South Carolina divorce laws dictate that you can obtain a SC uncontested divorce, but that requires certain conditions. Most of the time divorces are inherently contested matters. The SC divorce process is pretty straightforward, but there are certain particularities everyone should know before filing for divorce. For more information on SC uncontested divorce read this article. If you need a divorce and just a few issues are contested, this article will help clarify the divorce process.
It’s important to understand SC divorce laws so that you reach a fair and appropriate outcome in your divorce. If you really want to take a deep dive, read the statute here. Or, read this article for laymens explanation and find a lawyer to help as soon as you can.
At-Fault Divorce in SC
South Carolina grounds for divorce are based on fault grounds or no-fault grounds. A fault-based divorce requires a showing that the at fault party – your spouse – is adulterous, abusive, or habitually drunk. If you can prove adultery, abuse, or habitual drunkenness, then you can get a divorce in South Carolina in just a few months.
We had a client recently who unfortunately had to divorce her husband despite many attempts to save her marriage. Her husband had a drinking problem when they were dating and first married. He may have had a drug problem and relations with other women, too. During their marriage, things started off fine but when they had kids, the pressure mounted. When the financial pressure mounted, he turned to drinking. Then the wife found text messages from other women. She tried desperately to confront him and reconcile, but he was defensive and agree. The family’s financial hardship was made worse because of her husband’s behavior. The kids saw what was happening. Eventually she had to make the decision to divorce her husband.
These scenarios happen, unfortunately, far too often. When they do, it’s possible to obtain a divorce in a few months. It’s also possible to secure a favorable settlement of the financial assets if the other party is proven to be the reason for the breakup of the marriage.
No-Fault Divorce in SC
No-fault divorces are different. The parties are not blaming the other for the breakup of the marriage. Instead, they agree both sides are to blame. Under South Carolina divorce laws, a couple seeking a no-fault divorce must be separated a year before the court grants a final divorce decree. The year separation provides an opportunity for the couple to consider their options. They can reconcile, remain separated, or divorce.
Many couple reconcile during the year separation. If, however, reconciliation is not possible, then the court can grant a no-fault divorce. Typically, the husband and wife will need a final settlement agreement before the court issues a divorce. The settlement agreement should include an agreement on how martial property will be divided, who will assume which debt, how bills will be paid, if alimony will be paid, child custody issues and other issues regarding the children, who will get the house, and many other matters.
Getting Started under South Carolina Divorce Laws
Under SC divorce laws, one party must file for a divorce – fault or no-fault. This is technically filing a complaint for divorce. The other party then has thirty (30) days to respond with an answer to the complaint. Often, a temporary hearing in front of a judge is needed to set the terms of the separation in place until a final divorce agreement is reached. At the temporary hearing, the judge will determine how the monthly bills will be paid, custody and visitation arrangements with the children, child support, who will stay in the marital home, and other concerns. Remember, the temporary order is not permanent.
The Meat and Potatoes
After the initial fillings, responsive pleadings, and temporary hearing, then the parties can engage in discovery during which each side can request information from the other. For example, both sides will request financial documents from the other, demand a valuation of the home, and they will certainly want to see guaranteed compensation agreements with employers. Sometimes, forensic accounts are needed to understand the full value of the marital assets. It’s not uncommon for a party to hide assets or artificially reduce income to avoid having to share it with their soon to be ex-spouse.
While discovery is ongoing, a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be utilized to help determine long term custody, visitation, and child support issues. The GAL represents the children’s best interest. He or she reports to the court based on interviews, home visits, and other aspects of the investigation. It’s important to remember, all matters concerning children must be in the best interest of the children. Further, everything regarding children is modifiable at a future date.
When the lawyers feel discovery is complete and the GAL has issued a report, then it’s time for mediation. Under SC divorce laws, mediation is required before trial. Mediation is an opportunity for both sides, with their lawyers, to present their case to an independent third party called a mediator. The mediator’s job is getting both sides to agree to compromise. If the terms of a divorce agreement cannot be agreed upon at mediation, then the case goes to trial.
The trial of a divorce case in South Carolina is handled by a judge – there is no jury. Trials can last a couple days and up to a couple weeks depending on the case. A divorce trial is a complex matter requiring the expertise of a lawyer and is beyond the scope of this article. If you have a case that might go to trail, it’s best to use a lawyer from the outset.
South Carolina divorce laws are fairly straight forward, but in practice they can be challenging to navigate. If there are no marital assets and no children involved, it’s possible to handle it on your own – this is known as an uncontested divorce. Most of the time, however, that’s not the case. Hiring a divorce lawyer is generally a good idea to help you understand your rights, navigate the divorce process, and negotiate an agreement.