Avoiding the Fault Line: A Guide to No-Fault Divorce in South Carolina
While no one ever enters a marriage with the intention of obtaining a divorce, sometimes separation becomes necessary. From adultery to drunkenness to physical cruelty, there are a variety of reasons a person may seek a divorce. However, South Carolina divides the grounds for divorce into two distinct categories: At-Fault grounds and No-Fault grounds. This article will serve as a guide to no-fault divorce and provide a better understanding of South Carolina divorce laws.
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
In South Carolina, under Section 20-3-10, there are five grounds for divorce:
3.) Physical cruelty
4.) Habitual drunkenness
5.) No-Fault Divorce
When filing for divorce in South Carolina, one of these reasons must be listed as the reason for the divorce. The first four grounds for divorce fall into the at-fault category because the actions of one spouse are the reason for divorce, but what does no-fault mean? Learn more about the difference between fault and no-fault divorce in South Carolina here.
WHAT ARE NO-FAULT DIVORCE GROUNDS?
The fifth ground encompasses every other reason for divorce and is the most cited ground for divorce. No-Fault divorces are when a marriage breaks down for reasons other than the four other grounds listed in Section 20-3-10. Typically, a couple would file under this ground if the dissolution of the marriage is due to irreconcilable differences, such as growing apart or a difference of opinion.
HISTORY OF NO-FAULT DIVORCE
Since the mid-twentieth century, the national divorce rate has been steadily increasing. Prior to the 1970s, if a person wanted a divorce in the United States, they would have to list a reason, but that changed with the emergence of no-fault divorces. States slowly began changing their laws to add this new ground for divorce, which has led to an increase in divorces across the country.
In 1979, South Carolina added a no-fault ground to Section 20-3-10, which allowed a spouse to seek a divorce if they lived separately for one year. This opened the door to divorce in the State without naming a spouse liable for the dissolution of the marriage. According to a recent study by Statista Research Department, there were only two divorces per 1,000 inhabitants in South Carolina, which is the eighth-lowest divorce rate in the country.
FILING A NO-FAULT DIVORCE
Under Section 20-3-10 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, no-fault divorce requires a husband and wife to “have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year.” Therefore, a couple must live separately for an entire year before filing for divorce, which means they cannot live in the same house for an entire year. Nothing needs to be filed with the state to prove that the required year period has started. When the divorce proceedings begin, the required time can be established by testimony from the filing spouse and one independent witness stating that the couple has not lived together for a year.
After a year, a spouse may file for divorce on no-fault grounds. The length of time until the divorce is finalized depends on if the divorce is contested or not. A divorce is uncontested when the spouses agree on all the issues at hand, but if any disputes arise, it becomes contested. If a divorce proceeding is uncontested, it will generally take three months, but if it is a contested divorce, it can extend to a year or longer.
It is also important to note that for the South Carolina Family Court to have the proper jurisdiction over a divorce, the spouse must have lived in South Carolina for more than one year, or both spouses must have lived in the state for at least three months.
Waiting the required year period can present an economic hardship for many people, and the South Carolina Family Court understands this. As such, the Judge can order a spouse to pay a form of alimony called Separate Maintenance and Support. Although typically used in legal separations and not necessary for spouses living apart in accordance with the no-fault, an Order of Separate Maintenance and Support can help protect financial interests and solve visitation issues.
A temporary hearing is often used to resolve financial and custody issues.
PROS AND CONS OF NO-FAULT GROUNDS
Deciding to file for divorce can be an extremely difficult decision, and as with everything, there are many advantages and disadvantages to choosing to file a no-fault divorce. One major advantage is that it provides a way to get a divorce without naming one spouse as the culprit for the end of the relationship. Another advantage is that it offers more privacy during court proceedings which can be beneficial to both spouses and to any children they may have. No-fault divorces can also be fast since there are fewer motions to file than at-fault cases. However, the major disadvantage of filing a no-fault divorce is that spouses must live apart for an entire year before a divorce can be granted.
If you are looking to file for divorce in South Carolina or have any questions about divorce law, please give Henderson & Henderson a call at 843-212-3188. Learn more about Jennifer Shafer who is our divorce attorney, and contact her for any question.