Sometimes in Family Court, a party makes allegations or brings a case that he or she simply can't prove. Though it is a court of equity, the law does apply in Family Court, and in order to succeed when you've filed a lawsuit in Family Court, you must be able to prove all of the elements of the law that would support your claim for relief.
So, what happens when you're involved in a case that the other party just can't prove? Say you find yourself at trial, the Plaintiff has put up his case, and he hasn't been able to meet the elements that the law requires to support what he's asked for. The Plaintiff rests and the trial judge looks to you to begin your case. You're in the position of continuing to incur legal fees to put up your own case at trial, despite the other party failing to carry his burden of proof.
There is a mechanism in our Rules of Civil Procedure that may help to bring things to a close swiftly, without having to respond to the Plaintiff's case at all. And, what's more, making the motion unsuccessfully causes absolutely no prejudice to the moving party … so even if you lose the motion, you can still present your own case.
Look to Rule 41(b) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, Involuntary Dismissal, which provides:
For failure of the plaintiff to prosecute or to comply with these rules or any order of court, a defendant may move for dismissal of an action or of any claim against him. After the plaintiff in an action tried by the court without a jury has completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant, without waiving his right to offer evidence in the event the motion is not granted, may move for a dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law, the plaintiff has shown no right to relief.
The Rule applies in Family Court, as it is not specifically excluded from applicability in Family Court actions pursuant to South Carolina Family Court Rule 2(a).
It makes sense that the legislature intended to provide the Family Court Judges with the ability to end litigation where the Plaintiff has failed to prove the elements of his case at trial; it allows the Court to stop baseless litigation and exercise its judgment without wasting valuable court time and resources.
Although often overlooked, Rule 41(b) is a valid avenue for ending litigation where an opposing party has been unable to prove his case at trial. It is separate and distinct from a Motion for a Directed Verdict, which applies only in jury trials and is excluded from applying in Family Court pursuant to Rule 2(a). See South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 50(a). Best of all, there is no prejudice to the moving party in terms of being able to present a case if the motion is denied, and it preserves the record on this issue in the event of an appeal.
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