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South Carolina Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
To begin the process, the plaintiff completes a summons and a complaint for divorce as well as a family court cover sheet and a financial declaration form. The forms have spaces for the plaintiff, who is the person petitioning the court for a divorce, and the defendant, who is the person responding to the action. The area with the spouses’ names is called the caption. Some of the forms must be signed in front of a Notary Public and should not be signed until the party is physically in front of a Notary Public. The plaintiff makes at least two copies of the completed forms - one for the court, one for his or her spouse and one for himself or herself.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The plaintiff then files the divorce papers with the Clerk of Court, Family Court Division in the appropriate county. The plaintiff may choose one of three locations to file:
If the plaintiff files in South Carolina but does not live in the state, he or she must file in the county where the defendant lives.
The Clerk of Court charges a fee to file the papers, but if the plaintiff is unable to pay, he or she may file a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. If the motion is approved, he or she does not pay filing fees or Sheriff’s Office service fees (if applicable).
Serving the Documents
After filing the divorce papers, the plaintiff must serve copies to the defendant. There are four ways to serve the defendant: U.S. Mail, personal service, service by the Sheriff's Office, or a private Process Server.
Disclosing Financial Information
Parties in Family Court in South Carolina file a Financial Declaration in any case where the party’s financial condition is relevant or is an issue to be considered by the Court. Of course, this means that this form must be filed in the majority of cases heard, including divorce. This form provides the Court with information about each party’s income, expenses, assets, and debts in a standardized, easy to read format.
Finalizing the Divorce
Thirty-five days after the service of process, if the defendant has not filed an Answer, which is a formal response to the complaint (or an Answer that agrees with all the stipulations in the complaint), the plaintiff proceeds with the final divorce.
When the plaintiff proceeds without opposition, he or she completes a Request for Hearing and an Affidavit of Default for Divorce. When filing these forms, the plaintiff also files a copy of a return receipt or other affidavit showing that the defendant was properly served.
After completing these filings, the Clerk of Court mails the plaintiff a Notice of Hearing, which sets a court date. After he or she receives this Notice of Hearing, the plaintiff mails a copy to the defendant, by certified mail, return receipt requested. After the defendant returns the signed green card, the plaintiff completes an Affidavit of Service by Mailing in front of a Notary Public. If the envelope and card are returned unsigned, the plaintiff should bring the returned envelope to the divorce hearing.
To prepare for the hearing, the plaintiff completes a Final Order of Divorce and a Report of Divorce or Annulment. The plaintiff must also have one person testify at the hearing who has personal knowledge that the spouses lived separate and apart for one year. On the day of the hearing, the plaintiff brings the Final Order of Divorce and Annulment to court, along with the witness.
At the hearing the judge asks questions about the paperwork, the marriage, and the separation. After granting the divorce, the judge signs the Final Order of Divorce. A divorce is not final until the order is signed and filed with the Clerk of Court.
A truly uncontested case where everyone agrees and works together takes about three months.
South Carolina recognizes no-fault and fault divorces. Under no-fault, both parties must live apart for at least one year. Fault divorce requires proof that the marriage is irretrievably broken due to adultery, desertion (for a period of one year), physical cruelty, or substance abuse.
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