In December 2018, several lawmakers, including Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell (D-Heath Springs) introduced legislation making it easier to dissolve a marriage. A year later, the bill appears dead.

The proposal would add illegal substance use and willful mistreatment, which could include emotional abuse or mental cruelty, to the list of possible grounds for divorce in South Carolina. In the latter situation, the filing spouse must prove that the willful misconduct was so severe that it made further cohabitation intolerable or unsafe.

“There are situations where there is not necessarily physical abuse but there’s emotional abuse and that is something that I think we’ve really come to recognize as a society,’ Powers Norrell explained.

No-Fault Divorce in South Carolina

If one spouse testifies the marriage has completely broken down and there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation, the judge will grant a no-fault divorce. This proceeding shifts the focus to the children. Furthermore, a no-fault divorce means that spouses do not have to air their “dirty laundry” out for everyone to see.

The big downside of a South Carolina no-fault divorce is the one-year waiting period. The couple must be separated for at least twelve months before the judge grants a divorce. 

In many cases, the waiting period is not an issue. Frequently, couples are separated for at least six months before one of them files for divorce. Additionally, most marriage dissolutions require more than six months to resolve, largely because of the issue involved:

  • Property Division: After a lengthy marriage, property and debt become commingled. For example, one spouse might use money from her paycheck (marital asset) to pay her student loans (nonmarital debt). Other issues, such as retirement account division, could be equally troublesome.
  • Child Custody: Legally, these matters must be in the best interests of the children. That’s different from the best interests of the parents or the wishes of the children. Child custody also includes some financial matters, such as child support payments.

Both these areas change over time. So, divorce decrees usually need to be legally modified at least once every four years.

Evidence-Based Divorce in South Carolina

To avoid the one-year waiting period, many filers opt for an evidence-based divorce. Additionally, some people want or need a declaration of fault for personal, religious, or other purposes. The recognized evidence-based grounds for divorce in South Carolina are:

  • Adultery: Proving the act is not necessary. Under the law, a spouse need only prove inclination and opportunity. Extramarital dates, flirtatious conduct, and joining a dating site all clearly qualify. Lesser conduct, such as visiting a pornographic website or having an ex-paramour on a social media contact list, may qualify.
  • Physical Cruelty: A single incident which causes fear of future serious bodily harm is enough to prove this point. Fear of a future incident is very subjective. If the other spouse does not contest this point, as is often the case, physical cruelty is even easier to establish.
  • Habitual Drunkenness: The substance abuse problem must be ongoing and it must interfere with the marriage in a tangible way. This ground for divorce is not used very often.
  • Abandonment for One Year: This one is even more rare. If the spouse left for a year, the party can file for no-fault divorce and not have to prove anything.

The filing party must establish fault by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, in practical terms, the filing spouse usually wins “he said, she said” exchanges.

Divorce laws in the Palmetto State are rather complex. For a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Greenville, contact the Briggs Law Firm. Convenient payment plans are available.

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