Grounds for Divorce in South Carolina

Learn more about the no-fault and fault divorce processes in South Carolina.

By , Attorney

No couple enters a relationship thinking that the marriage will end in divorce. But the reality is that approximately 50% of all marriages end with the couple asking the court to terminate the relationship legally. If you are thinking about starting this daunting process, this article should help you understand the divorce process in South Carolina.

The Reasons for Your Divorce Matter, But How Much?

Courts in every state require divorcing spouses to identify a legal ground before a judge will terminate the marriage. When you prepare your application for divorce, it will be your obligation to list the specific reasons for your request. Some states still allow parties to pursue a fault divorce, meaning you believe your spouse's misconduct during the marriage caused your relationship to fail. Fault grounds vary by state, but the most common include desertion, cruelty, and adultery.

All states allow couples to file for some form of no-fault divorce, which courts usually base on separation for a specific amount of time or irreconcilable differences, meaning you and your spouse can't work out your problems, and there's no possibility of reconciling in the future. The benefit of no-fault divorce is that couples don't need to expose the personal details of why their relationship failed and, in the eyes of the law, neither spouse is responsible for the broken marriage.

Couples Must Separate Before Filing for No-Fault Divorce

No-fault divorce is usually a more straightforward and less contentious legal process than fault divorce, which places blame on at least one spouse. Residents in South Carolina can ask the court for a no-fault divorce, but only if they can demonstrate that they have lived separate and apart for at least one year. Although this requirement can be financially straining, the court has made it clear that separation doesn't count if the couple lives in the same home.

If you can't meet this stringent separation requirement, you will need to wait or file for a fault divorce.

Fault Divorce Might be Your Only Option

If you don't meet the separation requirements for a no-fault divorce, you may be able to utilize the state's fault divorce process. Because it allows you to use your spouse's bad behavior as the reason for your breakup, fault divorce can be messy, emotional, and time-consuming. But for some couples, whether it's because they can't afford to live apart, or because 12 months haven't elapsed since the end of the relationship, it may be the only option available.

Like the no-fault process, you must identify the legal ground for your request. South Carolina only allows a fault divorce based on the following reasons:

  • adultery committed by one or both parties
  • desertion for one year or more
  • physical cruelty, or
  • habitual drunkenness or drug addiction.

It's understandable to be frustrated at the divorce process if you don't qualify for a no-fault divorce. Some couples may decide that it's easier to create and agree to the bad behavior than to live apart for one year. However, if the court discovers that the allegations of fault in the divorce complaint are untrue—or created only for purposes of the divorce— the judge will deny the request, and the couple will need to restart the legal process.

What Is Physical Cruelty?

Domestic violence is a topic that we are learning more about every day, and as a result, survivors are becoming more empowered than ever before. Physical violence in a marriage is never appropriate, and the courts in South Carolina allow a couple to apply for a divorce if one spouse is abusing the other. That said, like all fault grounds, the alleging spouse must meet the specific requirements in this ground before a judge will approve the divorce.

In divorce cases based on cruelty, if the abuser spouse denies any of the allegations, it is up to the accuser to prove that the abuse happened. This burden of proof may seem overwhelming, especially if you didn't take photos, tell friends, or call the police, but it's necessary to prevent jaded spouses from using this ground to spite the other.

To be successful with a fault divorce based on physical cruelty, the alleging spouse must show:

  • the abuse is physical (the court doesn't recognize mental abuse as a ground for divorce)
  • the abuser's actions were so severe that it endangered your life, limb, or health
  • the violence renders the option of living together unsafe, and
  • the physical abuse has happened on more than one occasion.

In one case, a wife filed for divorce based on her husband's physical cruelty toward her. During the trial, the wife testified that her husband grabbed and pushed her into a patio screen and counter, which resulted in bruises on the hip and arms. She also provided evidence that demonstrated to the court that her husband had a history of choking her, he had a violent temper, and threatened to kill her. The wife's testimony, along with corroborating evidence, convinced the court that a fault divorce was necessary, and the court approved the request.

Not every case will have the same result as the case above. If you can't convince the court that your spouse's behavior rises to the level of physical cruelty, the judge will deny your request, and you will need to refile your petition using a different fault ground or the state's no-fault procedures.

South Carolina Residency Requirements

In addition to the above requirements for divorce, South Carolina also has a residency requirement that parties must meet before requesting a divorce. At least one spouse must live in South Carolina for a minimum of one year before the court will accept the divorce application. If both spouses are living in the state at the time they file for divorce, the filing spouse only needs to prove residency for three months.

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