHEC or taken to the DHEC vital records office in Columbia

Gender Marker Change

Filing for a gender marker change is not as straightforward, as there is no statute or case law addressing gender marker changes in SC. However, there is a law that allows Family Court to correct birth records. There’s another law that identifies DHEC as having authority to correct mistakes on the birth certificate.

DHEC issued a letter in 2018 stating that if the court and medical professional are satisfied with gender marker change, and these 4 steps were followed, they would accept the court order for gender marker change.

  1. Medical certification of physical change related to the person’s sex
  2. Licensed physician and the court are satisfied their medical treatment has been completed with the result being that they are now a different sex from their biological sex at birth and is not merely in the process of transitioning
  3. That the change is permanent in nature
  4. Change in sex is made with the intent to change permanently and for all purposes

Note, that these requirements do not indicate that a petitioner must have had surgery to change a gender marker, as long as the court and physician are satisfied with medical treatment that has occurred and has changed sex from biological sex.

What counts as medical certification?

  1. Detailed affidavit from a licensed physician treating the Petitioner in support of gender marker change and correction of birth record
  2. Depending on the individual case, expert testimony from a licensed physician may be required

The petitioner’s testimony will also be key!

This testimony would need to:

  1. Outline requirements DHEC has set
  2. Show doctor and petitioner have been careful to follow and meet requirements
  3. Explain factors like background, diagnosis of gender dysphoria, what treatments they received, biological changes, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need an attorney to pursue a name and/or gender marker change?

  • Probably – if you’re just doing the name change, the requirements are pretty straightforward; but if you are doing a name and gender marker change, it would be best to have an attorney since case law is not as straight forward and the attorney can make sure you have the strongest case possible.
  • If you meet gender marker requirements, it is best to do the name and gender changes at the same time so the birth certificate can be amended all at once.

I live in SC, but I was born in another state. Can I do a name/gender marker change in SC?

  • Yes! You are a resident of the state so you are subject to SC court jurisdiction.
    • However, it is important to double-check with other state vital record departments to ensure they do not require additional court order requirements.
    • Each state has different laws addressing gender marker changes. Make sure you reach out to the vitals record department to know of other requirements and whether they will accept the SC court order.

I was born in SC but now live in a different state. I was told I had to pursue the name change in SC. Is this true?

  • No – SC and DHEC will accept court orders from any other state, as long as it’s compliant with other SC requirements.
    • For gender marker change, DHEC may still want to see a copy of the affidavit from a licensed physician.

I have a criminal record. Will I be able to pursue a name/gender marker change?

  • For the most part, yes. The law contemplates this issue and says the clerk of court would have to notify law enforcement divisions about name or gender marker changes.

I am listed on the DSS Central Registry for Child Abuse/Neglect. Will I be able to pursue a name/gender marker change?

  • For the most part, yes. If the judge grants a change, a copy of the order will be sent to update the registry.

If I file a case with the court to change my name/gender marker, will it be open to the public? What about for a minor?

  • Yes; however there are circumstances where records can be sealed but this is not common. Family Court has its own court system that may not be visible on the public index online.
    • Confidential information like date of birth and SSN should be redacted before being issued on public record.
    • A little different for minors – any action in family court involving a minor child, the child is not identified. Parents bring the action so any mention of the child will identify the child as initials.

For more information, check out one of our Level Up Law episodes where attorney Charlotte Osmer overviews this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJ1CRZXyJlA&list=PLJ9Hlm5oxA5tlb2v8VVu2SQhZNOOtD7mX&index=64

Need Help Paying for Internet Service? There is a new program that can help.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program began last year in March to help households pay for internet service. Eligible households received a credit of up to $50 a month on their bill for internet services. Families located on qualifying tribal lands were eligible for a credit of up to $75 a month. That program is being phased out and replaced with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The new program helps more households qualify the credit, but it to $30 per month. Households living on qualifying tribal lands will still receive up to $75 per month. Households that qualified under the old program will continue to receive up to $50 per month until February 28, 2022, but they do need to reapply for the new program to remain eligible for the credit. 

A household is eligible if: 1) their income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty limit (currently$35,775 for a family of 4); 2) they receive SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, VA disability pension (a VA needs-based program), HUD public housing assistance, or Lifeline benefits; 3) they are eligible for the free or reduced-price school lunch program; 4) they receive a Pell grant during the current award year; 5) they experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020, and total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or 6) they meet the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

Enrollment is easy (two steps) and can be done by mail or online. To apply online: https://www.checklifeline.org/lifeline/?id=nv_flow&ebbp=true. After being approved, the family just needs to contact their internet provider. There are 115 companies in SC that participate in the program and can be found here: https://data.usac.org/publicreports/CompaniesNearMe/State/StateOption/SC. A household is a group of people who live together and share money even if they are not related to each other. Roommates that do not share money are considered as separate households and each roommate may be eligible for a credit. Households living on qualifying Tribal lands can find more information at https://acpbenefit.org/do-i-qualify/enhanced-tribal-benefit/

The program also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 towards the purchase of a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. The purchase must be made through a participating provider and there are only 21 participating companies in SC. To see if you may qualify for help, go to https://www.fcc.gov/acp.