Uncontested Divorce in South Carolina

Learn about the uncontested divorce process in South Carolina, including how to qualify and file for a "simple divorce."

Updated by , Legal Editor

In an uncontested divorce—also called a "simple divorce" in South Carolina—you and your spouse agree on all of the issues required to end your marriage. As the name implies, a simplified divorce is easier and cheaper than a traditional divorce. But you must qualify and follow the required steps outlined below.

How to Qualify for a Simple Divorce in South Carolina

If you want to file for an simple divorce in South Carolina, you must meet three basic requirements: state residency, a year-long pre-divorce separation, and agreement on the issues in your case.

South Carolina's Residency Requirement for Divorce

In order to get any type of divorce in South Carolina, at least one spouse must have resided in the state for a period of time just before filing the divorce papers. The amount of time depends on whether both spouses are currently living in the state:

  • If they're both living in South Carolina, the spouse who files the paperwork must have resided in the state for the previous three months.
  • If only one spouse now lives in the state, that spouse must have resided there for a full year before the filing date.

Being stationed in South Carolina on active military duty qualifies as residing in the state. (S.C. Code §§ 20-30-30 (2023).)

South Carolina's Separation Requirement for Simple Divorce

As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in South Carolina. The state allows divorce based on both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds. But if you want to get an uncontested divorce, you must file for the only no-fault ground available in the state—and that requires that you and your spouse have lived "separate and apart" for at least one continuous year. (S.C. Code §§ 20-30-10 (2023).)

The South Carolina Supreme Court has held that having separate bedrooms in the same house doesn't count for the separation requirement. (Barnes v. Barnes, 380 S.E.2d 538 (S.C. 1981).)

Agreement on the Issues in Your Divorce

In order to get a simple divorce in South Carolina, you and your spouse must agree on all of the issues in your divorce, including:

  • Property and debts: Either you've reached an agreement with your spouse on how to divide your property and debt, or you don't have any marital property or debts.
  • No children or agreement: You have no minor children with your spouse (with none on the way), or you agree on provisions for child custody, visitation, and child support (which must meet the minimum requirements set by South Carolina's child support guidelines).
  • No alimony: In a simple divorce, both spouses must waive the right to alimony.

Once you've resolved all of these issues, you'll need to put the provisions in a written divorce settlement agreement (sometimes called a "property settlement agreement" or "marital settlement agreement").

How Is Uncontested Divorce in South Carolina Different Than a Regular Divorce?

If you haven't agreed on all the issues involved in ending your marriage before you start the legal process, your case will proceed as a traditional contested divorce. This means you'll probably have to go through several legal steps before you can get your final divorce in South Carolina, including:

  • "discovery," the process of gathering evidence that involves legal procedures to get information from your spouse and other witnesses (such as custody evaluators and appraisers)
  • filing motions (formal legal requests) and appearing at court hearings on issues such as requests for temporary child support or alimony, and
  • settlement proposals and negotiations (usually between attorneys for both spouses).

Even if you manage to reach a settlement before going to a final trial, all of this takes time. And since you'll very likely need a lawyer's help to navigate the contested divorce process, it will also add to the expense.

There's no need for any of these extra steps with a simple divorce. That's why—as we explain further below—uncontested divorces are quicker, cost less, and result in less stress for the entire family.

The Simple Divorce Process in South Carolina

The process of getting a simple divorce involves a few basic steps: completing and filing some forms with the court, serving your spouse with the divorce papers, waiting for your spouse to file an answer, and attending a brief hearing in front of a judge.

Finding and Preparing the Simple Divorce Forms

If you're the one who'll be starting the divorce process, you'll need to fill out the following forms:

  • Complaint for Divorce
  • Summons for Divorce
  • Certificate of Exemption
  • Financial Declaration Form, and
  • Family Court Coversheet.

You can find the forms and instructions on the South Carolina Judicial Department's website. There are separate packets of forms for the spouse who will start the process (the "petitioner") and the other spouse (the "defendant"). Or, if you choose to use an online divorce service, you'll be provided with the completed forms (more on that below).

Because some of the forms require notarization, don't sign them until you're in the presence of a notary public. Be sure you have at least three copies of the completed and signed forms (the original for the court clerk, one for you, and one for your spouse).

Filing the Divorce Paperwork

The next step is to file the completed forms with the Clerk of Court, Family Court Division, in the proper South Carolina county. The choice of county will depend on where you and your spouse live:

  • If you both live in South Carolina, you may file in the county where the two of you last lived together as a couple or where your spouse lives now.
  • If your spouse lives out of state, you'll file in the county where you live.
  • If you don't live in the state but want to have your divorce case in South Carolina courts, you must file in the county where your spouse currently lives.

(S.C. Code § 20-3-60 (2023).)

You'll need to pay a court fee to file the divorce papers (more on that below).

Serve Your Spouse and File Proof of Service

After filing your forms, you must serve (deliver) a copy of the divorce papers on your spouse, using one of the following methods:

  • Acceptance of service. When you and your spouse are cooperating on a simple divorce, the easiest service method is simply to ask your spouse to agree to receive the divorce paperwork directly from you. Your spouse will have to sign an "Acceptance of Service" form, which you'll then file with the court.
  • Mail. You may also mail the documents through U.S. Post Office (registered or certified mail, return receipt requested) or send them through an approved commercial delivery service that requires a signature on delivery. Your spouse must sign the receipt, and you must complete an Affidavit of Mailing, sign it in front of a notary, and file it with the court, along with the signed receipt.
  • Service by hand delivery. You can arrange to have the Sheriff's office, a private process server, or anyone over age 18 (who isn't connected to your divorce) hand deliver the divorce papers to your spouse. Make sure that the person who does this completes and files the form showing proof of service (or you might have to file the form yourself).

(S.C. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4 (2022).)

Wait for Your Spouse's Answer and Request a Hearing

Under South Carolina rules, your spouse has 30 days to file an answer to the divorce complaint. (S.C. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 12(a) (2022).) When the two of you have agreed to file for a simple divorce, your spouse should check all of the boxes on the form stating that the defendant "admits each and every allegation" in all of the paragraphs of the divorce complaint.

Once you receive a copy of your spouse' answer—or once 35 days have passed without an answer (including an extra five days for the time to receive a copy in the mail)—you should submit a Request for Hearing, along with an Affidavit of Default for Divorce if your spouse didn't file an answer.

The court clerk will mail you a Notice of Hearing with your court date. As soon as you receive this notice, you must mail a copy to your spouse, by certified mail, return receipt requested. (S.C. Rules Fam. Ct., rule 17(a) (2023).)

After your spouse mails back the signed receipt of delivery, complete and sign an Affidavit of Service by Mailing in front of a notary public. If the envelope is returned to you without a signature on the green card, take them both to the hearing.

Attend the Hearing and Finalize Your Divorce

In South Carolina, you'll need to attend a court hearing to finalize your divorce. But with a simple divorce, your spouse won't have to attend.

Before the hearing, complete a Final Order of Divorce and a Report of Divorce or Annulment. You may use a sample script from the South Carolina Judicial Branch website to prepare for your testimony.

You must also arrange to have at least one witness who has personal knowledge that you and your spouse lived separate and apart for one year. The witness must come to the hearing and testify to that under oath.

During the hearing, the judge will ask questions about your documents, marriage, and separation. 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 court.

The judge might also ask you to complete a Judgment in a Family Court Case, which you can find on the court's website.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Uncontested Divorce in South Carolina?

If you haven't already separated from your spouse—or you got back together (even for a night) after an initial separation—you'll have to wait at least a year before you can get a simple divorce in South Carolina.

However, if you've already lived apart from your spouse long enough—and you've filed all of the proper paperwork—you may be able get your final divorce within about three months. The actual time your divorce takes could depend on how busy your local court is and how long it will take to schedule a hearing.

How Much Does a Simple Divorce Cost in South Carolina?

As a rule, an uncontested divorce is a lot cheaper than a traditional, contested divorce. That's because many couples can get through the uncontested divorce process without hiring lawyers to represent them—which leads to big savings on the normal cost of divorce.

When you're representing yourself, the basic expense for a simple divorce will be the court fee for filing the divorce papers. South Carolina's filing fee is $150 as of 2023 (although it's always subject to change). If you can't afford the fee, you may request a waiver by filing a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. The court will decide if you qualify for a waiver.

Beyond the filing fee, your costs will depend on whether you get a "pure" do-it-yourself divorce or you need some help with the process (more on that below).

Can an Uncontested Divorce Become Contested?

If you've filed for a simple divorce, but your spouse has a change of heart and files an answer that doesn't agree to everything in your divorce complaint, your case will be treated as a contested divorce. In that case, the South Carolina courts recommend that you hire a lawyer.

Getting Help With Your Uncontested Divorce

In addition to the instructions provided online from the South Carolina courts, you can find helpful videos and instructions about divorce on the South Carolina LawHelp.org website. With that information, you might be able to get through the divorce process on your own if you and your spouse can agree on all the issues, and you have the time and other resources to find, complete, and file all of the divorce paperwork.

You might find, however, that you need additional help:

  • Mediation: If you're having trouble agreeing about any of the issues in your divorce, mediation might help you identify solutions that work for both you and your spouse. The cost of divorce mediation can vary widely, depending on the number and complexity of the issues to be worked out. Typical total costs range from about $3,000 to $8,000, with each spouse normally paying half.
  • Online divorce: Once you've agreed on the issues, you can file for divorce online with a service that will provide all of the divorce forms you need, based on your answers to an online questionnaire. The fee for this service ranges from about $150 and $500. Online divorce services will typically also help you create a settlement agreement, and some will take care of filing the divorce papers, for an additional fee.
  • QDRO experts: If you're splitting retirement accounts related to your employment (like a 401(k) or pension), you'll probably need the assistance of an expert to prepare the necessary special court order known as a "qualified domestic relations order" (QDRO). Fees vary, but they're usually a few hundred dollars.
  • Legal review: If possible, it's always a good idea to have an attorney review your settlement agreement to be sure that it's fair and protects your rights. In some cases, it may make sense to have a lawyer or other expert actually draft the agreement, particularly if you have complicated financial assets. The cost will depend on the lawyer's hourly rate and the amount of time involved, but it should be significantly less than paying an attorney to handle all of the legal matters in your divorce.