South Carolina Divorce Laws Staff Profile Picture
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South Carolina has consistently recorded one of the lowest divorce rates among the states located in the Bible Belt. According to 2021 data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Palmetto State registered 2.4 divorces per 1,000 residents. The figure is significantly below the marriage rate of 6.5 per 1,000 members of the population. An underlying reason for the state’s low divorce rate might be its strict divorce laws.

South Carolina, alongside many other states, allows for at-fault and no-fault divorces. The difference, though, is that South Carolina only recognizes four grounds for at-fault divorces. This is a far cry from some of its neighbors, particularly Georgia and Tennessee, which admit at least a dozen grounds for at-fault divorces. 

It does not help that the no-fault grounds that South Carolina residents can use in a divorce require them to have lived separately from their spouses for an extended period of time, as opposed to the two aforementioned states that allow for no-fault divorces based on irreconcilable differences.

Compounding these issues is the fact that South Carolina divorce proceedings involve a lot of waiting:

  • In most cases, divorce decrees cannot be issued within three months of filing the initial divorce complaint

  • If your spouse cannot be found despite your due diligence, you may have to wait for an additional three weeks to a month to satisfy the requirements of a service by publication

  • The courts may take their time deliberating on issues like child custody and division of marital property based on difficult-to-quantify concepts such as “the best interest of the child” or “sweat equity”

Finally, divorces are just downright expensive. Contested divorces in South Carolina can easily cost you upwards of $10,000 in the various fees you need to pay in and out of court. Uncontested divorces are considerably cheaper, costing at least $150 in court filing fees and some additional expenses if you and your spouse hire experts to evaluate your property. Thankfully, the state has government-backed programs and nonprofit organizations that help defray these expenses.

Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in South Carolina

Divorce and marriage annulment in South Carolina both terminate the marriage, but they differ as to when they sever the marital rights: divorce ends the marriage upon issuance of the final court decree, but annulment declares a marriage void from the start. 

The grounds for getting each are also different, with divorce being based on issues that arose during the marriage and annulment being predicated upon the allegation that the marriage was invalid from the start.

South Carolina does not recognize legal separation, but it does allow couples to file for Orders of Separate Maintenance and Support as a temporary measure, usually before divorce.

Is South Carolina a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?

South Carolina allows for no-fault divorce but bases it on actual separation for at least a year before filing. Other than the no-fault ground, the state allows couples to divorce on the grounds of adultery, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness or substance abuse, and desertion or abandonment for at least one year. Desertion is different from separation in a no-fault divorce because of the absence of consent between the spouses for the separation.

How to File for Divorce in South Carolina

The process of filing for a divorce in South Carolina is not that substantially different from other states: you need to check if you are qualified for a divorce, file the divorce papers with the designated court that has jurisdiction over divorce proceedings, and hash out divorce-related matters in and out of court before a final decree of divorce is issued.

Identifying Qualifications

First, even before starting the actual divorce process, you should know if you have fulfilled the requirements needed to file for divorce in South Carolina. Mainly, you need to check if you or your spouse meet the residency requirement of at least one year individually or three months if the two of you are South Carolina residents. It is also a good idea to examine if you have a legally acceptable reason for filing for divorce.

Filing Documents With The Proper Court

After confirming that you qualify for divorce, you can get started with filling out and filing the necessary documents. The South Carolina Judiciary Branch has a packet for people who want to file their divorce unassisted. It contains the needed forms and instructions on how to fill them out. Despite this, South Carolina courts still recommend retaining the services of legal counsel, especially if you are anticipating a contested divorce.

The South Carolina Judiciary recommends filling out five documents to start the divorce process, namely:

  • Family Court Cover Sheet

  • Certificate of Exemption

  • Summons for Divorce

  • Complaint for Divorce

  • Financial Declaration Form

Once done, you can file these documents with the Clerk of Court in the Family Court Division of the appropriate court by submitting them to the clerk and paying the filing fee of $150. 

The appropriate court refers to the Family Court of either the county where your spouse lives if they still reside in South Carolina, the court in the county where you live if your spouse is a nonresident or cannot be found, or the court in the county where you both last lived together if you are both still South Carolina residents.

Divorce Proceedings Proper

Once you have filed your divorce documents with the designated Family Court, you can now start with the in- and out-of-court divorce proceedings. The order for the said proceedings is usually as follows:

  1. Serving summons to the respondent spouse;

  2. Allowing the respondent spouse the opportunity to contest the divorce;

  3. Settle matters such as alimony, child custody, and division of property; and

  4. Acquire the final decree of divorce.

Serving the Divorce Papers

The respondent, who is the spouse to receive the divorce summons and complaint papers, must be personally served certified copies of the said papers after filing. If they are not residents of South Carolina, the clerk of court or judge may require service by publication, basically asking the present spouse to publish the summons notice in a newspaper for at least three weeks.

Contesting the Divorce

Once the respondent spouse has been served the divorce notice in the manner provided for by law, they have 30 days to file an Answer, the legal response to the allegations in the divorce papers filed. The response generally also includes an outline of how they would like the court to handle the case and its related issues, such as problems arising from child care and the division of marital assets.

Settling Divorce-Related Matters

Divorcing spouses may settle certain matters outside of court through compromise or agreements, such as parenting plans and child support. If both spouses cannot agree on said matters, then the court will step in and decide for them. 

When deciding on child custody and visitation rights, the courts generally think of “the best interest of the child,” considering how the different facets of the said child’s life—from their education to their emotional and spiritual well-being—would be affected by being in the custody of either parent.

Marital property is always divided in court; the divorcing spouses are expected to produce evidence showing who owns what and to what extent so that the court may decide how to divide their assets.

Final Decree of Divorce

Once all matters are settled, the court will issue a final decree of divorce that terminates the marriage on the day that the decree is issued. 

Certain legal actions may also take effect upon the final decree of divorce, such as spouses being allowed to resume using their former surnames or the said decree setting forth the Social Security numbers of the divorced spouses.

How Property is Divided in a South Carolina Divorce

South Carolina follows the principle of equitable division of property during a divorce. This means that any marital property is equitably divided between the couple, regardless of actual legal ownership over the said property. 

Spouses are required to provide evidence showing ownership or actual contribution towards real property, such as houses, and personal property, like vehicles and jewelry. Courts have the authority to examine the evidence and decide what is equitable when dividing marital property. 

For example, when deciding on ownership of the marital home, courts may consider the “sweat equity” that each spouse has put in and not just the initial contributions when the home was first purchased. Sweat equity refers to the effort either spouse exerted for the home that increased its value.

One important thing to note is that courts only decide on the equitable division of marital property. Any property either spouse acquired before the marriage or during the marriage in the form of an inheritance or a gift made solely to them is considered non-marital property and is excluded from the division of property. 

Non-marital property may still be converted into marital property during the marriage through certain actions of the owner-spouse, such as putting down both spouses’ names as owners in a real property deed.

South Carolina Divorce FAQs

While the earlier sections explained the basics of what a divorce is and how to get a divorce in South Carolina, this part of the article will answer questions that individuals may ask before, during, or after getting a divorce.

Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in South Carolina

The following resources provide divorcing couples and already divorced individuals with emotional, mental, and legal support throughout and after the divorce process. These organizations have various programs that help soften the financial and psychological blow of divorce through methods like pro bono representation and support group counseling.

South Carolina Legal Services

South Carolina Legal Services is a program that aims to provide low-income South Carolina residents with free legal assistance. It comes at varying levels, such as conducting consultations with the program’s affiliated attorneys, providing assistance in filling out and filing divorce papers, and providing extended representation of qualified clientele in civil court proceedings. 

Interested South Carolina locals and attorneys alike can also join the program’s online classrooms that cover topics ranging from the basics of guardianship for newly appointed guardians to classes for legal counsel on how best to represent domestic violence victims in divorce proceedings. The South Carolina Legal Services Intake Office’s number is 1-(888)-346-5592.

Midlands Fatherhood Coalition

The Midlands Fatherhood Coalition is a member of the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families. The organization provides fathers throughout South Carolina with parenting training programs, peer support groups, and employment coaching services. Its holistic approach to training men to become better fathers includes guidance on divorce-related topics, such as how to navigate the child support system and how to establish visitation rights.

In addition to providing legal guidance and emotional and mental support to currently married and divorced fathers, the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition has launched a program called “Jobs Not Jail” that aims to prevent fathers from being incarcerated because of late child support payments. This program acts as a court-ordered alternative to incarceration, allowing fathers to work off the delinquent child support payments in a six-month period.

Safe Harbor

Safe Harbor is a nonprofit organization that advocates for adult domestic violence victims and their dependent children. It has several support programs in place for victims in different situations, from emergency shelters for domestic violence victims attempting to flee their abusive partners to counseling and advocacy services that help individuals kickstart their journey toward emotional and mental recovery following domestic abuse.

It also offers assistance to community members wanting to file orders of protection against abusive partners and maintains a repository of information about common legal issues during and after domestic violence incidents and where to get assistance for them.

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