South Carolina has a largely centralized juvenile justice system, separate and apart from the adult system. The uniform statewide Family Court system was established by statute in 1976.

The Family Courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction over minors under the age of seventeen alleged to have violated state law or municipal/county ordinance; they have concurrent jurisdiction over all summary courts for traffic and wildlife offenses. A case or action in the Family Court is initiated with the filing of a summons and petition. Each juvenile delinquency case involves only one charge or “status offense.”

A “status offense” is a violation of the law by a minor, which would not be criminal if committed by an adult, e.g. truancy, runaway, ungovernable or incorrigible.