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.
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.
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:
Being stationed in South Carolina on active military duty qualifies as residing in the state. (S.C. Code §§ 20-30-30 (2023).)
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).)
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:
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").
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:
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 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.
If you're the one who'll be starting the divorce process, you'll need to fill out the following forms:
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).
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:
(S.C. Code § 20-3-60 (2023).)
You'll need to pay a court fee to file the divorce papers (more on that below).
After filing your forms, you must serve (deliver) a copy of the divorce papers on your spouse, using one of the following methods:
(S.C. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4 (2022).)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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: