If you've decided to file for divorce, you may have questions about the process. This article provides a basic overview of how to obtain a "simple divorce" (expedited divorce) in South Carolina.
If you do not meet all of the following requirements or you have specific questions about your divorce case, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area. A court or judge can't answer questions about your particular case or legal rights.
In South Carolina, you may file for a simple divorce without the help of a lawyer if you meet the following:
- you or your spouse has lived in South Carolina for at least one year prior to filing for your divorce, or you and your spouse both live in South Carolina and have lived there for at least three months before filing for divorce
- you are filing on the ground of one year continuous separation without living together at any point during that year
- you have no martial property or marital debt, or you have reached an agreement on how to divide the marital property and/or debt, and
- you have no children with your spouse and none are expected, or you have minor children together and have reached an agreement about custody, visitation and child support (and the child support agreement meets the minimum requirements set by South Carolina Child Support Guidelines).
If you meet all of the above requirements, then you must follow the steps below to fill out the forms for a simple divorce.
Preparing Your Forms
To begin the process, fill out the following forms:
- Family Court Cover Sheet
- Certificate of Exemption
- Summons for Divorce
- Complaint for Divorce
- Financial Declaration Form (do not sign this form until you are in front of a notary public)
All of the forms will have blanks for “plaintiff” and “defendant.” The person asking the court for a divorce is the “plaintiff,” and the responding spouse is called the “defendant.” The area with your name and your spouse’s name is called the “caption.” Some of the forms must be signed while you are in front of a Notary Public. Do not sign the forms that require notarization until you are physically in front of a Notary Public.
After completing all the forms, make at least two copies of everything. The court will keep one, you will need one for your records, and you will need a copy for your spouse.
Filing Your Forms
The next step is to file the papers with the Clerk of Court, Family Court Division. You may choose one of three locations to file:
- in the county where you and your spouse last shared a residence
- in the county where your spouse lives at the time of filing, or
- in the county where you live, if your spouse is not a resident of South Carolina.
If you're filing in South Carolina but do not live in the state, you must file in the county where your spouse (the defendant) lives.
The Clerk of Court will charge a fee to file the papers. If you are unable to pay the fee, you may file a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. If your Motion is approved, you will not have to pay filing fees or Sheriff’s Office service fees (if applicable).
Serving Your Forms
After filing your forms with the appropriate Clerk of Court, you will need to “serve” (deliver) a copy of the Family Court Cover Sheet, Certificate of Exemption, Summons for Divorce, Complaint for Divorce and the Financial Declaration Form to your spouse. There are four ways to serve your spouse:
- U.S. Mail (send certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested; receipt must be signed by your spouse; you must also complete an Affidavit of Mailing, sign it in front of a notary and file a copy, along with the green card, with the Clerk of Court)
- personal service (your spouse must sign an Acceptance of Service form and you must file a signed copy with the Clerk of Court)
- Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff’s office must complete a notarized Acceptance of Service form after delivery and you must file a copy with the Clerk of Court), or
- Private Process Server (this is a paid private service that involves a third party hand-delivering the paperwork to your spouse).
Court Hearing and Final Divorce
After you've served your spouse, count ahead 35 days on the calendar (do not count the day your spouse was served) and mark the date. On that day, if you have not received a formal response or “Answer” to the divorce papers from your spouse, or if you received an Answer that agrees with everything in your complaint, you may proceed with the final divorce. If your spouse's Answer disputes or contests any part of your request, you'll need to hire a lawyer to proceed with your case.
If you are proceeding without opposition from your spouse, then the next step is to complete a Request for Hearing and an Affidavit of Default for Divorce. When you file these forms, you must also file a copy of your return receipt or other affidavit showing that your spouse was properly served (unless you've already filed it).
After completing these filings, the Clerk of Court will mail you a Notice of Hearing with your court date. After you receive this Notice of Hearing, you must mail a copy to your spouse, by certified mail, return receipt requested. After your spouse mails back the signed green card, you must complete an Affidavit of Service by Mailing in front of a Notary Public. If the envelope and card are returned unsigned, take the returned envelope to your divorce hearing.
To prepare for the hearing, you must complete a Final Order of Divorce and a Report of Divorce or Annulment. You must also have one person testify at the hearing who has personal knowledge that you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for one year. On the day of your hearing, bring the above documents to court, along with your witness.
During the hearing the judge will ask questions about your documents, including questions about your marriage and separation. You may use a sample script to prepare yourself. After granting your divorce, the judge will sign the Final Order of Divorce - your divorce is not final until the order is signed and filed with the Clerk of Court. The judge may also ask you to complete a Judgment in a Family Court Case.