Going through a divorce can be a very difficult and emotionally complex experience. Unfortunately, the legal process for divorce can be complicated too. However, in South Carolina, there is an easier approach to divorce that you may be able to use called a "simple" divorce (sometimes other states refer to it as an "uncontested" or "simplified" divorce.)
This article covers the requirements for obtaining a simple divorce in South Carolina. If you have questions, you should contact a family law attorney in your area before you file.
In South Carolina, you can seek a fault divorce based on one of the following four grounds:
Alternatively, couples can request a "no-fault" divorce in South Carolina, which means neither spouse blames the other for the divorce. In a no-fault divorce, you don't have to prove any sort of marital misconduct for a judge to grant the divorce—spouses only need to show that they have been separated for one year.
However, even with a no-fault divorce, judges may still consider fault grounds when making decisions about other issues in the divorce, such as alimony and custody. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-10.)
If you and your spouse are seeking a divorce based on separation, you may be able to use what is known as the "simple divorce" process, but only if you meet a few other requirements, which are listed below. With the simple divorce process, even if either spouse has been at fault in some way, those issues can't be raised in the divorce proceeding.
To be eligible to file a simple divorce, you must meet the following requirements:
If you meet all of the above requirements, then you may follow the steps below to fill out the forms for a simple divorce.
If you do not meet all of the requirements, or you have questions about your case, you need to talk to a lawyer. The court is not allowed to answer questions about your particular case or your legal rights.
You can find all the forms you will need for this process at the South Carolina Judicial Department website. You can also find helpful information on the divorce process, including videos and instructions on the South Carolina LawHelp.org website. If you have questions on other family law related issues, you should visit the self-help resources page of the South Carolina Judicial Department website.
The first step is to file the following papers with the Clerk of Court, Family Court Division. The forms you will need to include with your paperwork includes:
You may 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 are filing in South Carolina, but do not live in the state, you must file in the county where your spouse (the defendant) lives. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-60.)
You must sign some of the forms while you are in front of a notary public. Do not sign the forms that require notarization until you are 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 clerk of the court will charge a filing 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 the court approves your motion, 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 forms to your spouse. There are four ways to serve your spouse:
In South Carolina, the court must wait at least 90 days from the date you file your paperwork to finalize your divorce. (S.C. Code Ann. § 20-3-80.) After you have served your spouse, count ahead 35 days on the calendar (do not count the day you served your spouse) and mark the date. On that day, if you have not received a formal response or "Answer" from your spouse, or if you receive an answer that agrees with everything in your complaint, you may proceed with the final divorce. If your spouse's answer disagrees with any part of your request, you will need to hire a lawyer to go forward with a contested divorce case.
If you and your spouse agree on all the divorce-related issues, your next step is to complete a Request for Hearing and submit it to the court. When you file these forms, you must also file a copy of your return receipt or other affidavit you properly served your spouse (unless you have 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, 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 you receive the envelope and card in the mail unsigned, take the returned envelope to your divorce hearing.
To prepare for your 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 lived separate and apart for one year. On the day of your hearing, bring the above documents to the court, along with your witness(es).
During the hearing, the judge will ask questions about your documents, including questions about your marriage and separation. You may use a sample script from the South Carolina Judicial Branch website to prepare yourself. After granting your divorce, the judge will sign the Final Order of Divorce. Your divorce is not final until the judge signs the order and files it with the Clerk of Court.
The judge may also ask you to complete a Judgment in a Family Court Case, which you can find on the court's website.
To read South Carolina's divorce laws, review South Carolina Code, Title 20, Chapter 3 - Divorce