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 for a simple divorce, 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 your legal rights.
In South Carolina, you can file for divorce if 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. See S.C. Code §20-3-30 (2019).
South Carolina recognizes divorces on fault and no-fault grounds. Couples can also obtain a “simple” or expedited divorce if they meet residency requirements and the following criteria:
If you meet all of the above requirements, then you may follow the steps below to fill out the forms for a simple divorce available on the South Carolina Judicial Branch Website.
To begin the process, you’ll need to fill out several divorce forms. The South Carolina Judicial Branch website publishes numerous divorce forms. Specifically, you’ll need to complete fill out the following:
All of the forms will have blanks for “plaintiff” and “defendant.” The spouse requesting the 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 these forms 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.
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:
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. See S.C. Code § 20-3-60 (2019).
The Clerk of Court will charge a fee to file the papers. If you're 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).
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 multiple ways to serve your spouse.
Any nonparty to the divorce, who is over the age of 18, can hand-deliver the divorce forms to your spouse. Alternatively, you can hire a sheriff or a process server who will likely charge you a service fee. If you and your spouse are on good terms, your spouse can agree to accept service of the divorce papers. The spouse accepting service must complete an acceptance of service form for you to file with the court. This will serve as proof that your spouse received the divorce paperwork and notice of the case.
In situations where your spouse is in the military or cannot be located, special service rules may apply. You may have to ask the court for permission to serve your spouse via publication (publishing a notice of the divorce in a local paper) or other means.
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 proceed with your case to trial. At trial a judge will decide all issues in your divorce such as child custody, alimony, child support, and property division.
If you and your spouse agree to everything, then the next step is to complete a hearing request and application for default 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 of 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, but your divorce is not final until the order is signed and filed with the Clerk of Court.
To learn more about getting divorced in South Carolina, and all the related issues you may encounter, see our page on South Carolina Divorce & Family Laws.
For more information on the simple divorce process and copies of the forms, see the South Carolina Judicial Department - Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet.
Additionally,South Carolina Legal Services provides free legal assistance to those who qualify. Contact your local South Carolina Legal Services agency for more information.