The Process of Divorce in South Carolina
The state of South Carolina has both fault and no-fault divorces. To dissolve your marriage in SC, you must first meet residency requirements, then have grounds for a fault divorce or meet the no-fault requirements. The process can become complicated depending on whether or not the issues involved in the marriage dissolution are contested, whether or not there are children involved, the complexity of the marital assets to be divided, and other factors.
Meeting Residency Requirements
Before you can file for divorce in South Carolina, the court must have jurisdiction to accept your case. To file for a divorce in which one spouse is not a resident of the state, the other spouse must have been a resident for at least one year. If both spouses are South Carolina residents, then they only need to have resided in the state for three months prior to filing.
Determining Grounds for Divorce
There are several possible grounds for a divorce in South Carolina:
- Adultery: If either spouse has had sexual relations with another partner (whether before or after separation), this is considered adultery. Adulterous behavior may be either heterosexual or homosexual, and it is often established by circumstantial evidence such as evidence that may be uncovered by a private investigator.
- Physical Abuse or Cruelty: Acts of physical violence that endanger the life or health of the victim and make it unsafe for the couple to continue living together. Acts of mental and emotional abuse do not qualify as grounds for a divorce.
- Habitual Drunkenness or Drug Use: When one of the spouses routinely becomes intoxicated from the consumption either alcohol, illegal or legal drugs (i.e. the abuse of prescription medication). Habitual drunkenness/drug use can often be established with the testimony of outside witnesses who have observed the intoxicating behavior.
- No-Fault Divorce: To qualify for a “no-fault” divorce, the spouses must have lived apart from each other for at least one year. It is important to note that this does NOT mean sleeping in separate bedrooms at the same residence. This means living in separate residences for a full year.
- Desertion: If the spouses have lived apart for more than one year because one spouse deserted the other without the other’s consent, this can also serve as grounds for divorce. However, with the advent of the no fault divorce, this ground is rarely utilized.
It is important to note that if you and your spouse have been separate for less than one year and you do not have fault grounds through which to pursue a divorce, you can still file an action with the Family Court to have issues like custody, visitation, alimony, and equitable division determined. Instead of seeking a Decree of Divorce in such an action, you’d simply be seeking what’s called a Decree of Separate Maintenance. It is also a final order, and once you’ve been separated for more than one year you can file for a divorce and have your Decree of Separate Maintenance order merged into a Divorce Decree.
Filing for Divorce in South Carolina
The process begins when one spouse files a Complaint for Divorce. The spouse filing the complaint is referred to as the “plaintiff”. After the complaint is filed, the other spouse (who is referred to as the “defendant”) is served with the Complaint along with a summons informing them of the filing and how long they have to file an Answer to the Complaint for Divorce. The answer allows the defendant to state any defenses to the claims made on the Complaint, and to list any separate complaints they may have (complaints, in this context, meaning issues of the divorce on which the court needs to make a determination).
Once the Complaint has been filed, the case may proceed to a trial, but before that the parties must try to negotiate a settlement between their attorneys and/or through mediation. If there are contested issues that need to be heard soon after filing, a Temporary Motion Hearing may be scheduled. These might include child custody, visitation, possession and use of the marital residence, and many others. At this hearing, the decision of the court around various issues typically remains in effect until the divorce is finalized. For this reason, it is very important to have skilled legal representation in place before the initial hearing to ensure that your rights and interests are fully protected.
If the divorce proceeds to trial, another hearing is scheduled for the two sides to argue their cases. At this hearing, facts and evidence of the case are presented and witnesses may be called. Each side is given an equal amount of time to present their case. These hearings can be fairly short if there are not many complicated issues to resolve, or they can go on for several days or longer if the issues are more complex.
Speak with a Compassionate South Carolina Family Law Attorney
Going through a divorce is never easy, and it is especially difficult and emotionally-charged when several aspects of the marriage dissolution are contested. If you are in this situation, you need an advocate in your corner to not only provide strong legal guidance, but moral support as well. At The Cate Law Firm, we understand what you are going through, and we work closely with you to provide the skilled and personalized representation you need and deserve. To schedule an initial consultation, call our Spartanburg office today at 864-585-4226, or you may send us a message through our online contact form.