How Does Uncontested Divorce Work in South Carolina? A Complete Guide
Written by: Megan Dell
Everyone going through a divorce has the same wish: for their divorce case to be uncontested. Read on to learn how uncontested divorces work in South Carolina.
How long does an uncontested divorce take?
Often, once someone decides to get divorced, they want to accomplish it as quickly as possible. South Carolina laws around divorce do not make that easy.
First, before the Family Court can grant a divorce, you must demonstrate a “ground” for it. There are five grounds for divorce in South Carolina that are outlined in S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-10:
- Desertion for a period of one year (sometimes referred to as “abandonment”)
- Physical cruelty
- Habitual drunkenness/drug use
- Living separate and apart for one year
The first four grounds for divorce are considered “fault grounds” for divorce, and the fifth is considered a “no-fault ground” for divorce.
A divorce filed on a fault ground can be finalized 90 days after the case is filed; however, it is rare for any divorce to be granted so quickly because all of the other issues related to dissolving the marriage, including property division, alimony, child custody, and child support, must be resolved before the divorce can be granted.
The “no-fault” ground for divorce of living separate and apart for one year prohibits a divorce from being granted until after a one-year separation. However, the Family Court can resolve every issue except the divorce itself during that time.
Usually, even if you can prove a fault ground for divorce, it will take at least six months to resolve all of the issues.
“Uncontested” Does Not Mean “Simple Divorce”
Many people believe that an “uncontested” divorce will somehow be easier than a contested one. In some ways, that is true. However, because divorce touches on so many areas of life, even uncontested divorces are rarely simple.
Even if two people agree to get divorced, often, they still have to agree on a lot of details about how to divide real estate, pensions and other retirement accounts, whether anyone should receive alimony, and if so, how much. The details related to property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support are often laid out in a financial settlement agreement.
Because these details are so important, it’s rare that pursuing an uncontested divorce without a lawyer is a good idea.
However, the South Carolina Supreme Court provides divorce forms for self-represented litigants who wish to handle their cases themselves. Though these forms are inadequate for most couples, they provide an overview of the divorce process.
The Process: Filing for Divorce
1 Filing the Complaint
The first step in filing for divorce is to file a document referred to as the “Complaint,” along with your Summons. If you and your spouse have already reached an agreement, then the Complaint can simply ask the Family Court to approve your agreement.
2 Scheduling hearing
The only people who can grant a divorce in South Carolina are our Family Court judges, and in most cases, a hearing is required.
The time of the hearing can be important. S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-3-80 requires that a hearing cannot be held until “two months after the filing of the complaint,” and the Family Court cannot issue a final divorce decree until three months after the filing of the complaint.
The only exception to this rule is if the divorce is sought on the grounds of desertion or being separated for more than one year; if the defendant files a response or is found to be in default, then the waiting periods do not apply.
Once you have filed the Complaint and gotten your hearing scheduled by the Clerk of Court, then you need to personally serve the defendant with the Summons, Complaint, and Notice of Hearing.
Rule 4, SCRCP, directs how the Summons and Complaint must be served; specifically, they cannot be served by a party to the action, and the defendant must personally receive the Summons and Complaint or they must be left at his home with someone of suitable age and discretion.
Rule 17, SCRFC, provides that notice of the final hearing must be served on the defendant either by personal service (like with the Summons and Complaint) or to his last known address by first class mail, return receipt requested.
4 Making your case during the hearing
Once the defendant has been served with the court documents, you must prepare to make your case to the Family Court, which is done with live testimony.
Here are some facts you will have to prove:
- You and the defendant are married.
- South Carolina is the proper jurisdiction for the case to be brought.
- The specific county is the proper venue for the case to be heard.
- You must prove facts supporting an award of divorce on the ground(s) you included in your Complaint.
- If you are seeking approval of an agreement resolving equitable apportionment, alimony, child custody, visitation, or support, then you will need to prove the agreement is complete; it was entered freely and voluntarily; neither party was coerced into entering the agreement; each party understands the agreement and wishes for the Family Court to approve it; and the terms of the agreement serve the child’s best interests.
Reasons to Hire A Divorce Attorney for an Uncontested Divorce
Though an uncontested divorce in South Carolina may seem straightforward, there are countless ways to make a mistake and overlook important details. There are law firms focused on handling uncontested divorces in Charleston, and we are one of them. Use the link below to schedule a consultation today to ensure you don’t make a mistake in your divorce.