South Carolina Family Courts have jurisdiction “to hear and determine matters for divorce.” There are only five legal grounds for divorce in South Carolina, four of which are sometimes referred to as “fault grounds”: adultery, desertion, physical cruelty, and habitual drunkenness (which includes the habitual use of drugs). The fifth ground for divorce in South Carolina, sometimes called the “no-fault ground,” is the continuous living apart of a husband and wife, without any cohabitation, for a period of one year. Living separate and apart means living under separate roofs.
Any of the five grounds for divorce generally must be proven by corroborating evidence. Therefore, parties asking a court to grant them a divorce normally must offer their own testimony, and the testimony of an independent witness, with knowledge of the grounds for divorce. For instance, in a no-fault divorce proceeding, the parties may present the testimony of a relative or friend who knows the parties, and can testify (briefly) that they have in fact lived separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year.
There are practical and emotional considerations in deciding whether to seek a fault-based divorce or a no-fault divorce. One important consideration is the fact that a fault-based divorce can be granted ninety days after the filing a summons and complaint, while it is necessary to wait one year following separation to be eligible for a no-fault divorce. Other considerations may include religious issues, and the effect the grounds might have on the parties’ children. Often, a very important consideration is that a case seeking a fault-based divorce can be filed while the parties are still living under the same roof. In the absence of any fault ground for divorce, the parties must be living apart at the time a case is filed.
Even without any grounds for divorce, once the parties are separated, the Court has the power to establish their respective rights and responsibilities relating to each other, to their children, and to their assets and debts, by court order. The parties will then “wait out their year,” and then seek a no-fault divorce.
South Carolina law relating to the grounds for divorce can create a very difficult situation in the case of a spouse who is subjected to verbal or emotional abuse, but who also relies on the abusive spouse financially. South Carolina does not recognize verbal or emotional abuse as a ground for divorce. Therefore, in such a scenario, the abused spouse must actually move out of the marital residence, or convince the abusive spouse to do so, in order to seek relief from the family court.
Mr. Prenner focuses his practice on family law issues. During the initial consultation process, he can help you, or your family member or friend, identify and understand legal and factual issues presented in your case. An understanding of South Carolina law and the family court process is the first step in identifying solutions that can help our clients.