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South Carolina Divorce Laws – What You Need to Know!

Sometimes despite the best efforts of the parties, marriages in South Carolina wind up on the rocks. When it’s time to throw in the marital towel, it is important to understand on what grounds a divorce action can be filed in the courts.

Like other states, South Carolina allows its residents to file no-fault divorces if they have lived separate and apart for a year. There are also four at-fault grounds the courts will accept in a divorce petition. They are:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment
  • Physical cruelty
  • Habitual drunkenness

While it certainly is abhorrent and can contribute to the demise of a marriage, under the laws of the state, mental abuse or mental cruelty is not a legal grounds to file for divorce in South Carolina.


The Family Courts are the venue for filing for divorce. They are presided over by special family court judges who also rule on the related matters of separations, child support, spousal support, custody and visitation and the splitting up of marital property.

Divorce actions can be filed as separate cases, requesting a divorce from the wife or husband, after the grounds have been verified, or filed as part of an action that includes separate maintenance and/or support. When the two actions are included together, the divorcing parties must be able to satisfy the requirement for separation before they file, or the plaintiff must prove the fault that is alleged in the Complaint and Summons.

The Divorce Process

The spouse initiating the divorce is known as the plaintiff. The process begins when the attorney for the plaintiff, or the plaintiff alone, files the Summons and Complaint with the family court having jurisdiction over the action. The grounds for the divorce must be clearly stated and the petitioner also requests the manner of dividing the marital property. Issues regarding the custody, visitation and support for any minor children of the union are also detailed in the Complaint.

After the Complaint is filed, the other party or their attorney of record is served with the Summons and Complaint. The attorney is allowed to accept service of these legal documents on the client’s behalf. Once served, the defendant must file an Answer to the Complaint within 30 days of service. In the Answer, the defendant responds to the allegation and may make a Counterclaim. In the Counterclaim, the defendant describes his or her version of the issues and outcomes preferred in the case.

When only a divorce is handled, a single hearing is held, usually for about 15 minutes, to satisfy the court that the grounds for divorce are met. To corroborate the plaintiff’s version of events leading up to the grounds for divorce, a third party witness will testify briefly.

Will I Get a Spousal Support Award?

Spousal support is not a given in a South Carolina divorce. It may be awarded permanently or just temporarily and depends on many factors the court will consider. The court can order a lump sum payment be made or periodic installments. Some of the factors that determine if spousal support should be awarded include the following:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Ages of the spouses when they wed and divorced
  • Both spouses’ physical and emotional states
  • Educational backgrounds of the parties, including the need for training or further education to prepare each for their earning potential
  • Employment history of the parties
  • Spouses’ standard of living while married
  • Current and anticipated earnings of the parties
  • Present and future expenses and needs of the spouses

The presence of minor children adds another layer of consideration to the court’s determination and makes divorce cases much more complex. To make sure that your interests are best represented, it is helpful to engage the services of a South Carolina family law attorney.

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