Understanding “No-Fault” Divorce in South Carolina

No Fault DivorceSouth Carolina, like every other state, permits spouses to end their marriage through a “no-fault” divorce. Unlike a traditional divorce where there is proof of wrongdoing by one party—adultery, physical cruelty, et cetera—a no-fault divorce requires only that the spouses separate and live apart for a period of time. Legally, no-fault divorces are said to result from “irreconcilable differences” between the spouses.

South Carolina law requires spouses to live “separate and apart without cohabitation” for one year before a no-fault divorce may be granted. Additionally, in order to obtain a divorce from the South Carolina courts, at least one of the estranged spouses must live in the state for more than a year prior to the beginning of divorce proceedings. (If both spouses live in South Carolina, the required residency period is only three months.)

The Divorce Process

Either spouse may initiate a no-fault divorce by filing a complaint. The plaintiff spouse must declare that the marriage is “forever broken” and there is no hope of reconciliation. The divorce itself is normally filed in the family court for the county where the defendant spouse lives. If the defendant is not a South Carolina resident, however, the plaintiff may file in his or her own home county.

The other spouse may contest a no-fault divorce proceeding. In that case, the parties will have to appear before a judge. But if the other spouse fails to respond or answer the plaintiff spouse’s complaint, the court may simply issue a default judgment and divorce decree. Normally, South Carolina courts will grant default judgment if the defendant spouse does not answer a no-fault divorce complaint within 30 days of service.

Even in an amicable no-fault divorce, the ex-spouses must still divide any marital property and other obligations such as child custody. The parties may reach an agreement on their own without judicial supervision. But if necessary, a judge may order the parties to work with a mediator or even conduct a trial to determine how to settle these issues.