This blog is designed to give you a broad overview of the SC divorce process by discussing the essential events involving the divorce process step-by-step. There are several procedural options and alternatives that are not addressed below because it is simply impossible to outline every scenario involving divorce.
Getting SC Divorce: Steps 1 and 2
The first step is to make the decision to get a divorce. Divorce is often a difficult decision, even when there are fault-based grounds present within the marriage. South Carolina grounds for divorce.
After you have made the decision to get a divorce, the second step is to file a Summons and Complaint with the family court in the county where you and/or your spouse live, or last lived together. The summons is the document that notifies your spouse that you have filed for divorce and that they have thirty (30) days to respond to your complaint. As far as your complaint, this document is what notifies your spouse of why you want the divorce and what you expect to receive from the process. By way of example, if you want a divorce because your spouse committed adultery, you would state that. If you want your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees, you state that. It is important to capture as much information and ask for every goal you have in your complaint. It is NEVER a guarantee that you will receive what you ask for, but it is crucial to ask.
Step 3 For SC Divorce: Service
The third step is to serve your spouse with both documents together. Service is critical and if not executed properly it could result in additional procedural hurdles and time wasted. Pursuant to Rule 4 SCRCP, your spouse MUST be personally served with both the summons and complaint.
Step 4 in South Carolina Divorce: File Motion for Temporary Relief
The fourth step is filing a motion for temporary relief. This is an optional step and can be submitted at the time of filing the summons and complaint but can be done at any time prior to the final hearing. A motion for temporary relief is when you ask the court for immediate relief during the divorce process. Typical issues are alimony, child custody, child support, who resides in the marital home, insurance coverage, and restraints against behavior. A common example is if you are a stay at home spouse who is completely financially dependent on your working spouse, you may need alimony to be able to financially support yourself through the process. Once the motion is filed your spouse must be served with the motion to put them on notice of what you are asking to court to “give you.” The most efficient way to get relief is to file at the same time as the summons and complaint. Temporary Orders are exactly what they are – temporary and will be replaced with a final settlement agreement or a judge’s ruling.
Step 5: When Getting a Divorce in South Carolina
The fifth step is to wait. The legal process tends to take time, unless there is a bona fide emergency situation. Emergency situations can be difficult to establish and will be discussed in a later blog. Your spouse has thirty (30) days from the date of service to respond to your summons and complaint. Their response is called an Answer. Often, your spouse will also make a Counterclaim against you and your claims. By way of example, if you claimed your spouse was having an affair and they deny it, they will deny the claim in their answer and could claim that YOU are the one who is having the affair in their counterclaim. Or that YOU are a violent alcoholic that caused the breakdown of the marriage.
Step 6: Negotiate a Final Settlement Agreement
The sixth step is to negotiate a final settlement agreement. The final settlement agreement is essentially a marital contract that outlines all the terms and conditions of your divorce and how you are to comply with said terms and conditions. This is often the most emotionally draining process of divorce, especially if there are children involved. This step is when both sides go back-and-forth with compromises to: (1) allocate marital assets and debts, (2) custody and/or visitation of the children, (3) child support, (4) alimony, (5) and restraints against behavior. These are just a few of the most common issues addressed in separation agreement but can extend to any issue that needs ironed out, like who takes possession of the families bearded dragon.
Step 7 in a Contested SC Divorce
The seventh step is only necessary if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement. SC divorce laws require that all domestic relation actions participate in mediation prior to going to trial if the parties cannot agree amongst themselves. The mediation process is intended to bring the parties to the table to agree on all the contested issues themselves, prior to having a judge decide. It is usually far more beneficial to control your own case opposed to having a judge decide. A mediator is a third-party neutral that goes back-and-forth between the parties to explain the likelihood of the result of a particular issue if the issue were to be ruled on by a judge in the event you cannot compromise. A mediator is not a judge, but they tend to have a tremendous amount of experience in family courtrooms and understand what the best result for you and your spouse would be.
South Carolina Divorce Process, Final Step
The eighth step and final step is trial. If all else fails in negotiating amongst yourselves and going through mediation – Trial it is! There are no juries in family court. Each side presents their case to the judge through witnesses, experts, evidence, testimony, etc. to the judge and the judge makes a ruling on the terms and conditions of your divorce. How the judge rules is final, unless there is good cause for an appeal.
Divorce is never easy. Even if a divorce is what you want, it is often emotionally draining and a complicated legal process. SC divorce laws often feel unfair in the opinion of the parties involved. There are natural consequences of divorce that disrupt the status quo. Sometimes the consequences are positive, such as getting out of an abusive marriage. Others are not so positive, such as having to move out of your five-bedroom home into a studio apartment.
Regardless of whether your divorce is a SC uncontested divorce or a SC contested divorce, it is crucial to hire an experienced divorce attorney to not only navigate you through the complex legal process but to also be your number one advocate. Contact us for any question.