Legal Information: South Carolina

Restraining Orders

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November 13, 2023

What is the legal definition of abuse in South Carolina?

For the purposes of getting an order of protection, South Carolina law defines abuse as when a “family or household member” does any of the following:

  • physically harms you or threatens to do so;
  • causes you bodily injury;  
  • assaults you; or
  • commits a sexual criminal offense against you.1

A family or household member is defined as:

  • a spouse or ex-spouse;
  • someone with whom you have a child in common; or
  • someone with whom you live(d) in a romantic way (“cohabitation”).2

Note: If the acts of the abuser do not fit in this definition, or if you don’t have the required relationship with the abuser, you may still be eligible for a restraining order against stalking or harassment. See our Restraining Orders Against Stalking or Harassment page for more information.

1 S.C. Code § 20-4-20(a)
2 S.C. Code § 20-4-20(b); Jane Doe v. State of South Carolina, 421 S.C. 490, 808 S.E.2d 807 (2017)

What types of orders of protection are there? How long do they last?

In South Carolina, there are temporary orders of protection and final orders of protection.

A temporary order of protection are can be issued if you request an “emergency hearing.” This emergency hearing will be held within 24 hours of when your petition is served upon the abuser. Unlike many other states that issue a temporary order without notifying the abuser (ex parte), South Carolina law calls for service upon the abuser before the emergency hearing so it’s possible that the abuser will be present at the emergency hearing. The temporary order is generally in effect for 15 days at which point a full court hearing will be held for a final order of protection.1 However, the judge may extend the temporary order if your full court hearing is postponed.

Final orders of protection are issued only after a full court hearing, where both you and the abuser have a chance to present your sides of the story through evidence and testimony. Final orders of protection last for between six months and one year.2 You may ask to have your order extended by filing a motion and showing “good cause.” See How do I extend, change, or cancel my order of protection? for more information.

There is a different type of order of protection for victims of stalking or harassment. For more information, see our Restraining Orders Against Stalking or Harassment page.

1 S.C. Code § 20-4-50(a); see Petition for Order of Protection on the South Carolina Courts website
2 S.C. Code § 20-4-70(a)

What protections can I get in an order of protection?

A temporary order of protection can:

  • order the abuser not to abuse you or threaten to abuse you;
  • order the abuser not to communicate with you or try to communicate with you; and
  • order the abuser to stay away from any place you request, including your school, home, child’s day care, or workplace.1

A final order of protection can:

  • order all of the relief stated above; and
  • include the following additional terms:
    • award temporary custody and visitation rights of your children;
    • order the abuser to pay temporary financial support for you and/or your child if you are married or s/he is the legal parent of the child;
    • grant temporary possession of your shared home even if the respondent owns the home or is the only one on the lease – however, this can only be ordered if the respondent has a legal duty to support you or your children as your spouse or your child’s other parent, for example;
    • forbid the abuser from selling or getting rid of income, homes, or property you share;
    • order who will get temporary possession of personal property, including pets;
    • order the abuser not to harm or harass any pet owned or kept by you, any family member named in the order, or the abuser;
    • order law enforcement to help you remove personal property from the home if the respondent will be staying in the home and you will be leaving;
    • order the abuser to pay for court costs and your attorney’s fees; and
    • order anything else you ask for that the judge thinks is necessary to keep you safe.2

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

Note: Although the order of protection laws do not specifically say that a judge can prohibit firearm possession as part of your order of protection, South Carolina’s gun laws say that for firearm possession to be illegal, the family court judge must order that the respondent is “prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing a firearm or ammunition.”3 There are also additional “findings” that the judge must make, as explained on our SC State Gun Laws page. Be sure to specifically ask the judge to include this language in your order if the abuser has a firearm.

1 S.C. Code § 20-4-60(A)
2 S.C. Code § 20-4-60(C)
3 S.C. Code § 16-25-30(A)(4)

In which county can I file for an order of protection?

You can file a petition in any of the following counties:

  • the county where you live;
  • the county where you are currently in shelter, assuming that you are a state resident;
  • the county where the abuser lives;
  • the county where you and the abuser last lived together; or
  • the county where the abuse took place.1

1 S.C. Code § 20-4-30(A)-(C)

If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?

When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.

There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:

  1. The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
  2. One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
  3. If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.

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