Uncontested Divorce in South Carolina

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

By , Attorney

There are generally two types of divorce available in most states: contested and uncontested. 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. An uncontested divorce is faster and cheaper than traditional divorce, and spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.

If you disagree with your spouse about one or more issues, you'll need to go through at least some of the steps involved in a contested divorce. Unless you manage to reach a settlement agreement along the wayusually with the help of lawyers—you'll eventually have to go to trial and have a judge resolve the disputes for you. All of that will add to the cost of your divorce, as well as how long it will take.

Requirements for a Simple Divorce in South Carolina

In order to file a simple divorce in South Carolina (and use the forms and steps outlined below), you must meet several requirements:

  • Residency: You must have lived in the state for at least three months before you filed for divorce, as long as both you and your spouse currently live in the state. Otherwise, if one spouse lives in another state, the other spouse must have lived in South Carolina for a year before the filing date.
  • Year-long separation: You must qualify for the only ground (or reason) for divorce in South Carolina that isn't based on claims of a spouse's misconduct. That no-fault ground requires that you and your spouse lived "separate and apart" for at least one continuous year. Having separate bedrooms in the same house doesn't count for the separation requirement.
  • Property agreement: Either you 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).

(S.C. Code §§ 20-30-10, 20-3-30 (2022).)

If you're having trouble resolving disagreements with your spouse about any issues, divorce mediation might help you find solutions and come to an agreement. Otherwise, if you don't have a settlement agreement or don't meet any of the other requirements for a simple divorce, the South Carolina Judicial Branch recommends that you consult with an attorney.

The Simple Divorce Process

You can find the forms you will need for a simple divorce 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"). You can also find helpful videos and instructions about divorce 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.

If you decide to file for divorce online, the online service will typically provide you with all of the completed forms (based on your answers to a questionnaire), along with instructions on the rest of the process. Some services will also file the divorce papers in court, for an additional fee.

File the Divorce Complaint

The first step in a simple divorce is to file the following papers with the Clerk of Court, Family Court Division, in the proper South Carolina county. The forms you will need to include with your paperwork include:

  • Family Court Cover Sheet
  • Certificate of Exemption
  • Summons for Divorce
  • Complaint for Divorce
  • Financial Declaration Form (do not sign this until you are in front of a notary public)
  • Acceptance of Service
  • Request for Hearing, and
  • Final Order of Divorce

If you and your spouse 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 should 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 (2022).)

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 court clerk will charge a filing fee to file the papers (currently $150). 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.

Serve Your Spouse and File Proof of Service

After filing your forms, you'll need to serve (deliver) a copy of the divorce papers on your spouse. You can serve your spouse through one of the following methods:

  • Mailing the documents through U.S. Post Office (registered or certified mail, return receipt requested) or sending 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.
  • Asking your spouse to agree to receive the paperwork directly from you. Your spouse must sign an Acceptance of Service form, and you must file the form with the court.
  • Having 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. Code §§ 15-19-710, 20-30-70; S.C. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 4, 5(d) (2022).)

Wait for Your Spouse's Answer and Request a Hearing

Under South Carolina rules, your spouse has 30 days to file a Defendant's 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 the divorce complaint (otherwise your divorce will be considered contested).

Once you receive a copy of your spouse' answer—or once the 30 days have passed without an answer (plus 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. 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. (S.C. Rules Fam. Ct., rule 17(a).)

Prepare for Your Hearing

To prepare for your hearing, complete a Final Order of Divorce and a Report of Divorce or Annulment. 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. On the day of your hearing, bring the above documents to the court, along with your witness(es).

Attend the Hearing and Finalize Your Divorce

During the hearing, the judge will ask questions about your documents, 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 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.