Divorce – State FAQ – South Carolina
Residency requirements, venue and procedures
Q: How long must I have lived in South Carolina prior to filing for divorce in a South Carolina court?
A: South Carolina law requires that one of the spouses must be a resident of the state for a minimum of one year (three (3) months if both parties are residents of South Carolina) immediately prior to the filing of the petition for divorce.
Q: What are the terms used to identify the parties in a divorce proceeding?
A: The party filing the action is called the Plaintiff, while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the Defendant.
Q: What is “venue,” and what is the proper venue for a divorce case?
A: “Venue” refers to which type of court and in what locality the case is filed. In South Carolina, proper venue for the divorce action is the Family Court. The petition for divorce must be filed in the county in which the defendant resides at the time of filing, or where the plaintiff resides if the defendant is a non-resident or cannot be found. The petition may also be filed in the county where the parties last shared a residence, unless the plaintiff is a non-resident, in which case it must be filed in the county where the Defendant resides.
Q: What is the title of the document initiating the action for divorce? The order granting the divorce?
A: The title of the document initiating the divorce proceeding is a Complaint for Divorce, while the title of the order granting the divorce is referred to as the Decree of Divorce.
Q: Are there any waiting periods associated with a divorce action?
A: Unless the plaintiff is seeking a divorce based upon living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year, there is a three (3) month waiting period from the filing of the petition before the court will grant a judgment of dissolution of marriage.
Grounds for Divorce
Q: What is meant by “grounds for divorce”?
A: A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. A set of judicially recognized reasons for divorce exist in South Carolina. You must use one or more of these reasons to justify your divorce.
Q: What are the recognized grounds for divorce in South Carolina?
A: South Carolina law permits no-fault divorces based upon living separate and apart without cohabitation for at least one year. Additional grounds include; adultery, desertion, physical cruelty and addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Q: What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?
A: “Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce.
Q: Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?
A: The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final. Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.
Q: What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?
A: The courts may award alimony to either spouse. Alimony may be periodic, lump sum, rehabilitative or reimbursement type. Adultery is considered by the court when making a determination as to whether alimony should be granted. Factors the court considers in determining the amount and term of alimony include:
1. The duration of the marriage and the age of the parties.
2. The physical and emotional condition of the parties.
3. The educational background of the parties along with the need of each for additional training or education.
4. The employment history and earning potential of each spouse.
5. The standard of living established during the marriage.
6. The current and reasonably anticipated expenses and needs of each spouse.
7. The current and reasonably anticipated earnings of each spouse.
8. The marital and non marital properties of each spouse.
9. Custody of the children.
10. Marital misconduct; and
11. Any other relevant factors.
Q: On what basis does the court decide how marital property is divided?
A: South Carolina is a so-called “equitable distribution” state. This means that the division of property and debts between the divorcing parties should be fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. Some of the factors the court considers in dividing the property between the parties include:
1. The duration of the marriage.
2. The age of the spouses.
3. Marital misconduct.
4. Economic misconduct.
5. The value of each party’s marital property.
6. The contribution of each spouse to the marital estate.
7. The income of each spouse.
Q: Is the “separate property” of one spouse subject to being divided up?
A: The question here is whether property “belonging to” one of the parties should be included in the marital estate for purposes of an equitable division. Generally, separate property acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance during the marriage may be excluded from the marital estate if neither the property nor its income has been used for the common benefit of the parties during their marriage.
Q: What if the parties occasionally use an item of separate property (for example, silver table utensils inherited by the wife) for the benefit of both parties?
A: The property may be subject to division. Where the parties regularly use property acquired by one party before marriage for the common benefit of the parties, it is more likely to be available for consideration in dividing property. The frequency of use may be considered by the court in making the decision.
Child custody and visitation
Q: What is child custody and visitation?
A: “Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the child(ren), i.e. with whom the child(ren) will live. “Visitation” is the topic of the non custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the child(ren).
Q: If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?
A: South Carolina courts will decide the issue of custody based upon the best interests of the child. In determining the best interest of the child, the court must consider the child’s reasonable preference for custody. The court shall place weight upon the preference based upon the child’s age, experience, maturity, judgment, and ability to express a preference. Religious faith shall also be considered in determining custody. In making a decision regarding custody of a minor child, in addition to other existing factors specified by law, the court must give weight to evidence of domestic violence.
Q: Do grandparents in the state of South Carolina have any visitation rights with their grandchildren?
A: Yes. As long as the Court feels that visitation with the grandchild(ren) is in the best interest of the child, and the visitation will not interfere with any parental rights, grandparents will be awarded visitation.
Q: What is “child support”?
A: Child support is money paid by the non custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the child(ren).
Q: To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?
A: The South Carolina legislature has established child support guidelines which establish the presumptive correct amount of child support. Deviation from the guidelines require a specific finding by the court that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate and such findings must be included in the judgment.