Divorce can be stressful and confusing. If you’re considering filing for divorce in South Carolina, knowing what to expect and what will be expected from you can make the process easier and help you avoid costly mistakes. Your best source of information will always be an experienced South Carolina divorce lawyer. This overview will give you a general idea of what to expect from the divorce process.
Who Can File for Divorce in South Carolina?
Before filing for a divorce, you’ll need to make sure that you meet South Carolina’s residency requirements and that you have sufficient grounds for divorce.
Residency Requirements for Divorce
There are two ways to fulfill the residency requirement for a South Carolina divorce. The first is that one of the parties to the divorce case must have lived in South Carolina for at least a year before the filing. It doesn’t have to be the party who files the divorce case. If both spouses live in South Carolina when the case is filed, the filing party only has to have lived in the state for three months.
Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina
South Carolina law sets forth five separate grounds for divorce. But, these grounds fall into two separate categories. Four of the grounds are “for cause” or “fault” grounds. These are:
- Desertion for a period of at least one year. For more information, please read our blog on How Long a Divorce takes in South Carolina
- Physical cruelty
- Habitual drunkenness (including through the use of narcotics)
The fifth option is the “no fault” option. Either party can file for divorce when they have lived separately for at least a year.
Whether a divorce case is based on fault grounds or on the parties having been physically separated for at least a year, the filing party will have to prove those grounds in court.
South Carolina Divorce Timeline
In theory, a South Carolina divorce may be finalized in as little as 90 days after you file your complaint and serve your spouse. But, it’s rare for a divorce case to actually wrap up that quickly. The actual timeline for a specific divorce case depends on everything from the complexity of the issues to whether the parties reach an agreement. Most cases take several months to resolve, and some may take a year or more.
Steps in a South Carolina Divorce Case
Filing Your Divorce Case
A South Carolina divorce case starts with the filing of a complaint for divorce. The complaint sets forth the grounds for the divorce and asks the court to terminate the marriage and to address any other issues in that particular case, such as division of property and custody of minor children.
You must also serve the complaint on the other spouse. You’ll also serve a summons, which will tell the other party that they have 30 days to file an answer. In the answer, the other spouse may admit or deny the claims in your complaint, and may raise any additional claims they would like addressed in the case.
Discovery and Negotiations
While negotiation isn’t a formal step in the divorce process, it’s a common next step. Often, a divorcing couple can reduce both stress and cost by resolving the issues in their divorce case without going to a contested hearing. South Carolina encourages parties to work together to resolve the issues. In fact, divorcing parties are required to participate in at least three hours of mediation, unless they reach an agreement sooner.
Of course, not every couple will be able to reach an agreement. You’ll want to work with a divorce lawyer who is prepared both to negotiate on your behalf and to try your case in court if that turns out to be the best option for you.
To ensure that an agreement is fair, both parties will need accurate information about the other’s income and assets, the value of shared property, and even the information the other party will introduce at trial if the case isn’t settled. Your attorney will gather this information through a combination of investigation and the discovery process, which allows you to serve questions and requests for information on the other party. If necessary, your lawyer will hire expert witnesses to assess the value of property.
If you do reach an agreement on issues such as how your property will be divided, how you’ll share care and custody of your children, who will pay which outstanding bills, whether one spouse will pay alimony (also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance) and the amount of child support, you can file a settlement agreement. However, this agreement must be approved by the court.
Seeking Temporary Orders
Whether you’re negotiating an agreement or preparing for trial, you will likely need to ask the court for temporary orders. Your attorney will file a motion for temporary relief, which will ask the court to enter temporary orders on issues like who stays in the marital residence while the divorce is pending, temporary child support or maintenance, possession of vehicles and other issues. The court may also enter a restraining order preventing either party from disposing of assets while the divorce case is pending.
Typically, you’ll get a hearing on temporary orders quickly, and the hearing is short and to the point. The orders entered at this hearing usually remain in effect until they are replaced with a final order.
Your Final Divorce Hearing
What happens at the final hearing depends on whether or not you and your spouse have reached an agreement. If your divorce is uncontested–meaning that you have a settlement agreement that addresses all of the issues in your divorce case–your attorney will submit the agreement to the court. The court will review the agreement and may ask questions of the parties to make sure the terms are fair, comply with the law, and that the agreement was entered into voluntarily.
If some or all of the issues remain unresolved, the court will hold a contested hearing on those issues. You and your spouse will have the opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. Depending on the issues to be resolved and the complexity of your case, this hearing may take just a few hours or may go on for multiple days.
After the hearing, the court will enter a final order of divorce. If you’ve entered into an agreement or your case is very simple, the order may be entered right away. But, if there are more complex issues, the judge may need time to review the issues and render a decision.
What to Know Before Filing for Divorce
Often, people make mistakes before speaking to a divorce lawyer, and those mistakes can impact the divorce case and the way issues like property division and custody are ultimately decided. If you are considering filing for a divorce in South Carolina, it’s in your best interest to talk to an experienced local family law attorney before you take any action.
Addison Fender has devoted his practice to helping South Carolina residents resolve family law issues since 2010. You can schedule a consultation with the Fender Law Firm right now by calling 843-379-4888 or filling out the contact form on this site.