Sunday, March 5, 2006
changes can make big difference in lives
SC Statehouse Report
MARCH 5, 2006 - - For months, a group of state senators has
worked quietly to reform the way the states family court
system works to make it perform better for those stuck in
the coming week, senators will discuss the changes to the
system, which deals with divorce, alimony, child custody and
visitation, and juvenile criminal offenses, among other things.
In the late 1970s, family court became a unified statewide
system, but hasnt been overhauled since. In the intervening
decades, observers say the system has become so clogged that
children and families often find themselves mired for months
- - or years - - before they can get resolutions to challenges.
you would like to read the full version of the special
Senate committee's report on family court reform, please
Today, Family Court is so inundated with cases that
judges have on average 20 minutes per case to make decisions
which have permanent impacts on a child, on a parent, on a
family, Chief Justice Jean Toal told a joint assembly
of senators and House members this week. Our Family
Court system is drowning.
State Sen. Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg, led a specially-appointed
panel of five senators who met in the off-session to probe
whats really happening in family court. After months
of hearings and research, the bipartisan panel in January
recommended five major changes to state law to improve the
- Voluntary family court hearing officers. The study
found much of the burden of the above-average load on family
court judges involves matters that tend to be administrative.
Senators and Toal recommended a voluntary system of family
court hearing officers, which would include retired judges
and experienced family court lawyers. These officers would
handle uncontested and routine matters to allow judges to
spend more time on more serious cases.
- Mandatory mediation. Senators and Toal also recommended
a mandatory mediation process be used on the front-end of
family court cases to try to come to a resolution more quickly
- - perhaps as soon as in six months - - before formalizing
the process in a court setting. Often, court settings make
matters more adversarial when they might not need to be,
Toal suggested. I believe the returns in time saved
and in human anguish alleviated would be enormous,
she told lawmakers.
- Alimony. The senators recommended tweaking the
alimony system to do two major things: take into account
that people in short-term marriages might not need to get
permanent alimony and make the system more equitable for
spouses after divorce papers have been filed. This second
notion challenges current law that says anyone who has an
affair while married - - even if a couple has filed divorce
papers and split - - is barred from receiving alimony. Some
say the current system is unfair because spouses who might
need alimony wouldn't be able to get on with their lives
and start another relationship while the divorce was pending
- - because the post-divorce-filing relationship would keep
them from getting alimony. This concept was shot down by
the Senate in debate during the week, but may return in
the coming week.
Support payments. Senators recommended changing the
child support system by shifting payment to the court clerks
office, instead of the current system of the supporting
parent to the supported parent. Proponents said the shift
should cut down on deadbeat parents.
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- Frivolous proceedings. Lawmakers also suggest in
legislation to create state law that puts the family court
process under the states frivolous civil proceedings
act, which means people could be held more accountable for
Ritchie said he believed the Senate would soon pass reforms
to the family court system that would make it better for children
and families in trouble. He added the House, which would next
consider the Senate proposal, appeared to be on board with
The public has been clamoring for reform and they need
it and they deserve it, Ritchie said. The judges,
families and children of the state need more time to make
better decisions so that children can heal faster. These reforms
will achieve that goal.
3/5: Watch the
parade, not other stuff
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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Committed to hydrogen economy
Publisher's note: The following letter
was dated Feb. 10, but received March 4.
To the editor:
I enjoyed your column
this week entitled "Start moving toward the hydrogen
economy." Hydrogen is a top priority not only in the
Fourth District but around the state because of the resources
and infrastructure we have. This is South Carolina's chance
to be a leader nationally, and I am fully committed to transitioning
to a hydrogen economy and becoming energy independent. Thank
you for recognizing this and discussing this important issue.
-- U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., Washington, D.C.
Drawing a connection
To the editor:
I wonder if any correlation could be drawn between the timing
of the initiation of the lottery scholarship money and the
tuition increases [Commentary,
-- Butch Robbins, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
oppose tuition caps, Kely
Sheldon, President, SC State Student Association, Junior,
a look at ethanol too,
Will McKay, Florence,
at America's energy needs,
Tom Hatfield, Hilton Head
Alexander D. Kline, P.E.,
- 1/30: Boost
cigarette tax or else, Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Haff, Hilton
Head Island, SC
- 1/30: Toll
is a use tax, Buck Pridgen, North Augusta, SC
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
Sanford: Gov. Sanford and former Gov. Jim Hodges
appeared together at a Columbia child development center to
ceremonially sign into law an extension to 2013 of Hodges'
highly successful First Steps pre-school program. Sanford
signed the bill, then exchanged gubernatorial pens with Hodges.
They were opponents in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
Grooms: Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, introduced
legislation to give the state power to oversee "isolated
wetlands," no longer policed by the Federal Clean Water
Act because of court rulings. The state would oversee and
issue permits for discharges and the like, as well as slow
down the loss of such environmentally sensitive areas. More
Vinson: Nancy Vinson of the Coastal Conservation League
is always on the ball when it comes to environmental issues
such as next Tuesday's House Agriculture subcommittee hearing
on limiting private bridges to the 2,400 small marsh islands
in state. She is rightly drumming up advance contacts with
legislators and on-site attendance at the 2:30 p.m. meeting
in the Blatt Building to try to protect marshes from development.
Italian china: The First Lady, Jenny Sanford, finds
herself in the middle of a brouhaha over her endorsement of
expensive Italian china items being sold at the Mansion and
in the Statehouse gift shop. A little forethought about how
such endorsements can be interpreted by others, especially
the poor of the state, could have staved the proverbial bull.
Fetus rights: Legitimate issues were raised on the
Senate floor this past week when senators approved a bill
that would allow charges to be tried whenever criminal violence
to a pregnant mother resulted in the death of her fetus. This
bill needs close watching as it moves to the House. Expert
testimony allegedly would identify the reasons for the fetus'
death, but that raises issues akin to abortion and whether
fetuses can survive outside the womb in the early stages of
pregnancy. Senators were told the bill would not apply to
abortions, but only to violent crime. More
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